An SFI* that doesn’t help industry isn’t an SFI; a simple fact and a real challenge. That’s why CASA has established an Industrial Reference Group. At the helm: Audi’s Arjan Strating.
SIMLab, the main research group behind SFI CASA, has nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to delivery. When 64 Norwegian technological research groups were evaluated last year, two were rated world-leading. SIMLab was one of them. Research quality, industrial impact and organization were the main criteria. But, as often is the case, the better you command something, the better you understand the potential for improvement. So CASA decided to form the IRG.
A certain logic
Although there is no immediate connection, there is a certain logic to an Audi guy heading the IRG: Strating’s colleague Thomas Hambrecht was strongly involved in the establishment of the SIMLab Tool Box. In many ways the IRG and the Tool Box aim to serve the same purpose – moving scientific findings from journals to industrial application.
The mandate asks the IRG to propose deliverables from the Methods and Tools programme where the Tool Box is a central instrument, to evaluate and schedule implementation of the obtained results, and to give guidelines on how to carry out implementation.
Triggered by SIMLab
Arjan Strating says it like this:
“IRG will have an advisory function with focus on industrial application. We all need to get something out of SFI CASA. In the case of the industrial partners, we need knowledge and tools that can improve product development.
In this respect, SFI SIMLab served as a trigger and generated a lot of appetite. In 2007, it wasn’t at all clear where it would end. When we got the tools in place, we reached industrial relevance.
The Tool Box represents a jump-start for SFI CASA. Without the tools, we would have risked a gap of three or four years before we reached industrial relevance again. All of us are much more aware of this need now than when we started SFI SIMLab. The challenge is to keep the momentum.”
The concept of establishing an Industrial Reference Group is totally new. It has never been done before. Arjan Strating finds the challenge very exciting:
“There is no blueprint that we can take from somewhere, so one of the first things we have to do, is to fill the shell with life together with the IRG representatives,” he says.
The partners have a common responsibility for moulding the future results. The aim is to see to it that applicable knowledge migrates from CASA for enhanced product development in the partners’ home organisations. Simply tapping the Tool Box is not good enough:
“It would be a great pity if the findings of SFI CASA end up in a drawer. We all know that this is a common phenomenon; usually universities aren’t able to provide the link that brings research to the market.
To avoid this, our ambition will be a high level of participation where the partners articulate themselves in open discussions,” Strating adds.
Before CASA’s technical seminar in March, all partners were sent a survey with a series of questions. The answers revealed some of the challenges facing the IRG in their effort to work out an efficient implementation plan. The seminar discussed how the implementation must be linked to a strategy where the models and technology developed are validated based on a generic experimental hierarchy. This means that tests must be representative for several business sectors. Other challenges are to define what is within the CASA domain and what is not, and how personnel can be used to support implementation.
In other words, Strating and his fellow group members, one from each industrial partner, will have plenty of work in the years to come.
Scepticism turned around
Strating confesses that he was a bit sceptical about the idea of the survey:
“Now I am very happy about it. We got some very clear and converging answers. The partners know what they want; a Tool Box that can be easily interpreted and available for daily use. At the same time we realize that we have to raise awareness that everyone has a responsibility to contribute,” he says.
Part of this responsibility is for each partner to define their own objectives in CASA in terms of implementation. A ministry is very different from a car producer. It’s only logical that they want to take different roles in the research programmes. Some will be very active, some will prefer a monitoring role, but all with the aim to reach results with industrial relevance.
* SFI, Centre for Research-based Innovation, is a funding scheme administered by the Research Council of Norway (RCN).
The main objective for the SFIs is to increase the capability of business to innovate by focusing on long-term research. The idea is to forge close alliances between research-intensive enterprises and prominent research groups.
The host institution for an SFI can be a university, a university college, a research institute or an enterprise with a strong research activity.
The partners (enterprises, public organisations and other research institutions) must contribute to the centre in the form of funding, facilities, competence and their own efforts throughout the life cycle of the centre.
The life cycle is eight years. Each centre receives roughly 12 MNOK per year from RCN. The host institution and partners must contribute with at least the same amount.