At the EIC, we appreciate the opportunity to champion our innovator community. That’s why we’ve begun a new series, the Innovator Spotlight, where we sit down with an innovator and ask them all about their work in the utilities sector and beyond.
For the first installment, we’ve invited Rupert Wilkinson from Oxford Product Design and Oxford Gas Products to chat about these companies and the Easy Assist ECV, a project developed with the EIC which enables vulnerable customers to switch off their gas supply in the event of an emergency.
EIC: Hello, Rupert. Can you introduce yourself to me as an innovator, and give me a run-down of what it is Oxford Product Design and Oxford Gas Products do?
RW: I founded Oxford Product Design in 2013; I have worked in product design consultancy for most of my career, specialising in mobile phone and handheld computer design.
I decided to set up Oxford Product Design as a product design consultancy and we have experienced steady organic growth since then.
We’re now a team of over twenty people working across loads of different sectors, from medical, to healthcare, to consumer products.
We decided [also] to basically create a dedicated company with the sole focus of taking [the Easy Assist ECV] to market and developing a number of other innovative ideas we have for the utility sector, so that’s Oxford Gas Products.
Oxford Gas Products has the mission of making gas safety simple for everyone.
What are some of the major concerns that Oxford Product Design or Oxford Gas Products are looking at now?
The focus of the Easy Assist ECV was around customers on the Priority Services Register (PSR) that would be unable to switch off their own gas supply in the event of an uncontrolled leak.
I think it’s really important that everyone is able to switch off their own gas supply. We found throughout the project that there were some alarming statistics that 43% of homeowners wouldn’t know how to switch off their own gas supply.
There was a whole raft of other customers whose meters were inaccessible, or whose meter boxes were locked with a key that they didn’t have, or wouldn’t be able to locate in an emergency.
We’ve realised that the product is for everybody, even new-build homes, or homes with hydrogen.
What we’re trying to do is innovate into creating what is a global product, and I think internationally we’re hoping that there should be some opportunity for expansion there.
With growth in mind, what’s next for Oxford Product Design and Oxford Gas Products? Do you have specific goals that you want to achieve?
There’s this massive opportunity in the UK for a company like Oxford Product Design because we’re able to accelerate products to market [quickly], and we’re coming up with these incredible innovative and patentable ideas.
The plan with Oxford Product Design is to continue to expand that, but also to bring on electronics software development in-house as well.
Also, we’re looking to build much stronger links with manufacturing partners.
That’s the growth trajectory for OPD and we’ve got some pretty aggressive targets over the next year which is to go over double in size.
As for Oxford Gas Products, we are recruiting a team at the moment and lining up this portfolio of projects, as well as obviously continuing to keep an eye on the EIC [hub] portal and respond to calls that we think we can do a good job with.
Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with the EIC and how that started?
It started with responding to the Easy Assist Emergency Control Valve (ECV) Call for Innovation on your [hub] portal, we responded to the opportunity with a bespoke solution (the Easy Assist ECV) that seemed to go down quite well.
We came up to Ellesmere Port (where the EIC is based), we presented the idea, and it went really well.
The project manager at the EIC was very useful, because at the time the GDN involved was a bit of a mystery to us, and he was able to help.
The EIC was really helping to guide us through a lot of the documentation and requirements for the project.
It would have been a very difficult project had it not been for the EIC’s support and knowledge of working with GDNs.
The Easy Assist ECV won the Customer Focus Award at the EIC’s Energy Innovation Showcase and Awards 2022. How did that feel, and has it helped your company in any tangible way since?
Just to talk about the show a bit, it was really fantastic. What a venue! And also, to have the opportunity to have the showcase Safari beforehand and get to meet people, talk with the GDNs, was really useful.
The show was fun, and then I couldn’t have been more delighted and surprised [to win], because the competition was stiff. We were up against some pretty tough contenders, but we were delighted and are very proud of our trophy and our award.
It definitely adds to our credibility, and we talk about it at every opportunity! Especially the fact it was the Customer Focus Award, and that is, in some ways, the DNA of Oxford Gas Products, and to a large degree Oxford Product Design.
What does the future look like for Oxford Product Design and Oxford Gas Products?
With the big push towards hydrogen and some of the other challenges that the utility sector faces, I really think that Oxford Gas Products is well placed to innovate within that space and help overcome and help that transition.
We’re excited about the possibility of competing on the global stage and really unlocking innovation globally.