Professor Ric Parker, CBE, FReng Director of Research and Technology, Rolls-Royce plc (retired) with members of the audience.


IEL Distinguished Speaker Series, 25th October 2016

By: Andre Theng, Student Reporter

Our world today is becoming increasingly open. This extends even in corporate innovation with open innovation practices becoming increasingly adopted. In open innovation, companies tap on external ideas as they look to advance their designs & technology to compete in markets that are rapidly changing.

It was thus illuminating to see that Rolls-Royce is doing the exact opposite, in what Professor Ric Parker, the recently-retired Director of Research & Technology terms the ‘external closed innovation’ model. In an insightful evening sharing with engineering students and industry veterans, at the 10th Lecture of the IEL Distinguished Speaker Series, Professor Parker shared his take on how innovation could result in both social good and wealth creation.

Professor Parker highlighted the importance of innovation, which he described as both “a process and an outcome”, as having the potential to solve global issues. He did so through a sharing of his experiences with Rolls-Royce on different aspects of innovation. Professor Parker discussed various models of innovation, which he explained through the use of a matrix giving examples of different strategies. For example, Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works which develops top-secret military hardware, would be considered a closed internal model of innovation, whereas 3M where Arthur Fry invented the 3M’s Post-it Note®, would be considered an example of an open internal model.


The ‘external closed innovation’ model is one where technology is developed exclusively for Rolls-Royce, but one which focuses on partnerships with external parties to facilitate the development. In the case of Rolls-Royce, the company had made a conscious decision not to build its own research centre and decided to work with universities instead, fostering an intimate relationship between the two.

It now has a network of University Training Centres (UTC) all around the world, each focusing on a specific area of R&D. The model has worked well for Rolls-Royce, which highly values these mutually-beneficial partnerships. Aside from universities, it also works with government agencies for funding & support for infrastructure and to attract top researchers. In this way, Rolls-Royce is able to develop technology strategies that stretch from five to 20 years depending on the scale of development.

Through this model, Rolls-Royce has been at the forefront of technology development in engine propulsion systems, powering record-breaking and highly innovative aircraft including the Boeing 787, the Concorde and the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Professor Parker also discussed how innovation could result in other benefits for society. He shared on the Clean Sky project, which is concerned with developing new technology to make aircraft more environmentally friendly. Rolls-Royce is a major partner of the project, where it works closely with 600 other partners from all over the European Union.

In concluding, Professor Parker emphasised that innovation was “vitally essential” to turn bright ideas into wealth in Singapore, and elsewhere. He added that innovation was also a means for engineering solutions to tackle some of the big problems the world is facing.

Following the talk, participants were invited to field questions. In response to a question on how universities can help students to become more innovative, he encouraged students to go back to basics and ‘make stuff’ instead of just sitting in front of a computer, and in doing so, reignite a passion for creating and discovering.

In his words – “innovation is fun and exciting”!