The green transition, digitalisation, co-creation and increasing competence became the main themes of the Kerttu Saalasti seminar

The Kerttu Saalasti seminar on 18 September 2023 highlighted the latest information and opportunities on the development of the metal and mechanical engineering industry regionally, nationally and internationally. Digitalisation and industrial renewal were also seen as centrally related to environmental issues. The seminar, organised for the 23rd time, provided answers to these challenges, such as increasing competence and new innovations through co-creation across organisational boundaries. The Kerttu Saalasti award was also presented at the event for the work done for transfers of ownership.
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The speakers at the seminar were Mari-Leena Talvitie, Member of Parliament and Minister of Culture and Science for 2025–2027; Jukka Kömi, Professor at the University of Oulu and Director of the Materials and Mechanical Engineering Unit; Harri Kulmala, Research Professor and CEO of DIMECC Oy; and Santeri Varis, Head of Additive Manufacturing at ANDRITZ Savonlinna Works Oy. In addition to Kulmala and Varis, the panel included Antti Järvenpää, Research Director of the Future Production Technologies (FMT) research group at the University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute, CEO Kari Vimpari from Miilumachine Oy, and Director and Principal Jaana Ritola from Brahe Education Centre. A recording of the seminar can be viewed on the University of Oulu’s YouTube channel.

Matti Muhos, Professor of Growth Management, Renewable Business and Digitalisation, Director of the University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute, opened the seminar on the renewal of the metal and mechanical engineering industry. He considered this topic for a seminar named after Kerttu Saalasti to be very topical. During her term as Minister of Education, Kerttu Saalasti carried out exceptionally significant work to promote regional renewal and sustainable growth in Finland. One of the most significant consequences of that work was the establishment of the University of Oulu.

Kerttu Saalasti emphasised the importance of activity and an entrepreneurial attitude. Muhos explained that as a prerequisite for renewal, the University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute also started from a needs-based idea and dream, but it is being built in an entrepreneurial and determined manner. Over the past twenty years of operation, the Institute has grown into a national and international producer of new research data and a promoter of competence. Kerttu Saalasti Institute coordinates and co-implements approximately thirty research projects annually, and these have been funded and are funded by EU Framework Programmes, Horizon Europe, Business Finland, the Academy of Finland, regional and cross-border structural funds and various ministries, companies, municipalities and regional actors.

Finland to become a clean energy superpower

A third-term Member of Parliament from Oulu, chair of the Council of Oulu Region and Minister of Science and Culture in Orpo's Government for 2025–2027 Mari-Leena Talvitie is familiar with metal and machine workshops since childhood, as her father had a workshop on the other side of the brick wall of the home. Both parents of Talvitie are entrepreneurs.

According to Talvitie, the Bothnian Arc and the entire northern coastal area of Finland are significant for Finnish exports, as it accounts for about one quarter of Finnish exports. Northern Finland has also become a geopolitically central region in the security policy settings of the North and Europe and, for example, security of supply. The region is a stable investment environment with sustainable use of natural resources. A high level of expertise and the attitude of the northern people are noteworthy.

In spring 2023, Talvitie was one of the Government's main negotiators on clean energy. The goal was to turn Finland into a superpower of clean energy by doubling the production of electricity and ensuring 10% of the EU's production of clean hydrogen. These enable energy-intensive industries to operate in Finland. Achieving the goal of a clean energy superpower means significant industrial investments for Finland and, as a result, jobs and well-being.

According to Talvitie, achieving this goal requires improvements in the operating conditions of companies and the smooth running of the permit process. The state will allocate EUR 260 million more funding to RDI each year until the end of this decade. Basic education, internal security will not be subject to any savings.

The many forms of electricity production are important

Emission-free electricity production enables the renewal of many traditional industries to suit the limits of the planet's carrying capacity. More than 40% of the country's wind power electricity is already produced in North Ostrobothnia, and investments in wind power of approximately one billion euros are planned for North Ostrobothnia alone.

According to Talvitie, with regard to nuclear power, the Government is committed in its programme to accepting all applications for a permission in principle that meet the criteria and in which the applicants' backgrounds are acceptable from the point of view of national security. The long-awaited Nuclear Energy Act will also be reformed. The goal is that by 2026, it would also be possible to build small modular reactors in Finland. Talvitie estimates that it will also be possible to look for an alternative supplier in the Hanhikivi nuclear power plant area in Pyhäjoki in the next few years. Most of this land is owned by Finns, but buildings are also owned by Russians.

With regard to hydropower and solar power, more capacity and suitable areas will be sought, and permit processing will be streamlined. Talvitie says that the hydrogen economy will also be a key tool in the energy transition of industry and in utilising the opportunities offered by the green transition. It is essential that hydrogen is also refined in Finland. The production of electricity touches the ordinary consumer, which means that investments are important.

The North supports the South

The Government's industrial policy strategy will outline measures that support the growth and internationalisation of companies. The strategy includes policy entities essential for the export industry, such as functioning logistics, skilled labour and issues affecting the general investment environment. It is also linked to the achievement of the goal of a clean transition. Efforts will be made to increase the number of employing, growth- and export-oriented companies. The smoothness and predictability of the investment classification will also be made a key competitive advantage for Finland.

Talvitie considered it important to carry out the Northern Programme. It can be seen that the North is rapidly becoming the new South. Talvitie wants to quash the belief that the South supports the North. According to her, the opposite is true. The opportunities of the North in terms of business life, security of supply and self-sufficiency will benefit Finland as a whole and also Europe.

Specialisation has taken Finland to the forefront of steel production

The University of Oulu's greeting to the Kerttu Saalasti seminar was presented by Professor and Director of the Materials and Mechanical Engineering Unit and Director of the Steel Research Centre Jukka Kömi. According to him, Finland is at the forefront of the world from the perspective of steel and metal products. In the background is China's intensive steel production begun in the mid-2000s, which also affected the rest of the world. As Chinese steel was too cheap, Europe began to specialise in different types of steel, and now Finland and Sweden, for example, have long been market leaders in stainless steel production.

According to Kömi, the demand for a green transition will also ultimately come from the market. In Finland, SSAB started, as the first in the world, to develop a zero-emissions steel mill, and Finland is decades ahead of other countries in this development. However, the steel industry requires large amounts of energy, and here all eyes turn to hydrogen. There are many technical challenges yet to overcome before it can be fully exploited.

Seek cooperation with the best and develop together

Harri Kulmala, Docent of Industrial Engineering and Management and CEO of DIMECC Oy spoke at the seminar about the benefits of co-creation in the cooperation between many organisations. Cooperation between companies and universities takes place in different consortia and ecosystems in a way that creates new ideas and is successful when attention is paid to co-creation.

Kulmala quoted Michael Porter, who urged the innovator to seek competition and cooperation with the toughest and most demanding customers. Co-creation across organisational boundaries also speeds up learning. For example, the FAME (Finnish Additive Manufacturing Ecosystem) ecosystem, which promotes the development potential of 3D printing, involves actors from small companies to huge international organisations and universities, and has significantly developed 3D printing within its sphere.

Kulmala noted that most innovations take place outside organisations. Product development according to the customer's needs generates sales – and sales is the best product development. The company should facilitate and co-create solutions with the customer.

In order to achieve good co-creation, it is worthwhile to be involved in ecosystems with various experts related to the field. Working alone in the network will not bring much success. Kulmala said that, for example, research is cited more in academia the more authors there are and from different universities.

Old and new side by side

Head of Additive Manufacturing Santeri Varis from ANDRITZ Savonlinna Works Oy, has been developing Finland's largest metal 3D printout, a pressure vessel. The 300 kg container is probably also the largest 3D printed pressure vessel in Europe. WAAM technology utilising welding robots has been used in printing. The pressure vessel was implemented within the framework of the FAME ecosystem, and at the same time it was possible to make and utilise, e.g. 3D printing research carried out at the University of Oulu.

ANDRITZ's main product is a drum displacer washer the size of a small house, which weighs about four hundred thousand kilograms. A large amount of steel is needed, and here 3D printing contributes significantly to production.

According to Varis, the pieces produced with 3D printing do not need to be made entirely with new equipment. In the renewal of the mechanical engineering industry, old and new technologies operate side by side. With software updates or other minor changes, old hardware can be used for a new purpose. This will significantly improve productivity and cost-effectiveness. 3D printing is a very flexible and versatile manufacturing method. Cost-effectiveness and productivity are improved due to factors such as speed.

Artificial intelligence is also used in design. In practice, the software is told what kind of properties the pieces should have and AI makes a model based on it. The gratifying result has been that the pieces have also become stronger.

Research Director of the Future Production Technologies (FMT) research group Antti Järvenpää, DSc (Tech), from the Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu, who introduced the panel discussion of the Kerttu Saalasti seminar under the title "Digitalisation and additive manufacturing as an industrial reformer".

According to Järvenpää, 3D printing as a digital manufacturing method is an important part of the renewal of the mechanical engineering industry as a continuation to the development path of numerical machine tools and robotisation. Järvenpää said that Finland has decades of welding expertise and free robotic welding cells, but only a few companies have dared to utilise the starting points for 3D printing of large pieces to reduce production costs and environmental impact. According to Järvenpää, this would be a place for new investments. We need development, expertise, business ideas and a research network.

Competence must be developed in both educational institutions and companies

Kari Vimpari, CEO of Miilumachine Oy, is concerned about developing the competence of employees within the company in order to renew the industry. According to him, mastering robotics and automation, in addition to basic competence in the metal sector, is increasingly the core competence of a metal sector professional. Training on these needs must be arranged especially for older personnel. The younger generation has already grown into it, and for them it is already an everyday routine.

Director of Brahe Education Centre, Principal Jaana Ritola, considered it important that educational organisations collaborate with companies in the area from the planning of training to its practical implementation and the stage of entering working life. The region of North Ostrobothnia has a significant number of export and industrial companies, for example, and several nationally important future investments are directed at the region, so it is important to secure in cooperation the future experts and developers from both secondary and higher education. Co-creation is a good model for business cooperation.

Artificial intelligence and automation free up working time for development

In the panel, Harri Kulmala highlighted the importance of working together in ecosystems, for example, which makes it possible to learn from the best. Increasing competence is faster and faster, and you have to keep up with that pace. According to Kulmala, artificial intelligence offers new opportunities for this. Attention should also be paid to our own performance, as we are currently far from exhausting our capacity.

According to Kulmala, there are currently a lot of fears related to artificial intelligence, it is thought that jobs are going away or artificial intelligence will do something wrong. Kulmala referred to an American study which found that jobs are by no means decreasing, quite the opposite. The opportunities provided by artificial intelligence will reduce labour shortages. Employees also free up resources for development work when artificial intelligence takes care of work suitable for automation.

Santeri Varis agreed. With automation, a lot of new things can be done with the same workforce. Digitalisation helps, for example, in the processing of data in a significant way and could help even more in the future. Currently, the development of digitalisation is still pioneering work, but in the future it should be normal everyday business.

Competent workforce is developed through cooperation and compatible equipment

Kari Vimpari also regretted that there is a shortage of skilled workers in the sector. Increasing automation and digitalisation would enable us to meet the needs of increasingly demanding customers, but this requires skilled workforce. According to Vimpari, cooperation with educational institutions, for example, can dispel employees' fears that may arise from the requirements of automation development. Harri Kulmala called for new competence, especially in the fields of natural sciences and technology, which would require more study places in these fields.

Jaana Ritola highlighted the compatibility of the equipment and devices of educational institutions with companies. For example, digital twins could be utilised in schools, so that learning for a genuine need would occur as quickly and to as a high standard as possible. For example, 3D modelling is already used at the Brahe Education Centre.

Kari Vimpari hoped that educational institutions would have teaching workshops where testing and experimentation could be carried out. Production equipment is normally required to run basic operations and there may not be enough for testing purposes. Santeri Varis said that even a few cheap 3D devices can get you off to a good start.

According to Ritola, on-the-job learning and cooperation are at best part of the normal activities of the educational institution and do not need to be carried out as separate projects. In the planning of training, it is important to cooperate with companies, and local degree components can also provide an opportunity for expert needs.

Antti Järvenpää said that the Future Production Technologies (FMT) group of the Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu does a lot of research and development work with companies both in Finland and internationally. Research generates a lot of new knowledge and technology, and we can also learn from it together. New experts and research groups for cooperation networks emerge through research.

The FMT group has also considered it a tradition to invite people from companies to test new equipment and software and to learn how to use them before they are acquired for companies. According to Järvenpää, students can also be admitted to the ELME Studio in Nivala Industrial Village to learn how to use the equipment. The facilities are well suited for teaching purposes.

Vimpari highlighted older employees who need very concrete training that suits their needs. Therefore, the curriculum should be drawn up in close cooperation with the company, and we should also dare to scrap old ideas. The international nature of the company and employees from several different nationalities must also be taken into account in the training. However, Kulmala also considered it important that universities challenge the business world in order for the sector to develop.

Transformation of development work into money takes time

Harri Kulmala and Santeri Varis said that companies may wish to withdraw from development work citing the need to ensure basic operations in order to receive money. Development activities do not necessarily immediately materialise as income, and they also involve uncertainties. Varis said that a strategic decision must be made on the development work, and funding must also be secured for it. Antti Järvenpää also emphasised that even if the development work carried out with the research institute does not immediately generate money, it can launch a larger project with external funding. The company can then become involved in this with its own contribution.

Kulmala considered it important that the top management of the organisation is behind the development work, commits to it strategically and also reserves time for it. However, Kulmala pointed out that history is also full of examples in which floor-level employees have carried out development work and innovations and inventions have even emerged despite outright bans.

According to Harri Kulmala, cooperation across organisational boundaries can also lead to great success stories. You can get started with very small experiments. Based on the lessons learned from the experiments, the necessary changes are then made to the implementation of the projects. Kulmala gave examples where, through scaling and acquisitions, a very small company grew into a company with a turnover of tens of millions. In such changes, an understanding of growth management is necessary.

In connection with labour shortages, Harri Kulmala also highlighted the attractiveness of the regions. Digital accessibility is one important factor in this. According to Santeri Varis, the regions benefit from participation in broader ecosystems, as lessons will also be learned in the regions. According to Varis, cooperation between actors in the region is very important for the region to develop.

Kerttu Saalasti award for work done for transfers of ownership

The Kerttu Saalasti award was also given at the event for significant achievements in research, education or societal impact that promote micro-entrepreneurship or entrepreneurial culture. The award was Kalervo Kallio's Marjanpoimija (Berry Picker) relief and a cash prize of 5,000 euros awarded by the Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu and the Kerttu Saalasti Foundation. The recipient of the annual award may be proposed by a private person or organisation.

This year, the award was given to the founder of the Business Transfer Forum Mika Haavisto from the Federation of Finnish Enterprises. Matti Muhos, Director of the Kerttu Saalasti Institute at the University of Oulu and representative of the Kerttu Saalasti Foundation, said that the national significance and novelty value of the act were taken into account when selecting the recipient of the award.

According to Muhos, considerably fewer new companies are established in Finland compared to other Nordic countries and Estonia, and at the same time, a large number of profitable companies cannot find a successor. It is precisely this need that has been met by the Business Transfer Forum. Through his activities, Haavisto was seen to have promoted the acquisitions of thousands of entrepreneurs, especially micro-entrepreneurs, by developing markets, promoting the expertise of intermediaries, promoting the availability of new products and services, and studying the ecosystem. After Haavisto retires in 2023, the activities of the Business Transfer Forum will continue strong and are an excellent example of a sustainable act promoting micro-entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial culture in the field of social influence.

Change of ownership is a place for restarting and renewal

In his acceptance speech, Mika Haavisto highlighted the remarkably wide range of participants in the Business Transfer Forum established in 2017, from Finnvera and Business Finland, which are under the guidance of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment, to banks, insurance organisations and third sector operators. These include Nordea, Danske Bank and Fennia, EK, Family Companies Association and MTK, Federation of Finnish Enterprises and Suomen Yrityskauppa Oy, as well as the University of Oulu and Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences.

In Haavisto's opinion, the term change of ownership as a term could be reformed to include re-startups and restarting. Sometimes renewing a company's operations requires a new owner to give impetus. It also requires enthusiastic people who develop activities in a pioneer spirit.

Haavisto said that the Business Transfer Forum works specifically to accelerate the transfer of ownership and growth of micro-enterprises, as they account for 93 per cent of all companies in Finland. At the same time, the aim is to increase the number of employer companies. There are currently 80,000 employer companies, of which 13,500 are now on the threshold of a change of ownership. A possible change of ownership in employer companies affects 90,000 employees. There are 200,000 solo entrepreneurs in Finland, and according to a study, the majority of 55-year-old solo entrepreneurs intend to leave the business in the next 10 years. So this is a big phenomenon.

According to Haavisto, the task of the Business Transfer Forum is to communicate necessary information to companies based on research. Haavisto highlighted, for example, the VALO project implemented by the University of Oulu's Kerttu Saalasti Institute and the Entrepreneurs of North Ostrobothnia. The Business Transfer Forum works both nationally and internationally.

Haavisto said that supporting the transfer of ownership prevents the waste of expertise and property. Customer needs don't go away. At the same time, business growth is supported. According to Haavisto, about 40 per cent of the companies supported by Finnvera are growth companies. Haavisto saw digitalisation and internationalisation as factors affecting growth here.

The green transition requires regional and international cooperation

In her closing remarks, Mayor of Raahe Leena Mikkola-Riekkinen highlighted the significant metal sector investments in the green transition in the Raahe area. The construction permit decision of the SSAB fossil-free steel mill is awaited and investments are being made in offshore wind farms. In these, the topics of the seminar, cooperation, digitalisation and renewal, are vital. Mikkola-Riekkinen was delighted, for example, with the high-quality international cooperation with the University of Oulu's Kerttu Saalasti Institute.

Text and photo: Minna Kilpeläinen, Communication Specialist, University of Oulu, Kerttu Saalasti Institute