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Page updated 24.2.2020
Professor Michael Rethmeier (in the middle)

Innovation assistance from Germany – aiming for a new research unit in Turku

TechCampus Turku is developing cooperation with the Fraunhofer Society, a German organization specializing in applied research. The goal is to set up a new research unit in Turku to serve the research and development needs of the region’s technology industry.

Text and photos: Heidi Pelander

The Fraunhofer Society is Europe’s most prominent organization in applied research, encompassing over 70 institutes specialized in different fields of technology around Germany, as well as an extensive worldwide cooperation network.

TechCampus Turku is a consortium formed by the region’s higher education institutions, the City of Turku and Turku Science Park. Its goal is to boost education, research and development in technology in the Turku region.

The idea for cooperation with Fraunhofer originated with Esa Tuomisto, Senior Advisor, City of Turku; Juhani Soini, Vice Rector, Turku University of Applied Sciences; and Antti Salminen, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, University of Turku. They felt that a Fraunhofer unit would offer the region’s companies broader access to applied research and open new paths for European research cooperation and funding.

“Any Fraunhofer unit set up in Turku will be a Finnish organization, forming part of a higher education institution in Turku and operating under a Finnish business ID. The unit’s staff will comprise researchers and experts from local higher education institutions,” says Tuomisto.

“Fraunhofer would provide us access to German competence and know-how, which would help us develop our own products and solutions,” Salminen adds.

Cooperation talks are under way with two Fraunhofer research institutes: Berlin’s Fraunhofer IPK which specializes in the manufacturing technology industry, and Hamburg’s Fraunhofer CML which specializes in maritime logistics.

Research ideas from workshop event

Fraunhofer IPK introduced itself to companies in south-western Finland at an event organized at SparkUp arena in Turku in February. The goal of the workshop event hosted by Patrik Henelius, Dean at Åbo Akademi, was to determine the type of research and development needs that companies in the region have and examine how these matched the profile of Fraunhofer IPK.

Fraunhofer IPK’s Professor Michael Rethmeier, a specialist in welding technologies, was impressed by the large number of companies that attended the event to discuss their needs despite the workshop topics being very broad.

He believes that Fraunhofer IPK has a lot to offer the Turku region, including topics related to industrial automation solutions, welding technologies for shipbuilding, technology solutions for the automotive industry and the development of leadership and management.

Rethmeier emphasizes that establishing a new unit outside of Germany is a big step for Fraunhofer IPK and one that needs to be considered in great detail. According to Rethmeier, Fraunhofer IPK is not in the habit of participating in workshop events like the one in Turku nor does it do so on weak grounds.

“We see very good business opportunities here. We wouldn’t be here if this weren’t the case.”

In Berlin, Fraunhofer IPK cooperates with TU Berlin, a university of technology. Its Production Technology Center employs some 600 people and offers approximately 15,000 square metres of laboratory and testing facilities. Fraunhofer IPK also has research units in Brazil and China.

Companies showed an interest

Fraunhofer IPK aroused interest among the companies participating in the workshops. According to Pasi Rannus, Senior Vice President, Manufacturing at Valmet Automotive, the envisioned new research unit would contribute notably to research and development in the technology industry in the Turku region. It would also be an interesting cooperation partner for Valmet Automotive.

“Our region lacks deep competence in process technology for the automotive industry, since it isn’t taught, as such, at any of our educational institutions. Fraunhofer would answer this need.”

Joonas Pekkarinen, Senior Project Engineer at Valmet Automotive, believes that Fraunhofer IPK would bring fresh competence, equipment and research to Finland. According to him, research and development activities should involve people from different backgrounds.

“It can provide a great deal of added value to problem-solving, and especially to development work.”

Janne Suominen, Manager, Offering Development, at MacGregor, believes that a high-quality research centre would attract more experts and professionals to Turku in the long run as well as promote technology research.

“Even though we are a global company, we operate locally and need to have competence close by.”

Ilkka Rytkölä, Chief Technology Officer at Auramarine, considers Fraunhofer an interesting project partner when seeking EU funding, a challenging field in its own right. According to him, flexibility and speed are the most important aspects in innovation activities: innovation should not be hampered by bureaucracy.

Talks continue

TechCampus Turku will continue negotiations this spring with Fraunhofer IPK as well as with Fraunhofer CML of Hamburg, a specialist in maritime logistics.

The goal is to draw up a detailed business plan for a new research unit in Turku (Fraunhofer Innovation Platform), which must be sent to the Munich headquarters of the Fraunhofer Society by mid-June.

“Our goal is for the research unit to be ready for launch on 1 January 2021,” explains Tero Keva, Project Manager at TechCampus Turku, in charge of the Fraunhofer preparations.

Juhani Soini from Turku University of Applied Sciences hopes that the different higher education institutions in Turku will collaborate in the project to ensure that the region gets a strong research and innovation ecosystem that will benefit the technology industry.

“I believe that a Fraunhofer unit in Turku would create even stronger bonds between our higher education institutions.”