RAB Microfluidics – The Offshore wind innovation hub supports a successful technology funding bid

Company factsheet

Location: Aberdeen, Scotland
Size: 3 employees
CEO: Dr. Rotimi Alabi
Industry: Microfluidics
ORE experience: Low

RAB Microfluidics has developed a ‘lab-on-a-chip’, using microfluidic technology to analyse lubricant in real time. It enables continuous monitoring of lubricants and earlier diagnosis of a mechanical failure.

The technology challenge

Maximising the productive life of machinery and improving its reliability is key to reduce operating costs and gaining a competitive edge in most machine-driven industries, including offshore wind.

Preventative maintenance is essential and lubrication is one of the most important checks for mechanical parts. Operators incur costs using time consuming conventional laboratory procedures.

The laboratory will check the chemical composition of the oil and check for particles in the lubricants that may provide early indication of unexpected mechanical failure in the turbine drive train.

These processes are limited by:

  • A low frequency of in-field oil sampling, often only twice per year for each turbine
  • Lengthy transportation times, as samples are couriered to the laboratory for analysis
  • A lack of real-time data on lubricants. This can lead to operation beyond the point of component damage, leading to further damage of the turbine and further downtime.
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The solution from RAB Microfluidics

RAB Microfluidics has developed a ‘lab-on-a-chip’, using microfluidic technology to analyse lubricant in real time. It enables continuous monitoring of lubricants and earlier diagnosis of a mechanical failure.

The technology aims to deliver oil analysis 1000 times faster and 10 times cheaper than current methods.

It offers a significant chance to increase offshore wind powertrains lifetime and reduce overall lifetime costs for an operator.

‘lab-on-a-chip’ technology from RAB Microfluidics

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The Offshore Wind Innovation Hub

The Offshore Wind Innovation Hub (OWIH) works to support companies looking for innovation funding, just like RAB Microfluidics.

It promotes funding competitions, like those from Innovate UK, to ensure that companies with offshore wind technologies are ready for the competition and have the necessary components for a successful bid.

It works to convene project partners, find market data to build a business case and help find test facilities.

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Challenges faced by RAB Microfluidics

RAB Microfluidics is a start-up company from the University of Aberdeen, led by Dr. Rotimi Alabi, previously a researcher at the university. Rotimi still has strong ties with the University and is supported by them with product development and testing. Before focusing on in-line fluid analysis, Rotimi had focused his research on using microfluidics for downhole production of crude oil but changed direction when he saw greater opportunity elsewhere.

The RAB Microfluidics team needed to progress from a very successful research project to delivery of a product that could be used in many industries, including offshore wind. Rotimi needed to prove the concept and then miniaturise the technology but this needed to be done in a number of smaller steps to help manage risk along the way.

Throughout his journey, Rotimi discovered that he needed funding, testing and validation opportunities, a product development partner and partnerships with potential end users or ideally customers. None of which he had at the beginning of the journey.

“In hindsight, we had lack of insight into the funding application process [at the beginning]”
Rotimi Alabi, RAB Microfluidics

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How OWIH supported

The OWIH team was promoting the Infrastructure Systems: Round 3 competition and knew about Rotimi’s technology. They saw an opportunity and offered to support him to make an application for the next stage of funding to build his prototype. The amount of money he needed was significantly more than for the earlier stages of development.

The OWIH team helped Rotimi by matching him with the funding call and providing essential offshore wind energy market and technical information for the bid. The team also introduced him to a turbine manufacturer, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE). SGRE became part of the project and joined the final funding application. Rotimi was successful in the competition, achieving a score that was 11% higher than on his previous application to Innovate UK.

“It is great to have support from end users but it really makes a difference to your credibility when you actually have it written down on paper. Having SGRE in our application helped us win the funding and has helped us attract further end users since”
Rotimi Alabi, RAB Microfluidics

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As of May 2018, Rotimi has secured £600,000 funding from grants and competitions and a further £155,000 private investment. The product is now at Technology Readiness Level 5, meaning it is validated in a relevant environment and the company is valued at £1.1million.

The Innovate UK-funded demonstration project is supported by ORE Catapult and SGRE. They provide essential product development support, such as customer requirements questionnaires.

Rotimi now has interest from a large multinational shipping company and a large multinational engineering company, which both intend to set up product development partnerships. The funding has enabled Rotimi to grow from a solo entrepreneur to building a team of three.

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Next steps

RAB Microfluidics is now in the process of assessing the commercial viability of its product, working with ORE Catapult on its business model, raising its profile and seeking £1m for a seed round, which will ultimately raise the valuation of the company.

Public technology funding
New jobs created
Increase in application score

“Every bit of interaction along the way has helped shape the direction of my journey as an entrepreneur and helped reduce the risks I faced”
Rotimi Alabi, RAB Microfluidics