08 March 2010

Trevor Cross, chief technology officer of image sensor developer e2v

Graham Pitcher speaks to Trevor Cross about how the new Electronics, Sensors and Photonics KTN will address the emerging challenge led agenda.

The Knowledge Transfer Networks have been, in general, a great success in the three years of their operation. But a recent review of the network as a whole has concluded there are too many. And the Electronics KTN (EKTN) is not immune from the changes. As from 1 July this year, the EKTN will merge with four other KTNs to form the Electronics, Sensors and Photonics KTN, or ESPKTN. Overseeing the activity as chairman is Trevor Cross. Cross, chief technology officer of image sensor developer e2v, has been involved with the Sensors KTN and with PPARC, the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, helping during its transition into the Science and Technology Facilities Council.

"The Technology Strategy Board (TSB) found it had a whole array of KTNs," he noted. "It gradually began to appreciate that a lot of high calibre experienced people were giving up their time to work within them and it dawned on it that the KTN network should be tidied up."

While there were 25 or so KTNs before, there will be about 12 in the future, reflecting the degree of overlap in their activities. "There was quite a lot of overlap in the electronics sector," Cross admitted. "So the TSB decided to merge five KTNs in the general electronics technology area into one. I suspect there was a 40% overlap in their individual activities."

Cross believes the change in alignment has come at a good time. "The world is changing," he believed. "People are now beginning to adopt a challenge led agenda. It's a powerful dynamic in how to get people to think differently about what they are trying to do."

Before assuming the chair of the ESPKTN, Cross chaired the independent advisory board for the Sensors KTN. "TSB wanted input from existing chairs and I told them I thought quite a lot of things were wrong. I became chair of the ESPKTN, which is more of an integration manager's role. But it is a non executive role, with Steve Welch acting as the chief executive."

One of the criticisms which Cross had of the existing KTN organisation was the spread of activities. "Governance of KTNs differed, as did their priorities. When looked at from the point of cost efficiency, the KTNs were failing. The network needed to be cut back in order to stimulate more effective innovation and wealth creation."

So what will the ESPKTN be like? "Impartial, broad and welcoming," Cross hoped. "It should be focusing on SMEs, but shouldn't exclude big companies. It should provide connectivity and advice to a broad range of companies, but should also listen to the community. It will be a single outward looking face for the electronics, sensors and photonics communities."

Planning for the merger has been underway since the middle of 2009. "We have now agreed the area of work, but we expect some constructive tension." That tension may be internal to the ESPKTN, but it could also be with the TSB. "Unless we're saying what we believe, then we're not doing our job," he affirmed. "If that doesn't align with the TSB's view, then so be it."

Cross said the ESPKTN will be promoting five broad themes: Quality of Life; Electricity for the Future; the Connected World; the Secure World; and the transport related Smart Moves. "These pretty well cover the market," he believed. "But it doesn't mean we won't take notice of significant technical developments."
Overall, Cross is impressed with the people in the KTNs and believes they are good at what they do. "Increasingly, our KTNs will work together and most of what we do will be done in a more integrated fashion."

There's a further dimension as well. "The TSB has the vision that if you're going to get the most out of the investment, then you need to get KTNs talking to each other. For example, there's a lot of sensor opportunities in healthcare, so it makes sense for us to work with the Healthcare KTN. And there's an opportunity to work with the Energy KTN."
In fact, Cross believes the energy sector will be fertile ground for the ESPKTN. "While the nuclear agenda is on the edge of our interests, it's likely that 30 or 40% of the price of a nuclear reactor will be instrumentation," he felt.

What success criteria will Cross apply to the ESPKTN? "I would like the ESPKTN to have achieved something significant in terms of project support in the healthcare and energy sectors," he said. "I would also like to have identified three projects similar to the recently announced Plastic Electronics strategy. We need to support high potential areas in which the UK has a good position. It will be about channelling more support into those areas where we can make an impact."
But he realises that much work lies ahead. "We have bright people, but we still need to punch above our weight if we are to turn ideas into wealth creation for the UK," he concluded.

Trevor Cross joined the e2v group in 1985 and is currently the company's chief technology officer. Along with technology planning and the strategic development of the group, he has played a key role in e2v's corporate R&D investment and university engagement programmes. He was appointed a member of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council in 2005 and is currently chairman of the Electronics, Sensors and Photonics KTN and a member of the STFC Economic Impact Advisory Board. He has a PhD in radiation damage in compound semiconductors and has written more than 35 technical papers and patent applications.

Graham Pitcher

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