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Leveraging DigiFed’s cross-border innovation model to solve a pressing industry challenge

Acciona is a global company at the forefront of the water treatment industry, spearheading the design, construction and operation of desalination plants, drinking water treatment facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and tertiary treatments for water reuse.

Assessing the performance of reverse osmosis membranes within pressure vessels at desalinations plants is a manual process: labour-intensive, time-consuming and impractical. Large-scale plants contain thousands of these membranes, so Acciona wanted to find an accurate, efficient digital testing solution that would simplify and automate the process, as well as monitoring performance in real time. This would enable predictive maintenance and avoid unnecessary halts to plant operations.

This challenge would require specialist expertise, and finding the right technical partner to work with would be essential. Joining the DigiFed programme gave Acciona access to the EU technology innovation community and helped them to select the right partner using a structured process.

Attracting and selecting the ideal innovation partner

The Digital Challenge Innovation pathway was adopted by DigiFed to help EU industries to develop solutions to real-world business challenges by partnering with digital technology innovators.

Through the pathway, which was developed and delivered by Digital Catapult, Acciona was able to explore the DigiFed’s European ecosystem to find the right supplier partner to develop a custom solution for their challenge.

As well as being efficient and economical, the structured approach would de-risk the selection process and expedite solution development. The selected applicant would receive up to €100,000 (co-funding from DigiFed and Acciona, as the challenge owner).

Digital Catapult collaborated with Acciona to create the detailed challenge brief, and DigiFed framed the open call, inviting respondents from their wide-reaching European innovation community. Together, we evaluated the candidates to find the technology innovators with the strongest potential for developing a successful product to meet Acciona’s specific requirements.

From the proposals received, we identified the partner best placed to work on the project: Instrumentation Technologies, a company with more than 25 years of experience in specialised R&D. This would be an opportunity for their team to work with a major enterprise partner, expand their existing value proposition, and identify potential new commercial prospects and markets for their solution.

Supporting successful solution development

Instrumentation Technologies’ prototype solution included hardware, software, calibration procedures, wireless power and communication, data transfer, measurements, miniaturisation and housing design for harsh environments. It also required the use of specialised components at a time when supply chain difficulties were widespread. The Instrumentation Technologies team was able to leverage DigiFed’s ecosystem to obtain what they needed within a tight timeframe.

Both Instrumentation Technologies and Acciona draw on DigiFed’s diverse skills and expertise in innovation, engineering, evaluation methodologies, and project management. Digital Catapult’s project management approach provided a structured environment for monitoring progress and results, and both support teams provided objectivity and appropriate interventions to ensure that the perceptions and goals of both parties were aligned throughout the project. For example, we ensured that they both had the same vision and definition of what success looked like and helped them to identify the next steps required at a key stage during the project development.

The industrial prototype for monitoring the performance of the reverse osmosis membrane underwent testing and validation in lab environments and in a simplified and yet relevant industrial setting. It was found to successfully fulfil all Acciona’s required and desired criteria: enabling real-time digital assessment of reverse osmosis membrane and pressure vessel performance, identifying problematic membranes, and enabling integration of these measurements into active operational strategies.

About DigiFed

DigiFed is a network of innovation hubs across Europe that creates sustainable cross-border services and partnerships between small and large businesses, universities, public bodies and research and technology organisations. Digital Catapult is the UK hub.

DigiFed focuses on the adoption of cyber-physical systems (CPS) (especially by non-digital businesses) to transform and digitise their operations, products and service offerings. It establishes collaborations between prominent industry players and technology start-ups and SMEs, empowering innovators to penetrate new markets.