Partnership in focus: Babcock International
Since 2017, The University of Exeter have been working closely in partnership with Babcock, a leading provider of critical, complex engineering services which support national defence, save lives and protect communities. Babcock recruit many graduates and work with University of Exeter research groups in areas such as AI, machine learning and clean propulsion.
Babcock focus on three highly regulated markets – defence, emergency services and civil nuclear – delivering vital services and managing complex assets in the UK and internationally. By collaborating with the University of Exeter, Babcock can embed academic expertise into the company to improve design processes and to better protect assets.
Professor Jim Sibson, Head of Research and Partnerships at Babcock International, realised Exeter had the strengths to support their technology goals, after attending an Innovation Day on campus in March 2019, where Academics in Engineering, Computer Science and Mathematics communicated their understanding of digital technologies and how this may benefit engineering and technology companies.
This has since led to collaborations with the University on research topics as diverse as developing energy scavenging for wireless sensors, to digital twins for asset management. Babcock has worked with academics such as Professor Chris Smith, Professor Meiling Zhu, Professor Peter Challenor, Dr Jacq Christmas, Professor Ed Keedwell and Professor Richard Everson.
Professor Jim Sibson said “Exeter University has become strategically important to Babcock both in terms of training our staff and engaging with research. As a business we want to drive innovation and efficiency through all our sectors and having experts in areas such as Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Digital Twins is paramount to our decision for working with Exeter”.
Jim was appointed Honorary Associate Professor in Exeter’s Engineering Department earlier this year. Further to this in December 2019, James McNaughton from the University Innovation, Impact and Business team worked as part of Babcock’s Group Technology Team on a 6-month secondment, further demonstrating the strength of the relationship.
Supporting technological growth in the South West
Babcock has a growing interest in digital technologies and recently launched the Babcock Technology Centre in Bristol headed up by Jon Hall, Babcock’s Managing Director of Technology. Jon is fully committed to ensuring Babcock benefits from the use of digital technologies and techniques such as Digital Thread, AI and digital twins – all areas of expertise that the University of Exeter can offer.
Babcock is also a partner employer and supporter of the University’s new South West Institute of Technology, a multi-million-pound facility providing high-level digital, engineering and manufacturing technology education across the South West. Babcock’s role will ensure training programmes are focused on the latest industry skills which will boost students’ employability in the technology sector.
Babcock has a strong presence in the South West; their industrial base is located in Plymouth at Devonport Royal Dockyard, conveniently located for Exeter researchers and students to visit.
Recruiting the next generation of engineers
For many years, Babcock has recruited Exeter students onto its graduate programmes and industrial placements. Their 2020/21 graduate recruitment campaign has just launched, offering a variety of programmes, from Engineering and Science and Project Management to Business Operations Management.
This year, Exeter’s Engineering department teamed up with members of Babcock’s Technical Team to deliver an innovative Master’s degree project, designed to give students unparalleled industry experience. The project was coordinated by Exeter Professor James Brownjohn and supported by Mark Westcott, Exeter alumnus and Senior Mechanical Design Engineer at Babcock.
All students worked to industry standards on a real R&D project, which was an incredible opportunity for them not only to apply their skills and knowledge to real-world engineering problems, but also to improve their employability as recent graduates entering the job market.
Professor Brownjohn said: “We feel lucky to have such a strong, long-standing relationship with Babcock. It allows us to exchange knowledge, skills, and expertise in a way that is truly beneficial to all, and to create a stimulating and supportive environment for our students to grow both personally and professionally.”
Babcock is also a Degree Apprenticeship partner employer and recruits Exeter apprentices to work at Babcock, gaining hands-on industry experience, alongside studying a University of Exeter degree in Digital & Technology Solutions, Data Science or the Senior Leader (MBA).
Babcock have also enrolled several members of their newly recruited staff onto the programmes under Exeter’s flagship Degree Apprenticeship scheme.
Driving a cleaner future for the defence sector
With the maritime sector aiming to become carbon neutral by 2050, Babcock are interested in reducing their carbon emissions and moving from petrol vehicles to electric and hybrid alternatives.
They have partnered with the University through its Centre for Future Clean Mobility, and are collaborating with the University to develop low-emission power systems for its marine and defence vehicles.
Professor Chris Smith, Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Director of the CFCM said: “Babcock has become a key partner for us in Engineering. They’re helping us make sure our research projects, proposals and initiatives are driven by and help to meet industry demands. In June 2020 we launched the Centre For Future Mobility, which faces the future of power in all forms of transport and mobility. Babcock have supported us every step of the way”.
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