With five Queen’s Awards for Enterprise, constant innovation is part of the culture at Sheffield-based engineering firm Gripple. Their relationship with Sheffield Hallam has been crucial to that innovation. And the variety of ways in which we have worked with them shows the potential for these sorts of partnerships to evolve with the companies they are designed to help.
What we did
The original Gripple was a clever idea designed to solve problems with fencing. Sheffield Hallam was brought on board to help develop this invention – a wire joiner and tensioner – into something that could achieve mass sales in the global market. Our remit, in collaboration with a team from the University of Sheffield, was to use our mechanical engineering expertise to develop a product that was sufficiently strong, but could also be manufactured fast and in high volumes. We used a Knowledge Transfer Partnership to work on automating the manufacturing process.
Following this successful project with our Materials and Engineering Research Institute, Gripple worked on a consultancy basis with Design Futures, the University’s specialist industrial design group. Our team worked on increasing the cost-effectiveness of Gripple’s product.
Thanks to this innovation Gripple has an extremely strong USP, and a clear global market. Now with bases in Chicago and Strasbourg, the 250-strong company works all over the world. It has sold over 300 million Gripples into the construction industry for hanging services, the wines industry for trellising grapes and the fencing industry for joining and tensioning wire.
Our Design Futures team were also involved in the development of a Gripple spin-out company – Loadhog Ltd. Again this company began with the identification of a market opportunity – this time for a better method of securing a pallet load than traditional w rapping and banding methods – and our research team were involved in the design and delivery of the concept. Loadhog is now an award-winning manufacturing business with 50 per cent of its sales outside the UK. The product development manager has given a number of talks to our students, who also benefit from tours of Loadhog’s advanced automated manufacturing facility.
Gripple is also working with the University to enhance innovation in the region. They are an ongoing sponsor of our annual Enterprise Challenge business-start up competition. As well as financial support, they offer invaluable business advice, taking finalists into the Gripple Incub hub, which is designed to nurture new local businesses. Recently Gripple collaborated with our Innovation Futures team, another local business Unfolding Innovation and Creative Sheffield – the economic development arm of Sheffield City Council – to launch a series of workshops aimed at encouraging more Sheffield companies to think about innovation and exposing them to a range of innovation techniques.
It is like a home from home when I go in, because I recognise so many faces from Sheffield Hallam. It shows that we are developing graduates with the design and manufacturing skills that innovative engineering companies like Gripple need.
Graham Cockerham, professor of engineering design at the University and the lead on a number of Gripple research consultancy projects