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Aalto University grants honorary doctorate to Ari Niemelä

Ari Niemelä, Head of Hull Basic Design at the Meyer Turku shipyard, is one of the world's leading experts in the structural design of ship hulls. He has developed pioneering advances in hull design in the areas of strength and vibration that have promoted Finnish shipyard expertise around the globe and enabled the implementation of demanding new ship concepts. Aalto University will grant Ari Niemelä an honorary doctorate in technology in the Ceremonial Conferment of Doctoral Degrees in Technology on 16 June 2023.
Kunniatohtori Ari Niemelä
Aalto-yliopiston kunniatohtori Ari Niemelä. Kuva Meyer Turku Oy.

You have participated in the design of numerous ships. What have been the most memorable parts of your career?

Ship projects operate on a timelines of up to 10 years from concept phase to final product. The most memorable moments for a shipbuilder have to do with the completion of a large prototype cruise ship that features new solutions: Seeing the ship finished and the new solutions working in real conditions.

What is most challenging about ship design?

Cruise ships are technologically complex modern leisure centres that must be designed under weight and space constraints. Ships are designed to function independently, safely, and efficiently, while also providing a high level of passenger comfort. How can all this be implemented in a massive cruise ship with capacity for 10 000 passengers and crew? The design work is also guided by numerous rules and regulations set forth by government agencies and classification societies. There is no shortage of interesting challenges in the departments that handle design and production.

I would highlight two central challenges in Innovative ship design: the conservative nature of the business and the risk management of large projects with budgets in the billions. Implementing new solutions requires solid, research-based evidence. Designers must be able to show that their new ideas and technologies are reliable, efficient, and safe before they can be used in ship projects. This might entail comprehensive laboratory tests, simulations, and possibly smaller-scale prototypes to ensure that the new solutions function as expected. 

Collaboration with universities is plays a central role in this. Long-term relationships of trust between the shipyard, the shipowner, and the naval architects help achieve better results.

You have advanced the design of the hull structures of ships, which have made completely new kinds of solutions possible for cruise ships. What kinds of requirements do ships of the future set for their designers?

Cruise ship operators are always looking to the next generation of ships for more features to improve the customer experience and the efficiency of operation. This means that, for example, ship designers must also develop radical structural solutions, use new materials, and take advantage of new computational methods. Reducing the emissions created by a ship over its lifespan is a new and important goal, as is the creation of carbon-neutral cruise ships. For the ship's hull and supporting structures, this translates into the use of carbon-free materials and production – as well as light-weight solutions.

How would you develop research collaboration going forward?

Collaboration between universities and companies should be emphasised in the development of research funding. We need more projects in which the industry sets the requirements and provides a product platform for research and innovation. Universities, for their part, offer research-based knowledge, laboratory services and support for implementing new solutions. Implementing collaborative projects this way also makes it possible to combine doctoral education with the needs of the industry.

What does the honorary doctorate mean to you?

An honorary doctorate is the highest honour a university can grant to an individual. For me, this recognition is a career highlight and one which I am humbled and grateful to accept.

Your department was charged with handling the hull strength and vibration behaviour of the Icon of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world. The ship will go out to sea for the first time on the same day you are set to receive the honorary doctorate. Which are you more excited about?

The ship in question is the new flagship of Royal Caribbean Cruises and without a doubt the most complex ship ever built. This may sound strange, but I am more excited about the ceremonial conferment event than the shakedown cruise. We have conducted very thorough laboratory tests, calculations, and quay trials to verify the strength and vibration behaviour of the ship's hull. The full picture will, of course, only become clear after the testing and the handover, when the ship enters its proper operating environment. Icon of the Seas is equipped with a comprehensive measuring system, which allows us to monitor the ship's behaviour remotely as it begins service under actual operational conditions.

Honorary Doctor Ari Niemelä

Ari Niemelä completed his master's degree in technology in naval architecture and marine engineering at Helsinki University of Technology in 1990. After graduation, he has worked as a classification engineer at Deltamarin Ltd., as head designer for Kvaerner Masa Yards, as project coordinator for Aker Finnyards and as the head of hull basic design at STX Finland and Meyer Turku.

Niemelä has participated in educating many master's-level engineers and doctoral researchers in the product development of cruise ship structures, and determinedly advanced research collaboration between the Meyer Turku shipyard and Aalto University. The collaboration has borne fruit, with Aalto University marine technology research reaching 21st place in the ShanghaiRanking World University Ranking.

In 2010, the Academic Engineers and Architects in Finland (TEK) presented Niemelä with the Finnish Engineering Award for his innovative work in the strength and vibration design of the hull of the Oasis of the Seas cruise ship. The Aalto University School of Engineering named Niemelä as its Alumnus of the Year in 2017.

The Aalto University Ceremonial Conferment of Doctoral Degrees in Technology will be held on 16 June 2023. A total of seven new honorary doctorates will be conferred in the event, including Ari Niemelä.

The schools of technology of Aalto University may grant the rank of honorary doctor and its associated insignia in a ceremonial conferment of doctoral degrees to a person who has a strong connection to Aalto University and who, based on their merits in advancing science, technology or other social or cultural activities, is considered worthy of the honour. The rank of honorary doctor is the highest recognition the university may bestow, and the ceremonial conferment is the university's most important celebration.

Honorary doctors in technology 2023

Aalto University has granted seven Honorary Doctorates of Science in the field of technology. The new honorary doctors have all made significant impact in science, technology and society.

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