Andy Duncan from NPL provides solutions to support and enable innovation for small businesses.

National Measurement Institute wants to support small businesses

As the UK's National Measurement Institute, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) develops and maintains the national primary measurement standards. They deliver a vast range of measurement and verification services, carry out specialist R&D and provide solutions to support and enable innovation for small businesses.

Andy Duncan, Senior Territory Account manager for NPL works from the Science Park Centre on a monthly basis, where he can offer tailored advice and guidance to growing businesses. Andy has a materials science background, alongside a long-standing history with NPL and a passion for innovation.

Andy explained: "I have a materials science background from UMIST Manchester University and was offered my first role at Morgan Crucible in their technical ceramics team. I have been subsequently in the technical and sales side of engineering ceramics for 30 years. I knew NPL as both a customer for ceramics used in their equipment and also as helpful consultants whom I drew from, or recommended, regularly. When an opportunity arrived to work in the NPL Commercial team, it felt like the perfect opportunity to use the broad market experience I had gained over the years. My role helps with projects to improve the quality of life, medical treatments, develop green energy, and improve sustainability. So this is really a rewarding vocational role and working with exciting science and in an ethical way."

However, the support that NPL can offer is not restricted to specific sectors or sizes, as Andy reveals: "NPL are really best placed to help smaller and innovation led companies. This is because we have a broad range of expertise across all science disciplines, so that we can put together a bespoke team that can solve nearly any problem. Smaller companies usually have a technical challenge resolve – especially to verify the performance of an innovative product. Small companies naturally do not have the equipment, time or personnel to solve all of their technical issues and a small amount of targeted help from NPL can make an enormous difference. In addition, we have funding mechanisms that can help SME companies, e.g. Analysis for Innovators fund that can affordably deliver significant support."

NPL are best known for supporting measurement sciences but they also focus on data science. As Andy revealed: “We are the National Measurement Institute, but this also entails a great deal of data science. We have a growing data science team to support algorithm testing, big data challenges, computational and mathematical challenges. Can you trust the data, what is the data uncertainty and how does this propagate? There are essentially data science aspects to be considered in every project. NPL are helping to write the ground rules and develop unified methodology to bring consistency to testing of AI and Machine learning products. We are defining how to test face recognition, or autonomous vehicles for example."

Andy is looking forward to developing future collaborations with regional business. He said: "I am fortunate to live only 45 mins from the University of Exeter. I visit the University, Exeter Science Park Centre and Environmental Futures and Big Data Impact Lab monthly, currently on the first Friday of every month. We can organise 1:1 meetings in advance with the innovation companies and University departments, as well as meeting flexibly on the day. I am happy to support and offer advice by phone or email as well at any time. There are very few companies, or technical challenges, that NPL cannot help directly or indirectly. We also introduce small companies to potential customers and network with other potential partners. I will attend some of the larger organised events also."

Outside of work Andy continues to champion innovative pursuits, particularly those that focus on the environment and sustainability. Andy concluded: "Supporting innovation and new companies is my favourite thing to do. I feel fortunate to meet talented, enthusiastic, imaginative people in a really exciting phase of their working life. It is very rewarding to be able to pass on advice or introduce scientists and engineers that can make a difference at a critical stage in a company’s professional development. My real motivation is to help people, and as a bonus, the innovation projects we support are often centred on health, green energy, environmental or quality of life. At weekends, I am a keen cyclist, kayaker, hiker and really enjoy active weekends at home in Devon."

To arrange a meeting with Andy Duncan, please email.

Date: 22 May 2019

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