Q&A with Lawrence Ekunwe, KTP Associate at Aston University

Today, we talk to Lawrence Ekunwe, KTP Associate at Aston University, to discuss the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, its goals, and Brockhouse.


Thank you for sitting down with us today. You are leading the Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Aston University. Could you please tell us a little more about your role, and your previous experience?

I work as a process development engineer for Brockhouse through the Innovate-UK Knowledge Transfer Network in collaboration with Aston University. For my role, I have been tasked with the responsibility of delivering the three main objectives of the project which are to implement waste heat recovery techniques, improved process control, and material waste reduction. The successful execution of this project will see Brockhouse reduce its overall gas consumption, increase forge utilisation, and become more sustainable in its operation.

Prior to now, I have worked as a turbo machines maintenance intern at a steam power generation plant in Nigeria, an energy research intern at the University of Huddersfield’s Smart House research facility, and a graduate manufacturing engineer at Tata Consultancy Services, Derby, where I was assigned to a Rolls-Royce Civil Aerospace project. In addition to my experience, I possess an MSc degree in mechanical engineering with a thesis on waste heat recovery for marine diesel engines.


What makes Brockhouse a good fit for a Knowledge Transfer Partnership? What is it you hope that Brockhouse will achieve over the next 30 months?

There is a long history which proves that a consistent collaboration between academia and industry is a sufficient driver for innovation. Brockhouse being part of the steel forging industry with the bulk of its product supplying the deep coal mining sector, there is a need to develop and implement innovative approaches to improve its business way beyond this sector. The company has an excellent workforce with rich experience in the business from both a commercial and technical side. The missing link is the research and academic expertise in sustainable operation management and energy efficiency to drive its innovation journey. It is for this reason Brockhouse is a perfect fit for a knowledge transfer partnership, as this provides a much-needed pipeline for knowledge transfer with academia.

The company has a forward-thinking management, and their current engagement with academic research is a testament of their commitment towards being at the top of creating value and promoting sustainability in manufacturing processes. There are certain milestones I am hopeful will be achieved in the next 30 months which include in no order, a recorded success in improving its process efficiency, emergence as an active player in new markets, and a fully operational waste heat recovery system together with an in-house digital energy management tool which I will be developing.


Brockhouse has been in operation for over 135 years and forging as a process has remained largely unchanged for centuries. Do you envision the innovations in improving the energy efficiency of forging will fundamentally alter the forging process for the better?

I consider steel forging a legacy industry which has been vital for human infrastructural growth for many years. Forged products will continue to be seen in several industrial equipments, and it is important that companies in this sector which also happen to be energy intensive are not deficient in innovative ideas to actively participate in the 4th industrial revolution which centres on technological driven growth, and sustainability. The output of this project is not to reinvent the wheel of the forging process, but rather show what’s possible in terms of things that can be done better. The result of this project will prove crucial not only for Brockhouse but the future of steel forging and has the potential to significantly reduce the amount of energy input to produce a forge, which in turn will reduce production cost. This accomplishment can even be reciprocated in other legacy industries, because how companies use and manage energy input to their process will forever be a key determinant of their survival.


At Brockhouse, we understand that quality assurance is key to our customers. How will the Knowledge Transfer Partnership benefit the quality of what Brockhouse offers?

In terms of quality, Brockhouse is high performing and produces top quality steel forges. With the knowledge transfer partnership, an added value particularly in the case of energy efficiency is being brought to the table. The process which yields a product is as important as the product itself and the adoption of energy efficiency techniques which will be embedded in the process will boost the confidence of both existing and future customers that they are being supplied by a business which prioritises the impact its production process has on the environment.  A lot of companies and original equipment manufacturers are becoming highly critical of what makes up their entire value chain due to pressure from government and regulatory bodies to reduce their carbon footprint. Therefore it is important that the values of Brockhouse with respect to environmental impact, well align with theirs.


Dr Imran, a leader of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership, stated that a key ambition was to help Brockhouse develop in the energy conservation and renewable sectors. How will this help set Brockhouse apart from its competitors? How will this help develop Blockhouse’s current offerings?

There is a growing trend in the energy conservation and renewable sector, particularly with the need for energy intensive companies to reduce their carbon footprint. The tide is changing for the global energy sector with already recorded growth in renewables, and it is important for Brockhouse to establish itself early on in this growing trend. Looking to the future, this will help Brockhouse expand its portfolio on the industries being supplied with its products, which will of course set them apart from their competitors.