Wärtsilä Corporation Annual report 2014

Entrepreneurs of innovation

node, noun, a point at which subsidiary parts originate or centre

Stepping from the campus thoroughfare into the building that hosts the Wärtsilä Innovation Node at Helsinki’s Aalto University, your first impressions are of a light, airy space. A large cafeteria dominates the lobby, and calmness seems to prevail over all the students in sight as they read, have quiet discussions over lunch, or seemingly drift quite unhurriedly from place to place.

But this superficially relaxed exterior belies the importance and intensity of the work that takes place here, just as the Finnish education itself has consistently been ranked as one of the world’s best, despite lacking the near-manic pace and rigidly enforced discipline seen in other countries seeking similar results.

The location of Wärtsilä’s R&D hub on this site is no accident, as Ilari Kallio, Vice President of R&D at Ship Power’s 4-stroke business line, explains to us.

“The Innovation Node’s placement is one way for us to get fresh ideas and maintain a connection to society in a wider sense. For example, this is where we work with student product development programmes at the university.”

“We’ve seen some great results,” he enthuses. “We provide them with a topic related to our strategy and the students explore it from an entirely new angle – always with the intention of developing a concept that could be translated into a new product, service or business model.”

If this sounds like the introduction of entrepreneurialism into academia, that’s exactly what it is. This isn’t innovation for innovation’s sake, as a recent project providing smartphone-based assistance for service engineers demonstrates. Using the advanced communication capabilities of handheld devices as an alternative to the storage of paper manuals and written notes to instruct new service operators, the project might very well soon see fully-fledged development into an integral component of Wärtsilä’s service offering.

user experience, noun, the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use

This emphasis on user experience – while it has netted billions for certain consumer technology companies – is rarely seen in the industrial sector, where performance as measured in megawatts is a more acknowledged barometer of desirability.

Juhana Arkio, Ship Power’s Manager, Industrial Design, emphasises that this will not always be the case. “End user understanding is critical in modern business,” he tells us. “For Wärtsilä, this means gaining a competitive advantage by introducing innovative industrial design solutions.”

He goes on to outline the industrial design procedures that his team and himself have instituted, product by product, to bring the end user closer to the centre of solution planning.

We begin with a number of annotated diagrams collectively known as a comprehensive design specification. “This is the result of deep research into the environment in which the product will be used,” Juhana explains. “It demonstrates both the perspective of the customer and the end user. In preparing this study, we need to ask the core questions: ‘What is needed?’ ‘What are the boundaries of our planning?’ It’s not just legislation or regulations, though of course these play a part. This specification takes into account the user, the market and the technology to bring together all the ‘design thinking’ Wärtsilä brings to the table.”

We go on to look at the products that have profited from this in-depth research. In Wärtsilä’s new 4-stroke engines, not only do we see the outer visual identity of the engines, but also the design work encompassing every aspect of how human beings encounter and interact with the product. This design approach also includes the new LDU-30 local display unit, used for controlling and monitoring an engine. The UX design also covers software interfaces, even going so far as to detail the software used to configure the programme that service engineers will use in their daily work.

As you can see,” Juhana continues, “this is a truly end-to-end approach to design. Everything that can be considered and optimised for the user in this product has been. We’re really adding value through design.”

identity, noun, the qualities, beliefs, etc., that make a particular person or group different from others

Optimisation for the user is one of the most important dimensions to industrial design. Another is the product identity, and the way it reflects Wärtsilä’s values and ambitious goals. Juhana sees this as descending directly from the company strategy.

“In industrial design, we aim to distil Wärtsilä’s strategic-level drivers – lifecycle efficiency, reliability, serviceability and safety – into one strong product identity. When considering the implications of design on perception, this goes way beyond colours and where you put the logo. This is about what these devices represent and how their identity talks to people. In a way, we’re giving the strategy a voice.”

Pinned down to a single value he’d like to see Wärtsilä's customers perceive in product design, Ilari Kallio proposes reliability. “Establishing the idea that the company can be counted on to deliver and our products can be counted on in the field is hugely important. Everyone across the organisation works with that in mind.”

entrepreneurial, adjective, having the spirit, attitude or qualities of an entrepreneur; enterprising

The fact that both Ilari and Juhana work under the banner of Ship Power’s 4-stroke business line, yet have done extensive work on innovations bridging each of Wärtsilä’s other business areas leads us to enquire precisely how R&D functions in the organisation.

For Ilari, the key phrase is ‘entrepreneurial thinking’.

“If I see an opportunity or synergy with some other business line, there ́s nothing that hinders me from capturing that synergy. Even if we have our own responsibilities, it doesn’t mean we can’t collaborate proactively. Entrepreneurial thinking is our route to the easiest, most productive and most economical ways of working. Organisational structure doesn’t have to limit collaboration if you see there is a benefit.

“It’s just like running a small company: you need to find out who the best partners for you are. They could be internal partners or they could be externals. You don’t have to share budget in order to share knowledge and do collaboration. It’s a win-win.”

Juhana picks up the thread: “We’re a very small team and our agenda is innovation. The nature of industrial design is such that we often see a use for our competence across all of these business areas. Why should we restrict ourselves to a single product line? We do a huge amount of work for service business innovation, for example, where industrial design is playing an increasing role. If you look at a typical service design agency you’ll find UX designers, end user researchers, GUI designers: these are the skills we have right here.”

Design innovators evidently do not see corporate structure as any barrier to inventing and implementing new, beneficial solutions, but Ilari reaffirms that company strategy provides the direction for their work.

“The broad strokes are,” he explains, “decided at the management level. Directions like gas, fuel flexibility and Smart Power Generation are established there. But as they pass down through the organisation, finding application in each of the different divisions and then, in turn, the business lines, these decisions translate into a huge variety of different opportunities."

“One strength we have in Wärtsilä is the capability to see where the potential lies and understand where we want to be as the market changes and new needs become visible. What kind of products do we need? What value do we bring to our customers? How do we position ourselves? There’s only one quality that can help you answer these questions: customer understanding.”

Juhana confirms that in the world of cutting-edge industrial design, the very same principle applies. In fact, it’s the basis of a powerful trend: “At any innovation seminar, at least 80% of the core content is about end-user and customer studies. In our case, though, we have to go beyond even what the customer, or anyone else, is able to tell us in the here and now.”

When all is said and done, the customer is the purpose of creating innovation. At the Innovation Node, this means finding new ways to add value at each stage of the product life cycle, and looking ever onwards to the solutions of the future.

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