Sign In
Information about science based innovations, solid facts to support decision-making, performance and business development for VTT’s partners, customers and anyone interested in high technology and its applications.
A magazine on science, technology and business

Digitalization in RTOs: Speeding up the development of bio-based technologies with digitalization

​Text: Travis Larsen | Photos: Shutterstock | 22.10.2018

Digital tools and processes that change the established ways of doing business are reshaping most industries – and research technology organizations (RTOs) are no exception. By doing in the cloud what has so far only been possible in laboratories and demo plants, the most time-consuming and costly parts of the development process could be skipped, helping bio-based and environmentally friendly technologies become mainstream more quickly.

Around the world many research technology organizations like VTT are partnering with industrial companies to develop bio-based technologies. The key drivers in the rapidly developing bioeconomy are the desire to be the first to market, competition for market share, and ensuring cost-competitive yet environmentally and socially sustainable production.

Upscaling an innovation from the lab to the pilot stage in order to evaluate its commercial feasibility is often a slow and costly process, but digital technologies can change all this by speeding up both the upscaling process and technology selection, as well as increasing the quality and traceability of products and support continuous development. The catch is that RTOs would need to have several elements in place in order to realize the benefits of digitalization, including access to experimental data, suitable experimental setups, and state-of-the-art analysis methods and simulation models.

Easing the upscaling bottleneck

One drawback with the way RTOs currently operate is that several people can end up running identical experiments due to the lack of a systematic and unified way of collecting and displaying results data in a digital format. This is equally true both within an individual organization and between different RTOs. But what if RTOs had access to a digital database of experimental results collected and displayed according to common rules and standards?

What works in the lab may not be easily achievable in the real world, and this is why the piloting step is critical when it comes to attracting investment in new technologies. The data from extensive pilot runs can be used to demonstrate that a process can function as a commercially viable technology.

Using digitally available data from similar past experiments to model possible outcomes would speed up the process.

"Basically, we would like to remove as many of these costly traditional steps as possible by utilizing process and product simulation and modeling techniques, including artificial intelligence, visualizations, and data interpretation. Digitalization will bring new and more cost-effective ways to de-risk technologies," says Tiina Nakari-Setälä, VP Research, VTT.

Replacing demonstration with data

Of course, both time and money are limited resources.

"There is never the possibility to do everything. All RTOs share the same challenge of limited funds when it comes to conducting basic research. And when the time comes to move on to piloting, there is usually even less money available. The customer companies typically have to cover 50% of the costs, and they would be much more forthcoming with the investment if they had more certainty that the technology was truly viable. With the digitalization approach, it would be much faster and cheaper to select the most viable alternative before the pilot stage", says Nakari-Setälä.

A multi-step journey towards digitalization

There are three key building blocks that RTOs need to have in place in order to begin their digitalization journey. Firstly, there needs to be common data collection standards that set out how experimental data is going to be gathered and with which technology.

"Basically, wherever online measurement feeds into a database, there needs to be an agreed system," says Eemeli Hytönen, Technology Manager, VTT.

The second requirement is standard analytics. Online measurements need to be presented in a standardized format so that everyone can use them and analysis would be based on models that use big data and artificial intelligence techniques. The final requirement is to ensure data security, a common factor in all R&D projects. Standards would also have to be in place to anonymize and exclude sensitive data from a shared system when required to ensure confidentiality or protect intellectual property rights.

This article continues after the image.

CAPTION: Building blocks of the journey towards digitalisation.

In-house and cross-organization

While codifying, sharing, and analyzing information in digital format is possible within an organization, maximizing the amount of useful data in the database demands cooperation between organizations. This would require agreeing on how data is collected and presented.

According to Hytönen, "Other industries have successfully collaborated to set standards, and RTOs should be no different. VTT already has a history of working together with multiple RTOs on major projects – for example with the European Commission – and we should look to build on these efforts."

Per-Olof Sjöberg, VP Business & Innovation Area Digitalisation at RISE, the Research Institutes of Sweden, agrees: "Common rules and standards are a prerequisite for making data sharing useful. The quality of the data has to be clear and it should be structured in a common way that is easy to access and understand. Cooperation between European RTOs tends to be on an ad-hoc basis , but we should be doing more together through choice, not just necessity."

To this end, Dr. Michael J. O'Donohue, Head of the Division of Science for Food and Bioproducts Engineering at the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) is coordinating a consortium that has proposed a European research infrastructure aiming to provide the scientific and technical means to halve the average development phase (concept to market time) of bioprocesses from around ten years to five. To achieve this, a range of existing European facilities, including VTT, in several member states will be interconnected using advanced ICT solutions and operated in a consistent manner.

"Current research tends to be stop-start. We get funding, do some work, then publish the results. Years later somebody else picks it up again and continues. Supra institutional organizations and business process models would link up the work of different RTOs and enable a more continuous process", says O'Donohue.

Staying ahead of the competition

VTT plans to harness its capabilities to start rolling out digitalization efforts while also cooperating with other RTOs. The idea is to develop a model for how this kind of thinking can be incorporated into an organization.

"We already have big-data and simulation and modeling capabilities, while our multidisciplinary approach means all the needed capabilities are in house. We also have a living lab where our models and approaches can be tested, from first ideas to the pilot stage and beyond, explains Hytönen."

"The goal is to make the process more systematic and faster. As an RTO, our goal is to bridge the gap between the scientific research of universities and industrial roll-out of the processes and products made possible by that research. Digitalizing our processes will not only help make this happen faster but will increase the chances of securing funding by reducing the overall cost of the project," says Nakari-Setälä.

Per-Olof Sjöberg agrees: "Digitalization will speed up the pace of innovation while simultaneously fostering increased cooperation between the relatively small European RTOs – something I believe is essential if they are to continue to compete with much bigger organizations from other parts of the world."

This is one of the key drivers of the project coordinated by O'Donohue. "The achievement of our goal will significantly reduce the financial burden and risk associated with industrial biotechnology, increase the number of products produced by industrial biotechnology, and thereby ultimately increase the fitness of European industry to respond to changing global markets," he explains.

 

 

VTT Impulsehttps://www.vttresearch.com/ImpulseVTT Impulse
Bioeconomy and circular economyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Bioeconomy-and-circular-economy.aspxBioeconomy and circular economy
Recycling of critical metalshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Recycling-of-critical-metals.aspxRecycling of critical metals
Towards patient-centred, personalised healthcarehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Towards-patient-centred-personalised-healthcare.aspxTowards patient-centred, personalised healthcare
Jaakko Eskola: ”The ability to reinvent yourself is vital to success.”https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/”The-ability-to-reinvent-yourself-is-vital-to-success”.aspxJaakko Eskola: ”The ability to reinvent yourself is vital to success.”
A better world based on positive energyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/A-better-world-based-on-positive-energy.aspxA better world based on positive energy
Are environmental claims believable?https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Are-environmental-claims-believable.aspxAre environmental claims believable?
Matti Apunen: At the core of the solutionhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/At-the-core-of-the-solution.aspxMatti Apunen: At the core of the solution
Before information gets lost in numbershttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Before-information-gets-lost-in-numbers.aspxBefore information gets lost in numbers
Clearing the way for new materials with ChemSheet technologyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Clearing-the-way-for-new-materials-with-ChemSheet-technology.aspxClearing the way for new materials with ChemSheet technology
From ideas to major innovationshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/From-drawing-board-to-major-innovation.aspxFrom ideas to major innovations
Intelligence for machineshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Intelligence-for-machines.aspxIntelligence for machines
Petri Kalliokoski: Artificial intelligence moves from words to deedshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Petri-Kalliokoski-Artificial-intelligence-moves-from-words-to-deeds.aspxPetri Kalliokoski: Artificial intelligence moves from words to deeds
Research with impacthttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Research-with-impact.aspxResearch with impact
Same old routine for the next 100 yearshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Same-old-routine-for-the-next-100-years.aspxSame old routine for the next 100 years
Smart industryhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-industry.aspxSmart industry
Automation gives packages wingshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Automation-gives-packages-wings.aspxAutomation gives packages wings
Advancing cyber security on several frontshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Advancing-cyber-security-on-several-fronts.aspxAdvancing cyber security on several fronts
A man driven by optimism and curiosityhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/A-man-driven-by-optimism-and-curiosity.aspxA man driven by optimism and curiosity
Developers of the futurehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Developers-of-the-future.aspxDevelopers of the future
Digital societyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Digital-society.aspxDigital society
Bio-based carbon dioxide to be recycled in Nokiahttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Bio-based-carbon-dioxide-to-be-recycled-in-Nokia.aspxBio-based carbon dioxide to be recycled in Nokia
From a fishing port to a model district for smart energyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/From-a-fishing-port-to-a-model-district-for-smart-energy.aspxFrom a fishing port to a model district for smart energy
Business developmenthttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Business-development.aspxBusiness development
Smart Citieshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Smart-Cities.aspxSmart Cities
Low carbon energyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Low-carbon-energy.aspxLow carbon energy
More speed to network services with 5Ghttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/More-speed-to-network-services-with-5G.aspxMore speed to network services with 5G
Health and wellbeinghttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Health-and-wellbeing.aspxHealth and wellbeing
Food in transitionhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Food-in-transition.aspxFood in transition
Digitalisation of the shipping industry requires cutting-edge researchhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Digitalisation-of-the-shipping-industry-requires-cutting-edge-research.aspxDigitalisation of the shipping industry requires cutting-edge research
International entrepreneurship does not happen overnight it needs to be nurturedhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/International-entrepreneurship-does-not-happen-overnight-it-needs-to-be-nurtured.aspxInternational entrepreneurship does not happen overnight it needs to be nurtured
Simon Kos, Microsoft: AI is forcing its way into patient carehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Simon-Kos-Microsoft-AI-is-forcing-its-way-into-patient-care.aspxSimon Kos, Microsoft: AI is forcing its way into patient care
Brazil paves the way for bioenergyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Brazil-paves-the-way-for-bioenergy.aspxBrazil paves the way for bioenergy
Return on investmentshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Return-on-investments.aspxReturn on investments
Passion spurs researchhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/passion-spurs-research.aspxPassion spurs research
Digital ecosystems are emerginghttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Digital-ecosystems-are-emerging.aspxDigital ecosystems are emerging
The future 5G network proceeds to test phase in Ouluhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/The-future-5G-network-proceeds-to-test-phase-in-Oulu.aspxThe future 5G network proceeds to test phase in Oulu
More than siliconhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/More-than-just-Silicon.aspxMore than silicon
Gerontechnology providing everyday assistance and safetyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Gerontechnology-providing-everyday-assistance-and-safety.aspxGerontechnology providing everyday assistance and safety
Minister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn: Renewal of economy will bring new growthhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Renewal-of-economy-will-bring-new-growth.aspxMinister of Economic Affairs Olli Rehn: Renewal of economy will bring new growth
The perfect pilot environment for Arctic solutionshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/The-perfect-pilot-environment-for-Arctic-solutions.aspxThe perfect pilot environment for Arctic solutions
For Industry powers Finnish manufacturing industryhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/For-Industry-powers-Finnish-manufacturing-industry.aspxFor Industry powers Finnish manufacturing industry
Sensor of tomorrowhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Sensor-of-tomorrow.aspxSensor of tomorrow
An export product tougher than nailshttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/An-export-product-tougher-than-nails.aspxAn export product tougher than nails
By measuring you can improvehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/By-measuring-you-can-improve.aspxBy measuring you can improve
Can a phone help you achieve peace of mind?https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Can-a-phone-help-you-achieve-peace-of-mind.aspxCan a phone help you achieve peace of mind?
Impulse 2/2016https://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Impulse-2-2016.aspxImpulse 2/2016
Serious efforts to boost the Finnish economyhttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Serious-efforts-to-boost-the-Finnish-economy.aspxSerious efforts to boost the Finnish economy
Leca – filtering a cleaner futurehttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Leca-filtering-a-cleaner-future.aspxLeca – filtering a cleaner future
Finland provides community housing solutions for Namibiahttps://www.vttresearch.com/Impulse/Pages/Finland-provides-community-housing-solutions-for-Namibia.aspxFinland provides community housing solutions for Namibia