SFI CASA, one of Norway’s two world-leading technological research groups, has a lot to offer its partners. From day one they can start using a tool box containing years of scientific findings. This facilitates innovation and saves millions.
Last year, The Research Council of Norway engaged three international panels to review 64 technological research groups. Two of them were rated world-leading. SFI SIMLab at NTNU was one of them. No-one knew more about the design of crashworthy and protective structures. As a result, it attracted leading manufacturers like BMW, Audi, Toyota and many more.
Now this centre is history, but the same group of researchers at NTNU has been granted a new SFI. Centre for Advanced Structural Analysis, CASA, picks up where SIMLab left. They have the entire SIMLab Tool Box at their disposal.
Brought about by concerns
When SIMLab was halfway through its eight year programme, some of the partners expressed concerns: would the research give them the innovative tool they needed? That’s when Audi’s Thomas Hambrecht came up with the idea of a Tool Box. He was familiar with similar tools elsewhere.
Now the Tool Box is in place. In many respects it is the very foundation of CASA.
It has already proven useful. Industrial implementation is accelerating. Many of the partners will naturally want to protect their innovations, but this much can be said: one partner has made large improvements on their products thanks to one of the models in the Box. Another partner has compared a Tool Box model with competing models and received more reliable results with SIMLab’s Box. So, better products is one result. Money saved is another.
When the first Tool Box version was presented in 2011, it contained four basic tools, and bear with us for a bit of scientific speak in the rest of the paragraph: the Results Organizer is designed to support experimental planning, execution and processing, the Digital Image Correlation allows determining the displacement field on material/structural tests based on digital images and Mat-Pre-Post is a tool for parameter identification and tailored pre- and post-processing. Finally, the Model Library is a collection of customized, user-defined material models and solution techniques.
Since then, a bunch of dedicated researchers and students have worked steadily to develop the Box further. The four initial tools have become eight, including micro generator and forming limit apps, the latter being used on metal sheets in car production and the like. New programs are added, database solutions attached, structure and user-friendliness improved.
Today, the Tool Box can be used to model materials, go further down in scale and work on multi-scale modelling. Industrial applications are ever increasing. The image of the basic research being performed in the SFI, the partner logos in a circle around it and the tool box between them is increasingly accurate and truthful. This includes assistance from members of the research team at NTNU and SINTEF when partners write applications for innovation projects. It also includes commissioned testing and development of dedicated software. The portfolio is steadily growing.
The SIMLab Tool Box is developed and owned jointly by NTNU and research partner SINTEF. This cooperation is reflected in CASA’s Methods and Tools Programme being headed by Research Director Odd-Geir Lademo at SINTEF Materials and Chemistry. Development of the Tool Box is a central part of the programme. This will include improvement of prediction accuracy, efficiency and robustness of existing models and methods as well as the development of new ones.
Met with scepticism
At the start, the idea of the Tool Box was met with considerable scepticism, not the least on the Scientific Advisory Board. There was fear that it would be costly to maintain both in money and manpower and have negative impact on research.
Today, Odd-Geir Lademo is in no doubt whatsoever that the Box is a success.
“In fact, we have saved money and we are more efficient than we would have been without it. The synthesis of our joint efforts is the decisive factor. Neither of us could have carried this through on our own. Other research centres are looking to us to learn from what we have achieved.
The partners get access to massive amounts of research at a low cost. It is a very good deal for them.”
To some extent, Lademo understands the original scepticism on the Advisory Board:
“I think it has to do with the board members not being familiar with our Nordic tripartite model of universities, independent research organisations and innovative business working together for the common good. The continued benefits of the Tool Box is part of the package. It is funded by the partnership fees, as simple as that,” he states.
That is not to say that the Tool Box doesn’t cost. Several researchers have their direct attention towards improving the Box. This is not in conflict with the basic research to be carried out in an SFI as methods and tools is a must with respect to innovation and value creations at the industrial partners.
This is an edited version of an article originally published on SFI CASA’s Newsletter.