The following is an excerpt.
«I believe that it is not typical for a research group to reach its hands so far out to industry, as CASA does», says Arjan Strating.
Arjan Strating is R&D Engineer in Audi Neckarlsum. In this interview he reflects on the challenge of lifting cutting-edge research out of scientific journals and applying it to useful industry applications.
It is definitely not an easy task.
STRIVING FOR MORE YELLOW BUBBLES
CASA´s large number of partners represent different branches of industry, and as such their expectations are varied. As Chairman of the Industrial Reference Group (IRG), Strating helps to keep the strong interaction between the parties going.
Last year, he put effort into creating a novel map to illustrate the Maturity of Technology. Here, he ranks the different research activities in CASA. He maps their position from Basic research and Industrial Implementation to Application in the industry. Blue and green bubbles on the left side mark early-stage activities. The ready-to-use-technologies are enclosed in the yellow bubbles to the right side. These are the ones that everyone strives for.
«THE MORE APPLICABLE OUTPUT, THE BETTER»
-In your opinion, should there have been far more yellow bubbles in your map right now?
«From an industrial point of view: there cannot be enough yellow bubbles. That is the main reason for the industry to join such a long-term centre: the more applicable output, the better. In my understanding, a yellow bubble does not mean that the chapter is finally closed. Implemented tools and technologies are the first achievements where the partners can start to use the knowledge in an industrial context. So, a yellow bubble on the far right is to some extent also a new starting point for further improvement, based either on experience from the industrial application or on new research-based knowledge.
But to be realistic: I think it is quite an achievement for a research group to deliver knowledge, methods and tools in such a way that non-scientists can do something with them in their daily work. What other research groups can claim that they have implemented their models into different commercial finite element solvers? This gets even better if the new features improve the present mode of working. One should not forget it is usually a long way from a PhD thesis to applicable technology».
DEDICATED PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES OF THE FENCE
-What does it take to move more bubbles towards industrial application?
«Dedicated people on both side of the fence. This definitely is a difficult task. The operation needs to take place at the boundaries between the Centre and the industry. CASA has little experience with the engineering practices in the industry, and the industry is far away from hard-core science. So, both need to act outside of their own comfort zones. In my opinion, the key to success in this matter lays in meeting in the middle.
In most cases, it requires a strong interaction between CASA and the partners to find the right format for implementation. In some cases, a simple Python script does the job. In other cases, the big software houses are required to integrate CASA technology into their commercial solvers that are used by industry in product development. This is sorted out in the framework of the IRG».
HOW TO SATISFY MANY DIFFERENT STAKEHOLDERS
-The Centre´s Director, Magnus Langseth, says we have to work hard on this part despite that it is not easy. From your perspective: what are the main challenges?
«If you jump into his position, it becomes evident why it is not easy. He needs to satisfy many different stakeholders, like the research community and NTNU, the Research Council, Students, PhD candidates, Post doctors and the Industry. They all have a different focus and different expectations. Besides, every stakeholder has its own criteria of how to define success.
First of all, I believe that it is not typical for a research group to reach its hands so far out to industry, as CASA does. That is a definite asset of the SFI scheme in general and not common in similar settings elsewhere in Europe. Besides, a large number of partners that represent different branches of industry are very different in their expectations and capabilities. Some are satisfied by following up on the research only, some expect “plug and play” solutions. The mindsets between industry and science are not the same. For cooperation on product development in the industry, it is common to have a “one to one” assignment. Deliverables and timing are precisely defined by contract. This is not possible in a research setting since research is, by definition, the exploration of new terrain with an unknown output».
EXPECTATIONS AND ABILITIES DIFFER
-What does it take for the industry to be able to harvest more in the 3 years ahead of us?
«Well, that is very easy: the more active a partner is, the higher the specific revenue. Sitting and waiting and expect something to land on the desk by itself is probably not a successful strategy here. In IRG meetings, we keep on pointing out that it requires an effort of the partners to achieve a satisfactory transfer of knowledge and tools. So, there is a responsibility for each of the partners to contribute to the implementation processes. Also, here, expectations and abilities differ from partner to partner and need to be respected.
Concerning implementation, a further task of the IRG is to derive where common interests of the partners lie. In this way, it becomes possible to start joint activities that serve the same objective but using fewer resources».
However, the partners do not relate the success to publications or educated students. For them, the overall success links up to measurable improvement in their daily engineering practices, based on the output of the Centre.
«Luckily, there are many options available on how to organise the transfer of knowledge. For example, we at Audi have had good experiences engaging Master Students to take some of the CASA technologies and apply it to actual automotive problems. I am also very impressed to observe how dedicated Renault is to absorb as much as possible from the CASA output. A large number of engineers in Paris are directly involved in putting things straight into practice.
For the final overall success, it would be favourable if both the Centre and the partners shift their focus for the remaining three years more on harvesting. Starting new PhDs within CASA may not be the right thing to do now if we focus on harvesting. Perhaps it could be beneficial to source specific tasks to dedicated specialists in programming, for instance. We will see.
It would also be beneficial to clone Associate Professor David Morin several times. He is playing a pivotal role in most of the implementation efforts, which is not apparent besides his scientific work. He builds the bridges to the industry».
IMPLEMENTED TECHNOLOGY WILL DEFINE THE SUCCESS STORY
«I think different views can be applied here. From the research perspective, CASA will be a success just by the cutting-edge research and publications that have emerged from the Centre. Besides, plenty of talented young people have been educated and have had a chance to work on industry-related problems and challenges. On the scientific level, I think CASA / SIMLab Group is an established success story already.
The more significant challenge probably is to raise the feeling at the industrial partners by 2023, that having been part of CASA over eight years was worthwhile. However, the partners do not relate the success to publications or educated students. For them, the overall success links up to measurable improvement in their daily engineering practices, based on the output of the Centre. Return of investment, so to say.
Ready-to-use technology is the deliverable that will define the success story for the industry. The main task now is to organise the remainder of CASA in such a way, that the obtained scientific knowledge transforms into applicable deliverables that serve the needs and expectations of the partners. This can only take place successfully in a transparent, well-organised joint effort».
Photo above right: From left Professors Odd Sture Hopperstad and Tore Børvik, Arjan Strating and Erling Østby from partner DNV GL.
THE RESPONSIBILITY OF PUTTING RESEARCH TO USE
«I believe that for most, it is challenging to provide a constant contribution in terms of manpower to support CASA. In our world, the product always comes first.
I feel that the IRG helps to keep the dialogue and the interaction between the partners going.
The ability of the industry to consistently allocate engineers to support and interact with CASA is beyond the influence of the Centre. The Centre can’t blame partners for not being active. Nor can passive partners blame CASA for not reminding them about the opportunities. Again, the product always comes first – and we have many products.
I do have the feeling though, that there are enough active partners in the represented business areas, to push more and more of the bubbles to the far right of the map».