Industry brings challenges to light sources, challenges coming from businesses’ research and innovation needs. Challenges to our instrumentation and software, and sample environments and setups. But also fundamental challenges to the way light sources operate and serve users and clients from the worlds of academia and industry.

Over the last few years, the ESRF’s commercial activities, operated through the Business Development Office, have generated over 2 MEuros annually. About 75% comes from beam time services, supplied on the basis of costs recovery, with the remainder from a growing technology transfer and instrumentation commercial programme exploiting the ESRF’s intellectual property and singular pool of light source engineering know-how.

It is interesting to look at how this has changed over the years – in 1995, a pharma company was paying some 10,000 Euros for a day of beam time during which they might collect data on two or three protein crystal samples. The new “MASSIF” station, jointly created by ESRF and EMBL, allows us to offer a professional mail-in service at a price of 125 Euros per sample – an almost two orders of magnitude decrease in price, opening the door to any pharma or biotech, large or small, to benefit from our facilities. The ESRF is now building with its partners, from the EPN Campus and from private enterprises, research offers for industry with more than just X-rays, encompassing, for example, protein-to-structure or even gene-to-structure options. This builds on the local expertise and technological platforms, opening them for industry needs.

However, industry is still a largely immature user and client of light sources (and research infrastructures more widely) – there is potential for much more activity across large swathes of Europe’s manufacturing, processing and technology-based industry. But a strong brake holding back further work is awareness and training of industry scientists and engineers as to the opportunities offered by modern synchrotrons. More and appropriate resources are needed at the facilities to support a “naïve” client such as industry with a service from translation of the R&I problem into the synchrotron experiment, to the experiment itself and analysis of the raw data to a finding that industry can understand and make use of. Industry is often also confused by the academic processes and terminology which spillover into the commercial access. Whilst we are simplifying this as much as possible to make it cleaner for the clients, it remains a challenge. Facilitating access, and helping industry to cross this barrier, is a role increasingly played by small, nimble businesses bridging the gap between light sources and industry. An example in Grenoble is “Novitom”, a strongly growing company focussing on providing industry with an efficient tomography access and analysis.

Working with industry is indeed a challenge and one the ESRF gladly takes on. Protein crystallography for drug discovery is largely assimilated across the world by the pharma industry. This has been enabled by a continual investment in the relationship with pharma, by technology developments at the light sources driven by industry needs, and by industry scientists valuing the light source data. Included in this chapter is an article by scientists at Genentech Inc. who studied the interaction between drug candidates and the binding site on a receptor linked with pain and other diseases.

Protein crystallography remains the mainstay of most light source industry programmes, although this is diversifying as techniques such as microtomography and SAXS mature towards high-throughput and cost-effectiveness for industry and carve out similar levels of work with industry thanks to the efforts of ESRF experts. In the last few years, the members of the ESRF, the European Commission and the ESFRI roadmaps have started to emphasise the need for European research infrastructures to be more active with industry and for industry to be able to more effectively exploit the investments made in these central research infrastructures. Light sources have a leading role to play in this with the application of X-rays for characterisation, going far beyond conventional techniques, of the advanced materials required for modern high performance and recyclable products.

In Grenoble, the IRT “NanoElec”, a French public-private-partnership, is investing some 6 MEuros in a characterisation programme to pave the way for the local micro and nano-electronics industries to work with the ESRF, ILL and CEA-LETI, building a modern Rosetta Stone for us to understand the industry partners and industry to understand us, crafting dedicated instruments at the facilities for those needs, and testing business models on a larger scale beyond Grenoble. The budget is small in the overall context of the NanoElec programme, but highly significant for the partners of the characterisation programme. The work is planned for nine years, completing as the new ESRF-EBS storage ring is installed, and potentially allowing a transition from effectively a non-existent interaction, to a dynamic and durable relationship with this industry sector. The work of the IRT is highlighted here by the description of the long-term innovation-led project on critical defects in integrated circuits.

Working with industry is not just about paid-for access. Equally important, perhaps even more so, is industry access via the ESRF’s public beam time programme – to which industry is very welcome to apply for publishable work, as well as via collaborations with academic/industry partnerships, funded PhD students and post-doctoral fellows, and European and national grant programmes. These are important routes to generate industry impact using our facilities for pre-competitive research, which of course are also a very effective awareness and training mechanism. We also provide industry-dedicated training and education workshops and even tailored training at the ESRF or at company sites.

Looking to 2016 and further ahead with the incredible and fully unique materials analysis opportunities to be afforded by the ESRF-EBS in 2020, our efforts, as the ESRF and as a network of European light sources, with industry both large and small will grow, reinforcing the links between the facilities and industry to the benefit of European competitiveness.

We are available to discuss industry’s future needs and we look forward to helping industry get the most out of the ESRF today and in the future.

So come on industry – we are ready, talk to us!

E. Mitchell