Case study

Scale Up Support for Bloc Digital

Since 2016, the University of Derby has been working closely with immersive technology firm Bloc Digital. A package of business support, research expertise and student and graduate talent from our University, has played a significant part in enabling this Derby based SME to scale-up. In the last three years Bloc has rapidly expanded, acquiring two new companies, more than doubling its workforce to 50 and opening a new office in North America.

About the company

Bloc Digital was initially founded to create 3D visualisations of aircraft engines for Rolls-Royce, but is now one of the UK’s leading immersive digital technology studios, delivering cutting-edge digital visualisation. This includes 3D modelling, animation, virtual and augmented realities (VR/AR), and pioneering immersive technologies.

Student and graduate talent

The University of Derby has provided Bloc with a continuous pipeline of student and graduate talent. The company initially approached us looking for a year-long student placement to help them with computer coding. Since then, Bloc has employed 15 Derby graduates, hosted six year-in-industry placements, one Masters placement and three PhD students. Director of Bloc Digital, Keith Cox explains how this has benefitted them:

“The impact of having graduates and students from the University into the business has been fundamental. Without them and the University’s support, we would not be where we are now.”

Our students and graduates are clearly benefitting from this partnership too. Bloc is providing the chance to develop valuable experience that will set them on the path to a rewarding graduate career in a growth sector. This is delivering on our commitment to ‘mould the next generation of game changers’, as set out in our University’s Strategic Framework.

Bloc Digital's logo

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

Our computing researchers are also supporting Bloc with two Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs), which are providing employment for three PhD level researchers. These projects are already bringing clear benefits: they have enabled Bloc to significantly reduce the time and cost of delivering its VR training applications. This has put the company, and the UK, at the forefront of the VR and AR digital revolution, because the concepts and innovations are unique to the sector. Keith Cox from Bloc explains:

“The Knowledge Transfer Partnerships have been invaluable in ensuring Bloc stays at the forefront of the market. The projects have significantly improved our productivity and our ability to meet our customers’ needs and the demands of the market in general.”

The knowledge transfer partnership between the University of Derby and Block digital is led by members of the Data Science Research Centre, a multidisciplinary hub that brings together experts and researchers in data science and visualisation to work with producers and consumers of big data. Members of the Centre are engaged in developing novel data mining and machine learning algorithms and their applications to information security, Internet of Things (IoT) and manufacturing. Researchers are well engaged with local and national industries and their work with Bloc is an example of how expertise in relation to machine learning algorithms can be explored and used to optimise the visual quality of products in a training context.

The offices of Bloc Digital

These KTPs are an example of how our University is being a ‘force for positive impact’ — one of the key pillars of our Strategic Framework — by using our knowledge and research to make a practical, positive difference and to help local businesses to scale-up and create high-value jobs.

Our academics are now using these KTPs to develop the next generation of VR/AR enabled teaching to students at the University — a clear example of how our curriculum is informed by our knowledge exchange activity.

Closer collaboration

The partnership between the University and Bloc Digital has continued to strengthen. Bloc moved its digital visualisation studio into the University of Derby’s Enterprise Centre during the summer of 2020 and is now collaborating with us to create a state-of-the-art immersive technology demonstration hub. This will enable businesses in the region to try out new communication and visualisation technology.

Bloc Digital’s Director Keith Cox confirms: “The on-going collaboration and potential this move offers, further places Bloc in a strategic position to continue our innovation and investment in new visualisation and immersive technologies which in turn, will enable the wider businesses community to work and communicate smarter and with impact.”

For further information or to discuss working in partnership with us, please contact our Business Enquiry Team on +44 (0)800 001 5500 or businessgateway@derby.ac.uk.

Visit Bloc Digital website