CDE Global (CDE) are the world’s leading wet-processing equipment company for the four sectors of sand and aggregates, mining, C&D waste recycling and industrial sands.

In order to improve product communication, increase sales efficiency and enter new markets, it was essential to embed digital literacy and a Creative Industries capability into the company. To achieve this, CDE secured a KTP with Ulster University to apply its cutting-edge Design research into the Engineering sector (KTP009750).

Art & Design Research Director, Dr Justin Magee, led a multidisciplinary team bridging expertise from product, experience, games and graphic design with film and animation. They integrated design-led methodologies and digital content workflows into the company, enabling larger global tenders in the £5M-£15M range. The KTP Associate, Peter McGroarty, was an experienced product visualisation and games designer.

CDE produce machines that range in size – from that of a van, to a house – with modular structures being much larger. The cost and logistics of physical installation at tradeshows is significant and sometimes nonviable. A digital approach to communicate technical, maintenance and customer experiences was required.

Dr Joanne Hayden, Director of Marketing, explained: “When you consider the cost of bringing even a small wash plant to an exhibition can run into tens of thousands the benefits are obvious. Virtual Reality is a great alternative that is quickly gaining credibility not only at exhibitions but also for conveying concepts to customers on inward visits.”

An adapted workflow from games and animation, tailored to the company’s engineering workflow was embedded. An extensive digital library of full-scale machines was produced, each incorporating realistic physical behaviour. For instance, a loaded conveyor belt or water treatment process were rigged and animated to capture the realistic machine behaviour.

This led to a more immersive approach, using the HTC Vive with the ‘Unreal4 games engine’ providing a digitally immersive experience for customers, with lifesized presence. The audience reach extended beyond primary customers, to people of all ages, within a safe virtual environment during international tradeshows.

“This KTP enabled a heavy engineering company to strategically embed design thinking, ‘trial and error’ innovation with visualisation technologies and work flows, which otherwise would not have been explored”, Dr Justin Magee said. “The KTP acted as a catalyst for an innovation culture that emerged between R&D and marketing, where more ambitious ideas were explored on a strategic level. This led the company to make a technological and strategic leap.”

The KTP allowed a level of risk-free experimentation for CDE to develop new technologies and ideas into the delivery of significant future business benefits.

CDE acknowledged that the KTP helped to increase sales from £21.1M to £46.3M (2015-2017) and expects that the new tools and resources embedded by the KTP will contribute to the company achieving its original objective of £15M additional turnover over the next 3 years.

The research was assessed by Innovate UK as ‘Outstanding’ and received Ulster University’s Knowledge Exchange Impact Award (2016). It was showcased at Belfast Design Week 2017, Digital DNA2017 Finalist and THELMA Finalist for Knowledge Exchange/Transfer initiative of the year (2018).


This article first appeared in the 2018 State of the Relationship report, commissioned by Research England and compiled and published by NCUB.