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Academia offers rich ground for joint research into sustainable solutions

The challenges related to climate change and scarcity of natural resources, in addition to the opportunities presented by digitalisation, call for innovative solutions that require new research, talent, and ideas. In active pursuit of these is Wärtsilä’s extensive network of university partners.

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“We are constantly scanning the globe for universities conducting research in areas relevant to Wärtsilä’s purpose of enabling sustainable societies with smart technology,” says Sakari Heikkilä, University Relations Manager at Wärtsilä.

The technology group’s collaboration with Aalto University in Finland is an example of a solid and long-standing co-creative alliance that has evolved over decades. Established in 2010, Aalto University brought together three leading Finnish educational institutions: Helsinki University of Technology, Helsinki School of Economics, and the University of Art and Design Helsinki. The merger was intended to foster innovation by enabling collaboration between the science, engineering, business, and arts communities.

In recent years, Wärtsilä has participated actively in Aalto University courses on subjects such as product development and international design business management. In February 2019, the two organisations signed a new agreement that aims to strengthen and broaden their current relationship and open up fresh possibilities in three areas: talent and skills, research and insight, and campus and ecosystem collaboration.

“The maritime industry has a considerable environmental footprint, meaning successful collaboration in research and technological breakthroughs can have a substantial positive impact on our shared future. The latest agreement with Wärtsilä provides a framework for collaboration development in research, without forgetting the importance of interaction with students,” says Anne Kosola, Manager, Corporate Relations in Partnership Development at Aalto University. 

Shared spaces boost interaction

The sphere of the partnership that deals with talent and skills aims to make Wärtsilä more visible to Aalto University students, and for the technology group to actively engage with them, for example through increasing thesis cooperation and recruitment events. In addition, talent and skills is about fostering the talent of Wärtsilä’s own people, as Heikkilä points out.

“We are on a journey towards becoming a smart technology company. At the core of this transformation are the people at Wärtsilä. Lifelong learning and competence development are crucial to our success, and we are in constant dialogue with Aalto University and Aalto Executive Education on how they can help us along our path.”

The area of the partnership dealing with research and insight includes diverse ventures that seek to increase the exchange of knowledge and views on industry developments and trends. Finally, the topic of campus and ecosystems highlights the importance of utilising shared spaces and maintaining a solid cooperation network.

The launch of a Wärtsilä lecture hall on Aalto’s Otaniemi campus in Espoo, about 10 kilometres from central Helsinki, is just one of the outcomes of the collaboration between the two organisations. Wärtsilä and Aalto University have also begun to delve into the possibilities of sharing spaces and infrastructure on the Aalto campus and at the technology group’s premises, including the Wärtsilä Helsinki Campus and the new Smart Technology Hub.

Currently rising in Vaasa, on the west coast of Finland, the Wärtsilä Smart Technology Hub is a research, product development, and production facility that seeks to enable more agile and efficient testing and development of solutions for the maritime, oil, and gas industries, as well as for new energy systems. Students and researchers from universities are encouraged to collaborate with Wärtsilä employees and partners at the new hub. Construction of the facility started in June 2019.

On the road towards Wärtsilä’s Smart Marine and Smart Energy visions

Wärtsilä’s vision of leading the maritime industry’s transformation towards a smart marine ecosystem is a highly ambitious one. Unlocking new value for customers through connectivity, digitalisation, and smart technology requires extensive knowledge of different areas. It also involves both traditional technical solutions and digital innovations, alongside new business models.

“Creating solutions for a sustainable future lies at the hearts of both Wärtsilä’s and Aalto University’s strategies. By stepping up our collaboration, we hope to work together in new areas that support Wärtsilä’s business and strategy,” Heikkilä emphasises.  

Wärtsilä’s cooperation with Aalto University has focused primarily on research into developing internal combustion engine technology, as well as on reducing energy consumption. The partnership agreement has already resulted in the planning of new research schemes related to energy and energy systems – matters in line with Wärtsilä’s Smart Energy vision of creating optimal paths towards a 100% renewable energy future.

Creating a research ecosystem

Another example of Wärtsilä’s diverse cooperation with the academic community is the Engine Research Initiative (ERI), formed in late 2017. This unique partnership between industry and academia stems from individual, smaller scale cooperation between the participating institutions.

Involving four Finnish universities; namely, ­ Aalto University, Tampere University, Åbo Akademi University, and the University of Vaasa, the ERI programme conducts world-class research on the sustainable use of engines as well as into digital solutions related to engine efficiency. The goal of the endeavour is to create a research ecosystem that is equipped to meet the evolving needs of the shipping and power generation industries. 

Numerous ongoing ventures within ERI seek to identify reliable, efficient and environmentally friendly industrial solutions. One of these is Edge, a project focusing on the utilisation of big data and cloud analytics to enable more reliable, energy efficient equipment and optimised operation. In addition, other projects under ERI that relate to sustainable transport and fuels for the future are in the planning stages.

“The ERI programme strives to make use of the individual competences and areas of expertise of all parties to develop sustainable energy solutions that benefit industry as a whole,” Heikkilä concludes.

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