Innovations are not born in the blink of an eye

A good brand has been developed for collaboration between Aalto University and the Saab Group, as well as a reputation for knowing how to do things right.

Top research benefits both the university and the company, according to the parties of the cooperation at both Aalto University and the Saab Group. New top-level technology has been produced for a decade for use by the company.

‘The collaboration has developed in stages to its present level thanks to mutual efforts’, says Petteri Alinikula, Technology Director at Saab Finland.

Collaboration involving doctoral dissertations has become the main model for cooperation. Saab provides funding for about ten doctoral students at Aalto each year.

‘A good brand has developed for the collaboration, as well as a reputation for getting things right. In the past few years, we have been joined by some very good doctoral students, and there has been extensive interest among the students, which has certainly also been affected by discussions about security of supply and especially on the importance of security of supply in knowledge-based capital in Europe’, Alinikula observes.

Alinikula praises Aalto's research profile, which includes topics that are a perfect fit for Saab, including antennas, microwave technology, microelectronics, digital processing of signals and machine learning. He also admires active professors who act as problem solvers, and who appreciate the challenges and questions on research that Saab brings to the common table.

‘My main task is to ensure that Saab Finland has access to the best technologies and research. Saab's products are complex high technology systems. The university community has an important role in making the products that Saab produces competitive, and this has also been extensively observed throughout the Saab Group.’

Professor Ville Viikari, who heads a research group on radio technology, says that the collaboration has helped steer research work in the right direction and to understand the needs of companies in a new way.

‘One of our most important goals is to train leading talents in their fields, and collaborating closely with corporations is an important way to carry out our goals’, he says.

The invitations that Saab has received to take part in projects of the European Defence Fund can be seen as one of the results of the collaboration. In addition, collaboration between Wallenberg AI, Autonomous Systems and Software Program (WASP), and Aalto's research programme is off to a good start. Eight post-doc-level projects have already been launched in connection with the programme.

Positive feedback from doctoral students in industrial fields

Alinikula has seen in his career what a challenge it is to turn technology from a mere topic of research into something that a company can utilise. First, he mentions the doctoral students in industry who work four days a week in a research group, and one day a week at Saab facilities to learn about the company's operations and product lines. The model has brought good feedback from all parties.

‘We have had good feedback from the students. They have been especially pleased that they can work full time in research, while feeling that they are also part of the Saab community’ confirms Susanna Jaarmo, Key Account Manager for Saab at Aalto University.

Alinikula has one tip for companies planning university collaboration: the approach to collaboration should be for the long term. He points out that results may not emerge in just one, and possibly not even in two years, and that trust is the foundation of good collaboration.

‘Although the work is for the long term, projects can sometimes lead to fast innovations. We have one example of a new antenna concept – a so-called invisible antenna. The research question was put forward on our side, and a solution was found at Aalto. Now the product is entering the commercialisation phase at our product development unit in Gothenburg’, Alinikula says.

The Saab Group has noticed that doctoral dissertation projects are very independent.

‘As for possible improvements, we hope that the model of action might evolve into one of more cooperation between the professors and their fields. I believe that a multidisciplinary approach could lead to the discovery of new and surprising innovations’, Alinikula says.

Further information:

Petteri Alinikula
CTO Saab Finland
[email protected]

Susanna Jaarmo
Corporate Relations Manager
[email protected]

Photo by Aki-Pekka Sinikoski

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