In 1580, the Swedes produced cannons and cannonballs in Finspång. Today, they friction stir weld battery trays for electric vehicles: welcome to the innovation & technology hub of Hydro Extruded Solutions.
If there is such a thing as the original SIMLab and SFI CASA partner, Hydro competes for the title. The links between NTNU and one of Norway’s largest and most international enterprises go more than a century back. The mutual interest is still obvious. Aluminium producers look for optimal alloys and structures. They need engineers who can make the right decisions. Researchers need a purpose.
Back to Finspång, southwest of Stockholm. Out of Hydro’s 35 000 employees, 23 000 belong to Extruded Solutions. 80 of them work at Innovation & Technology, industry’s term for research and development. They are spread around the globe, but more than half are based in Finspång, where they concentrate on the needs of European customers. This may include developing a prototype battery tray for a new electric vehicle.
Working this close with the customer carries with it a certain degree of secrecy. During our visit, not a word is mentioned about the name of the customer. Photography is strictly limited. Only details that don’t reveal design or other features may be shown.
Fast and cheap
So, where does SFI CASA belong in the picture? The link between Research Engineer Bjørn Olsson in Finspång and Associate Professor David Morin in Trondheim may serve as an illustration: Olsson is very interested in SIMLab’s modelling of aluminium extrusions and in particular the ability to predict failure. SIMLab’s models are simple, relatively fast, and cheap. They don’t solve every problem in the world, but then, they don’t pretend to.
A bonus for Olsson is that the models are made available for use with the commercial solvers that industry uses. This enables him to support Hydro’s customers regardless of solver: money saved, since he would otherwise have had to buy a material card for each.
A good mix
This development of new products in close collaboration with the customers is one aspect of the activities in Finspång. The other is the improvement of in-house processes.
Ole Daaland, Vice President Innovation & Technology and CASA Board member explains:
“The work we do is project oriented. 70 percent consists of specific research projects. The rest is direct help in the production process, including problem solving and education.
This is a good mix. It is important for the projects that our researchers and other co-workers understand what goes on in the production process. Because of this, we prefer staff that are able to perform in both aspects. One day they may hunt for an improved alloy, the next they can help with a problem that needs solving immediately.”
Hydro Extruded Solutions is the world’s largest producer of aluminium profiles. Extrusion is pasta, aluminium style: you heat the billet in your desired alloy to a certain point, and then extrude. From there, only fantasy limits the variety of forms.
Ole Daaland wants more fantasy:
“We want to move further down in the value chain, with forming, welding and machining. Hot forming is one example.
We also want to trigger more innovation processes. Research and development must strive to avoid the traps of routine and rather aim to think out of the box,” he says.
CASA as living forum
“We should involve larger parts of our organization. We need to develop further the inherent belief that research and development adds value, that it is indeed worthwhile. This involves the understanding of hybrid and joint materials, 3D printing and other trends that could shape future products,” Daaland adds.
“Can CASA play a role in this?”
“Certainly. For instance, automotive is one of our priorities. The fact that CASA has five world-leading car manufacturers as partners is impressive in itself. The highly visible activity and the living forum character of the centre is very attractive to us.”
MIT and Manchester
Hydro Innovation & Technology has several research partners, including MIT, as well as the University of Manchester on the topics of surface treatment and corrosion. However, Ole Daaland points to the cooperation with CASA as unique:
“We have a very long relationship with the Norwegian research environment, where NTNU and SINTEF are the most prominent players.”