Burleigh Pottery & UWE: Printing partnership success
The stunning results of Burgess & Leigh Pottery company’s collaboration with the University of the West of England (UWE) are a testament to the value of a well-executed, longstanding relationship with a specialist university.
The over 160-year-old ceramics manufacturer, known as Burleigh, has been working with the Centre for Fine Print Research (CFPR) at UWE for more than 10 years, collaborating on various projects aimed at enhancing their unique printing process with resoundingly successful results.
But it is their latest project that caught the eye of the education community.
As the last remaining UK factory producing ceramic tableware using the traditional underglaze tissue transfer process, Burleigh sought to preserve the historic practice by teaming up with award-winning CFPR.
The collaboration earned the pair a nomination for Times Higher Education’s Most Innovative Contribution to Business-University Collaboration award in November last year. The project was shortlisted with just six other outstanding examples of business and academia working together.
To get a better understanding of what made this particular collaboration special, U2B spoke to Burleigh’s lead on the project, Design Development Manager Alison Howell.
Why partner with a university?
For Burleigh, the opportunities of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) were obvious. The CFPR is a world-renowned facility with the best in the business working in their ranks.
“Burleigh benefitted from the expertise of the Centre for Fine Print Research, and the equipment they were able to employ during the project,” Howell told U2B.
“This merger of traditional and new technology has made a fascinating project for the academic and industry teams alike.”
And it didn’t take long for real tangible benefits to be realised. The advantages were immediate with identification and correction of gaps in the in-house technical information and process knowledge, Howell said.
Burleigh’s “best” yield also improved dramatically over the project and the company has put in place control measures to maintain the standard and output.
“These measures have included training for staff and the application of knowledge gained during the project within the production team,” Howell explains.
“The project also tested, trialled and implemented an improved way of archiving the traditional hand engravings, which has proved successful in replicating designs for tissue print.”
The collaboration will have a lasting impact on the company, with Howell calling the information sharing “invaluable.”
The work carried out ensures the unique tissue printing process is future-proofed, through the use of cutting-edge technology and expertise to streamline the process. This ultimately is reflected in Burleigh’s bottom line and helped them grow their market.
“The process established for engraving patterns on print rollers using contemporary technology has reduced the roller production time from months to a matter of hours,” said Howell.
“The relative low cost of producing a roller in this method allows new designs to be tested in a commercially viable way before full production; this has allowed for a growth in Burleigh’s worldwide customer base.”
The keys to success
The Burleigh-UWE collaboration wasn’t a success by accident. To pull off an effective and mutually beneficial partnership takes work and preparation.
“The main thing that the partnership embraced was structure; very regular meetings with all parties privy to a written summary of the progress made, along with a profit and loss calculation,” Howell explains.
“This clear reporting strategy ensured that the partnership was transparent and that all members could input where they felt it was needed.”
She also advises any companies embarking on a collaboration within higher education to be conscious of the differences between the sectors if you want to avoid it causing any friction.
“Sometimes industry and academia appear to ‘speak a different language’ so being mindful of the background of each party and appreciating that they can see and interpret things differently is essential – after all, the most unexpected things can happen when a problem is studied from a new perspective,” Howell said.
It is these varying perspectives that drive the value and creativity generated in many university-business collaborations.
“The collaboration encouraged the different parties to look at things from different perspectives, and consequently implement innovative solutions to different scenarios.”
With careful management and understanding, university-business partnerships can reap significant rewards.
When asked if she would recommend other companies to partner with a university, Howell’s answer was simple: “Absolutely!”