UK industry driving economic growth through collaboration


10 minute read
Jo Reid

Jo Reid

Managing Director

Aerospace & Engineering

Digital Insights

Innovation is the fuel for a thriving economy. Collaboration is key to innovation. Our experience of partnering with the Aerospace & Defence and Pharmaceutical sectors shows how the UK is competing on the global landscape – enabled by digital transformation and mobile technologies.

In this article, I’ll highlight some ways in which both sectors are collaborating across company boundaries to drive the UK’s economic recovery.

Rapid digital transformation

The UK aerospace industry is one of the largest in the world, second only to the US. More than 3,000 companies contribute to Britain’s reputation as a global centre of aerospace excellence, including Rolls-Royce, which has more than a century’s worth of pioneering innovation behind it.

This is an industry that is already critical to the UK economy and this will come into sharp effect when Britain exits the EU. What makes it invaluable though, is its ability to tap into the disruptive potential of digital technologies and innovate at speed.

Even at 116-years-old, Rolls-Royce is developing new technologies to ensure it is a business fit for tomorrow. We recently helped the multinational engineering company develop a pioneering smartphone app to reduce foreign object debris engine damage, which is something that costs the US Naval Air Warfare Center over $100m every year.

The app allows US marines to scan objects to capture high quality imagery, accurate GPS location and size, which are then sent for analysis in a central database, moving the right data to the right user at the right time. The automated analysis of debris location data, and development of FOD ingestion avoidance initiatives, is the first step in offering an integrated range of digital services for the US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR).

a man is leaning down to the concrete ground, looking for FOD. There is a green fighter jet behind him
Collecting FOD. Photo by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet (CC BY 2.0)


“This is a first for our business and demonstrates our ability to develop pioneering technologies that will enhance safety, efficiency and deliver a cultural change for our customers,” says Rolls-Royce’s president of defence services, Paul Craig. “Our focus on FOD and our customers doesn’t stop for a moment and this milestone not only demonstrates the value of the app itself but provides a platform for us to springboard into other services.”

Rolls-Royce is making waves in carbon zero initiatives as well; it is building an all-electric aircraft as part of its net-zero carbon goal by 2050. Called the ACCEL project, The company is aiming to have zero-emission planes that can fly with speeds of 300+ MPH this year.

Airbus, meanwhile, announced last month its plans for zero-emission aircraft fuelled by hydrogen. The only emission produced when hydrogen is burned is water vapour, making it the perfect solution to significantly reducing aviation’s climate impact.

An Airbus A380 flies through a clear blue sky


Airbus’s chief executive, Gillaume Faury, says this marks the most important transition this industry has ever seen and we absolutely agree. This is why it is so important the UK aerospace industry can continue to work with all those brilliant minds. Imagine the myriad great things that can be achieved when we put our heads together and share ideas.

The Ventilator Challenge UK, which has since been awarded the Royal Academy of Engineering President’s Award for Pandemic Services, is another example of what makes the UK aerospace industry so brilliant. 

Over the summer, in response to Covid-19, a consortium of significant UK industrial, technology and engineering businesses from across the aerospace, automotive and medical sectors came together to produce medical ventilators for the UK.

The initiative combined the knowledge and skills of 33 companies including Rolls-Royce, Airbus, Unilever and Ford, to produce more than 13,000 Smiths and Penlon ventilator devices for the NHS. 

To put the magnitude of that into perspective, they were able to achieve something that would normally take years in only 12 weeks. This clearly demonstrates what is possible when companies cooperate for a single-purpose mission.

While the consortium has now delivered all the required ventilators to the NHS, it is looking to capture lessons learned and share them across the engineering community – and with Government – as key tools to help the UK industry get back on its feet after the pandemic has passed. Collaboration enabled by digital transformation will no doubt be a key theme.

At Calvium, we are always looking at how we can further our ambition to be trusted suppliers for the Aerospace sector, so it was a no-brainer when one of our clients, British multinational defence technology company QinetiQ, invited us to register with JOSCAR (Joint Supply Chain Accreditation Register) – the accreditation and compliance system for the defence and aerospace sectors. 

This means our compliance information is now available to all buying organisations who are part of the JOSCAR community. This will in turn enable us to deliver digital innovation solutions to those clients and hopefully build many more long-lasting and beneficial partnerships.

JOSCAR logo on pink background
JOSCAR Registered

Agile Pharma processes

The value of agile collaboration in the pharmaceutical industry cannot be underestimated – in many cases it is literally a matter of life and death – and the coronavirus pandemic has sharply brought into focus the need for new drugs and the vital importance of being able to get these out into the world quickly. Indeed, as I write this, it looks like a working coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer and BonNTech is now very much in reach, with the prospect of more coming online soon. Given the nature of the vaccine (it works via the introduction of RNA into the body, unlike many traditional vaccines which expose the body to a very small dose of the virus) temperatures of -70 degrees celsius will be needed for storage, which itself presents huge logistical challenges for a nationwide vaccination program.

Having forced many countries into a lockdown and significantly limited our physical interactions, Covid-19 has really emphasised why it is so important for industries to have robust digital ecosystems that allow them to work together at all times – not least during times of crises.

martin sanchez j2c7yf223Mk unsplash
Map showing COVID-19 cases. Source:


The World Health Organisation (WHO) recognised the integral role digital can play in strengthening Europe’s response to Covid-19 in a report earlier this year. The guidance recommended establishing or reinforcing web-based telemedicine platforms and communication platforms as key measures to maintaining continuity of essential health care services. 

It is clear digital transformation is no longer just a nicety but also a necessity and this is something Calvium is dedicated to accelerating.

We joined forces with Automated Architecture (AUAR) to develop our PPE Hive platform in an effort to encourage and enable agile peer-to-peer collaboration in response to the national shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the pandemic. 

PPE Hive allows healthcare workers to request PPE from those who can create them through 3D printing. Ultimately, it simplifies exchange and accelerates connections that are already taking place via email, phone calls and social media. 

The platform is an example of an initiative that could easily be adapted to encourage more open peer-to-peer collaboration in other industries. For example: an engineer in company A has a brilliant idea that needs a certain tool or product to create a proof of concept, they ask for it on the platform, and then company B delivers it to test if it works. 

PPEHive Marketing Banner 2
PPE Hive


We are also working with CatSci – a UK-based CRO that is making the research and development process more efficient for pharmaceutical companies all over the globe – on the ways that the pharmaceutical industry can build on the rigour of its historical processes in new agile and collaborative ways.


The recently established SME develops economically and environmentally sustainable chemical processes that meet the evolving healthcare needs of the world.

Together, we are building an independent, unbiased platform to connect scientists and provide contemporaneous and free information and trends in the marketplace. Our mission is to connect scientists so that we can pre-competitively share ideas for best practice and pay forward for the benefit of developing others.

“What excites me the most about the pharmaceutical industry today is the growing culture and enthusiasm for collaboration within the industry,” CatSci’s Dr. Jo Sampson said at the company’s virtual symposium in October. “Big pharma, biotechs and CROs are getting onboard and a myriad of initiatives are being created to pool our knowledge and resources, to expedite the drug discovery and development process.”

There is much to be learned from established platforms like Exostar, which helps companies in highly-regulated industries – including aerospace and pharmaceutical – collaborate in a safe and compliant way. Where sharing IP and data can be difficult, Exostar is able to make processes efficient across companies safely.

Creating secure information-sharing platforms, such as Exostar and PPE Hive, is key to building and maintaining trust with clients. This is absolutely crucial in industries as highly-regulated as these. It is also essential that these platforms are independent so that they provide a fair exchange for all partners wishing to collaborate. 

Exostar was set up as an independent company so that no partner in the consortium could be seen as having more control than others, while CatSci guarantees that every project it undertakes gets the same level of expert attention and support, no matter its size. 

Calvium is also independent and so we can develop, run and support the platforms that could enable everyone else to benefit and thrive. We are excited to see how much more we can achieve with our partners to accelerate digital transformation in all the industries we work with.

A woman uses an tablet but the screen is blurrd.

Collaborate to innovate

The aerospace sector is brimming with rapid innovation, from hydrogen and electric engines to producing and distributing ventilators in just 12 weeks, while the pharmaceutical sector is leading the way in process research and development chemistry. Importantly, there is a growing culture for collaboration in both industries.

Calvium is committed to creating solutions that can enable safe and effective collaboration systems between companies in key sectors like these. The open model we tested in PPE Hive is one example of how we can create an environment to encourage grass-roots cross-company idea sharing and collaboration. The secure systems we are creating for our Aerospace clients that securely interlink legacy backend systems with bespoke front end designs is another.

There is much to be excited by and we believe it is this kind of collaboration, enabled by digital transformation and mobile technologies, that will help the UK to stand out on the global stage for many years to come.

Calvium circle logo