Re-introducing innovation culture into an international organisation.


If you’re at sea or in the air, there’s a good chance your life is in the hands of Survitec. Formally known as RFD and founded in 1920, this Northern Ireland-based company has grown over the years to become the world’s largest manufacturer of inflatable survival and safety equipment in consumer, defence and industrial markets.

This growth has meant that the company’s engineering team has become so honed in and specialised on delivering the next iteration of product that they aren’t necessarily thinking a few years ahead towards future needs and requirements.

Our innovation partnership with Survitec is longstanding. For over a decade we have been assisting with opportunities, from New Product Development (NPD) to assistance with the Front End of Innovation (FEI).


Sometimes, with R&D it is about realizing the opportunity and failing fast. Large organisations in general struggle to be agile enough to ‘fail fast’. Sometimes ‘fresh eyes’ are needed to give the opportunity the best chance possible.

For Survitec, concept design help communicate the direction they are taking, both internally across teams and externally with customers.

Sometimes however, concept design goes through several iterations and prototypes to discover that it’s not a solution to an opportunity that is suitable for Survitec. This however should be seen in a positive light. A project called ‘Tensegrity’ resulted in roughly 50 prototypes developed over 6 months. This exercise provided the Survitec board enough confidence to stop a project before too much was invested. By failing fast lessons were learned and, a lot of the technology developed was carried across into other product developments at Survitec. By outsourcing the front end of innovation to 4c, Survitec saved not only key resource, but significant time.

Capabilities Utilised

  • Design Thinking
  • Brainstorming
  • Rapid Prototyping
  • Mechanical Engineering
  • Computer Aided Design
  • Mechatronic Engineering
  • Product Testing
learn about our other capabilities

Innovation Sprints

To understand their opportunities more, Survitec utilised our innovation sprints. This involved a small research stage, workshop days and innovation leadership to provide suggested routes forward. These sprints have bad a range of briefs, such as:

‘How do we communicate safety on a cruise ship?’ which led to utilising 4c’s Blue Sky Thinking capabilities.

‘What is the alternative to a life boat?’ this opened up an opportunity that could be explored by the entire Survitec group.

‘How do we improve the inflation on a life preserver unit from a user perspective?’ which the outcome provided a series of tests that 4c could carry out for Survitec to provide direction.

By working with the engineers and stakeholders, we got the Survitec teams to start thinking differently. Our design thinking and ideas provided direction and our hands-on approach built confidence in the engineering departments.

The outcome of these innovation sprints has typically been inspiration for Survitec’s internal teams to carry out further development. One such sprint, focusing on alternatives to a life boat, has spawned a product that has the potential of doubling Survitec’s turnover in the next two years.

Capabilities Utilised

learn about our other capabilities

New Product Development

One of the first projects was a life raft case. A large glass-reinforced product weighing in at around 45kg. Although a major player in the commercial life raft market, Survitec had failed to realise similar success in the leisure market and so 4c were briefed to help increase Survitecs’ market share with this new design.

4c carried out extensive research visiting marinas and yacht owners to help understand the user and functional requirements. Our impact was immediate and can be summarised with one simple moment in this product journey:

We came across someone who was attempting to lift a life raft case off his yacht for servicing. He couldn’t manage it by himself and as we were helping him we asked whether handles might make it easier to manage. He agreed. Although a small feature, it was a major breakthrough for this industry.

The end user values were explored further, introducing key features such as easy to access service history and a new form to suit the vessels it would be attached to. This co-design made it the number 1 selling leisure life raft on the market.

Whilst the redesigned liferaft case was very well received, especially its new user-friendly features, the unexpected outcome from this project was the extent of the cost reduction achieved. RFD estimated that the full project (including all tooling costs) would pay for itself within one year.

Capabilities Utilised

  • Design thinking
  • Ethnographic research
  • Rapid prototyping
  • Industrial design
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Field trials
  • Computer Aided Design (CAD)
  • Manufacturing management
learn about our other capabilities

Value Generated

The rediscovery of innovation, which was so critical during the formation of the company, has spawned a new innovation department within their Birkenhead office and injected excitement and design thinking into their organisation, helping them to stay ahead as the number 1 in their industry.