Featured KTP Case Studies

Bringing knowledge and expertise to your business every day, a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) is a collaboration between your organisation, the University and a high-calibre recent graduate. Below are some examples of KTP projects that are both currently running and have been completed with the University of Birmingham.

Featured Case Studies

Abtus Ltd.

Extending railway inspection product range

Established in 1908, Abtus Ltd design and engineer electro/mechanical solutions for the international defence and railway industries.  Their railway products specialise in the measurement and maintenance of rail-track and its associated infrastructure. Through a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Birmingham, Abtus sought to enhance their existing range of railway inspection products by developing a new, innovative product capable of being sold in the UK and worldwide.

The partnership expanded upon Abtus’ experience of building mechanical track measurement equipment by utilising the knowledge, skills and expertise at the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Railway Research and Education (BCRRE). As part of the KTP, Marius Rusu was employed to work with Abtus to research and develop the new product, drawing upon the expertise of Professor Clive Roberts and Dr Edd Stewart at the University of Birmingham.

The KTP resulted in the design, development and launch of a fully Network Rail-approved product to identify and target track maintenance for Cyclic Top, a fault on rail networks which has accounted for a number of train derailments. Thanks to the collaborative nature of the KTP project, Abtus were able to produce innovative design solutions which allowed progress on the product to move swiftly from prototype to fully-approved solution. The resulting product is the first of its type worldwide and has earned Abtus a place in the shortlists for three categories at the UK Rail Industry Awards 2018. 

Sam Parrett

Managing Director, Abtus Ltd.

“The impact of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership on Abtus and its staff is almost immeasurable. Collectively we have gained skills, thinking and commercial opportunities that otherwise would have been extremely difficult to find. The entire process has been well structured, motivating and rewarding for all parties involved and we are very lucky to have had the chance to work with the fantastic staff at Birmingham University, a relationship which we plan to develop further over the comings months and years.”


Ionotec Ltd.

Manufacturing beta alumina tubes by extrusion

Established in 1995, Ionotec is an independent employee-owned business with expertise in sodium battery technology and the manufacture of beta alumina ceramics. Ionotec’s existing manufacturing process for the beta alumina solid electrolyte ceramic used in sodium battery cells is based on electrophoretic deposition (EPD). However, in order to maintain competitiveness with other electrical storage methods, Ionotec sought to reduce the overall cost of sodium battery production by investigating ways to reduce the cost of their manufacturing process.

A Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) with the University of Birmingham has allowed Ionotec to diversify their manufacturing process through the introduction of extrusion, a proven low-cost volume production process which can be applied to the production of beta alumina tubes. As part of the KTP scheme, Dr Yu Hu was employed as a KTP Associate to research and implement the new production process with Ionotec, drawing on the knowledge, skills and expertise of Professor Stuart Blackburn at the University of Birmingham’s Interdisciplinary Research Centre in Materials Processing.

The achievements of the project have included the specification, ordering and installation of paste mixing and extruder equipment at Ionotec and successful extrusion trials which have produced beta alumina tubes with good properties comparable to those of Ionotec’s existing EPD process. Dr Yu Hu and the academic team at the University of Birmingham were also able to work with the company to develop and enhance paste formulations for use in the extrusion process. In particular, significant progress was made by demonstrating the feasibility of a new water-based paste formulation which has the potential to eliminate a large percentage of the capital and processing costs involved in the company’s existing EPD process.

In addition to the achievements of the project itself, the company has benefited from the relationship developed with the KTP Associate during the project. Following the completion of the project, Dr Yu Hu was successful in securing further employment with Ionotec.  

Dr Steve Heavens

Director of Research and Development, Ionotec Ltd.

“KTP is an excellent scheme for SME-university collaboration and Ionotec is delighted to have been able to make use of it.”


Kuka Robotics UK Ltd.

Developing advanced robotic vision solutions

As part of parent company KUKA AG, KUKA Robotics UK Ltd is one of the leading manufacturers of robotic systems worldwide. The fast-paced robotics industry means that consistent innovation in the field is necessary in order to continue to provide cutting edge solutions to customers.

Given that robots form an integral part of modern industrial processes, innovation in robotic vision is now increasingly important, with robots required to examine and interact with the space around them in ever more sophisticated ways. Designing robots capable of this complex engagement with their environment involves an intricate fusion of hardware and software in order to allow robots to accurately see and interact with their surroundings.    

KUKA therefore sought to engage with academic expertise at the University of Birmingham to pursue innovative solutions to the challenges posed by robotic vision. With funding provided by Innovate UK and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), KUKA and the University entered into a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) over a period of three years that aimed to produce innovative tracking, vision and gripping solutions for industrial robots.

As part of the KTP, a postdoctoral researcher, Dr Naresh Marturi, was employed to lead the project. Operating mainly within the company but with access to the University of Birmingham’s facilities and the expert supervision of Dr Rustam Stolkin and Professor Ales Leonardis, Naresh was able to embed specialist knowledge into the company in order to improve their ability to deliver advanced robotic vision solutions.

Major achievements of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership have included the development and demonstration of a wide range of state-of-the-art vision-guided robot control methods which KUKA are now able to recommend to customers. In particular, Naresh worked closely with one of KUKA’s major customers to develop a tailored solution utilising 3D robotic vision that enables efficient automated bin-picking within a production process.  

KUKA have also benefitted through the upskilling of its existing staff members. During his time with the company, Naresh was able to train existing technical staff, working with him in a supporting role, in robotic vision applications and its associated software. Likewise, Naresh also supported the company’s Sales team by ensuring they were familiar with the new technology and its capabilities. This has allowed the Sales team to confidently identify opportunities for robotic vision applications when recommending solutions to potential customers. 

Alan Oakley

Robot Sales Specialist - Education

“This was my first experience of a KTP. Working with the University to see real improvement in the company performance due to skills learnt by KUKA staff during the course of the KTP was a great experience.”


RS Hydro Ltd.

Helping to keep the world’s rivers clean

While the UK’s canals and rivers have come a long way since the infamous ‘Great Stink’ of the Thames in 1858, pollution remains an ongoing problem for the country’s waterways. Agricultural and urban waste, including sewage and manure, can cause significant damage to freshwater ecosystems and has wider implications for human health.

 In England, the Environment Agency samples around 7000 river and canal sites each year to assess nutrient levels and chemical / biological quality. However, water chemistry samples are then sent to laboratories for testing, causing delays that can affect the accuracy of the data collected. The ideal situation is to monitor water pollution in real time, allowing the Environment Agency and others to keep abreast of water condition changes as they happen.

RS Hydro is a total solutions provider for the water and wastewater industries, selling to the UK and worldwide. It specialises in a variety of water-monitoring equipment, including flow meters, water-quality monitoring instruments and wireless telemetry systems. With the aid of funding from two UK Research Councils, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), RS Hydro engaged in a two and a half year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project with the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

The aim was to develop a water-sensing system that would discriminate between different forms of aquatic pollution in real time. A recent PhD graduate, Dr Kieran Khamis, was employed to lead on the project and whilst employed by the University, was hosted by RS Hydro, ensuring that new knowledge developed over the course of the project was passed on to company staff. Over time the scope of the project was broadened, such that initial plans for field testing were expanded to include monitoring of drinking water and sewage treatment works, along with river catchment surveys. The laboratory capabilities of RS Hydro were also expanded, allowing the company to continue testing and calibration of sensors beyond the lifetime of the project. Furthermore, the sensor technology developed during the course of the KTP has formed a platform for future monitoring system developments, with the potential to lead to a range of new products in the future.

In recognition for his excellent work, Kieran was awarded Business Leader of the Future at the KTP Best of the Best Awards in London. The award, given to KTP Associates that demonstrate outstanding leadership skills, came with a cash prize, and the project was publicised via a number of media outlets. Following the close of the project, Kieran is now in an excellent position from which to pursue a career in environmental research. 

Rob Stevens

Managing Director, RS Hydro Ltd.

“I would thoroughly recommend a KTP to embed academic research within a commercial organisation. There are no other opportunities for a company such as ours to undertake this level of research and to be supported by the people needed to convert a meaningful project into a range of deliverable outcomes that have the potential to transform our company.”