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The new agenda enhances the use of research infrastructure

Jukka Nortio | 24.5.2017

​In Finland, research infrastructure and development platforms are underutilised. VTT will make their use more efficient in collaboration with companies.

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In recent years, Finland has attracted several major international research and development projects and innovation hubs associated with them. Rolls Royce is developing robotic ships in Turku, GE Healthcare has a research centre of digital health technology in Helsinki, Huawei is building mobile solutions in Tampere and IBM founded the Watson Health Center of Excellence research ecosystem, based on artificial intelligence, in Helsinki. 

These projects will create thousands of new jobs both directly and indirectly, boost the national economy and produce well-being for the Finnish society. The common denominator behind all these projects is the determined investment in competence and high-quality research infrastructure for many years.

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Keys to growth

– Efficient utilisation of the national research infrastructure is an important factor for the renewal of the Finnish economy, says Pirjo Kutinlahti, Ministerial Advisor at Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment.

More weight to her words is given by the extensive study Public research infrastructures and development platforms in the service of the business sector published by Gaia Consulting at the beginning of January. The key message of the report is that the services of the more than 500 research platforms run by universities, universities of applied sciences and public research institutes must be made more readily available for the R&D needs of enterprises.

In many research organisations, investments in equipment amounting to millions of euros are underutilised.

– So far, universities and research institutes have done very little to market their research infrastructure. They have not created service offerings that would cater for business needs. For them, it has sufficed that research scien­tists are satisfied. Now we want to increase the utilisation rate of research infrastructure, Kutinlahti points out.

The change in the utilisation of research infrastructure and development platforms must be a two-way street.

– In addition to more efficient utilisation of public research infrastructure for business, we must also examine how researchers could have access to research capacity owned by companies.

– High-quality research infrastructure is one way of keeping the Finnish top scientists in Finland. The best experts always seek their way to the place where they are offered optimal working conditions.

Tough international competition

The development of national infrastructure is part of the process for the development of Finland’s competitiveness. Similar national projects are currently under way, for example, in Sweden, Belgium, Germany, the United States and China. In this competition, one cannot afford to waste any investments, but one must find the sectors in which profitable growth is possible. These are sectors, where robust competences already exist or where totally new growth is foreseen.

– At VTT, we focus on major societal and global challenges, such as the environment, energy, raw material scarcity, security, health and ageing, says Leena Sarvaranta, Vice President, EU Affairs, at VTT.

The OECD and EU recommendations also advocate investments in national infrastructure. At the EU level, support is provided for the development of digitalisation and innovation policy in particular.

– We have to be alert at all times and take steps that help us keep up with the Euro­pean and global development. We need strong centres of excellence with world-class infrastructure and development platforms that have close collaboration with the business sector, Sarvaranta remarks.

Competence and resources

In order for research infrastructure to attract Finnish and international top-level specialists to work in Finland and businesses to centralise their research operations in Finland, the infrastructure offered must be of high quality and easily accessible.

– Research institutes must have persons specialising in services, who are able to offer exactly the right kind of services to customers. This is something we have clearly lacked in Finland until now, Kutinlahti points out.

Legislation and other regulations must also contribute to the development of innovations. A good example of this is the legislative amendment that enables establishment of a test area for robotic ships off Rauma.

When companies are considering where to place their research centres or production facilities, Finland’s advantages in both the European and global competition include, in addition to research infrastructure, the small size of the country and close research cooperation. If we wish to succeed as a nation also in the future, cooperation must be good. 

– Regions, cities and research institutes must be better capable of collaborating with each other to build a national agenda for advancing R&D activities than they have been before. 
We must stop competing with each other and start working together for a common goal, Kutinlahti underscores. 

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Excellent examples

VTT provides companies with various research infrastructures and development platforms.

Bioruukki is an international-level piloting platform intended for the development and demonstration of bio- and circular economy processes. About 500 research scientists are involved in its operations. In 2013–2015, VTT offered its services in 190 projects to 140 industrial customers from 14 countries. The annual turnover of direct commissions from companies has been EUR 5 million.

SMACC is a joint venture between VTT and Tampere University of Technology, which is seeking to increase the efficiency and promote the commercialisation of research into intelligent manufacturing technology. Support is provided for the innovation capacity and renewal of SMEs in particular. SMACC operates in Tampere, Oulu and Espoo, and has 100 research scientists in its service. Its annual turnover is EUR 10 million.

PrintoCent is an innovation centre based in Oulu which focuses on printed intelligence and optical measurement technology; several new companies have been established as a result. This research community employs 300 specialists. Its turnover was EUR 28 million in 2015. Most of its projects were implemented in collaboration with SMEs.

Micronova is a joint micro- and nanotechnology cleanroom facility run jointly by VTT and Aalto University, which offers research capacity for companies. The Micronova community employs 350 experts coming from both research and industrial backgrounds. The cleanroom can be utilised for research in CMOS, MEMS, III-V optoelectronics and thin film technologies.​

Photos: Mikael Ahlfors


 

 

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