Tramcar manufacturer Transtech plans to build a “smart tram” of the future, providing a pleasant travelling experience on a modern tram car with all the services the passengers might wish for. To develop the idea, the company launched cooperation with a Demola team consisting of students from the two universities.
The team includes students of the bachelor’s and master’s degree level as well as one person writing a doctor’s thesis. The skills of the students in the team vary from business and humanities to electrical engineering.
Jointly operated by the University of Oulu and Oulu University of Applied Sciences, the facilitators coordinating Demola activities in Oulu are Pekka Silvén (left) and Simo Kekäläinen. In the autumn kick-off event, new projects were started with Valmet, Transtech, Hartela, Nokia, City of Oulu, CCSN and, with two projects, Autolle.com.
“I am sure that this group will come up with a wide range of new ideas,” says Nemanja Vukota, Information Systems Engineer at Transtech.
“We are looking for innovative ideas, so it is great that the team consists of people from various fields and stages of studies, and from four different countries.”
The smart tram case is a fine example of Demola’s operating principle. Demola is a concept where innovations for company development are delivered by multidisciplinary teams.
The model is different from traditional subcontracting where the company commissions the university to complete a work and then waits for the result. Demola is more about “joint development” where representatives of the company work with the team through regular meetings held throughout the project.
This benefits all participants. Students are awarded credits. They have to commit to the assignment in earnest as the assignment is based on a real-life demand and the partner is an actual client.
One such partner is the USA-based CCSN, a company focused on providing therapeutic treatment for autistic children.
“A representative of the company, who is also a visiting professor at Yale University, told that the level of the discussion about the psychology of autistic children at the team meeting was comparable to that of university studies at Master’s level,” says Pekka Silvén, Demola facilitator at Oulu University of Applied Sciences, giving an example of the thoroughness of the teamwork.
Through Demola, the company receives useful dedicated research data and innovations. Furthermore, Demola doubles as a recruiting channel for the companies: one of every ten students finds employment in a partner company.
“Our feedback surveys also show that company representatives feel empowered by participating in Demola because they learn to see things in a new way,” says Silvén.
Multidisciplinary teams might have a doctor, a humanist and an engineer working side by side
Demola Oulu’s activities are coordinated by Pekka Silvén and another facilitator, Simo Kekäläinen, from the University of Oulu. They are the ones that companies with development needs should contact. The facilitators write down the gist of the challenge presented by the company and declare the project open for the 24,000 university students to apply.
Among the applicants, Silvén and Kekäläinen recruit the best possible multidisciplinary team for each project. The team may include, for example, students in the fields of healthcare, architecture, technology and international marketing, or even a doctor, humanist and an engineer.
Each project lasts for three months. During this time, the team works intensively with the challenge presented. The concept also includes different kinds of workshops, covering topics like service design. Researchers and teachers of the University of Oulu and Oulu University of Applied Sciences, as well as the numerous laboratories, are available to the Demola teams.
The team will present the result in a demo presentation. If the company considers that it can utilise the innovation created by the team, it pays the students a licence fee. If the company decides that the result is not useful, the only cost will be the starting fee amounting to a few thousand euros.
“An idea without development potential does not constitute a failure. The information that the idea is not worth development is also valuable to the company,” emphasises facilitator Simo Kekäläinen.
About 70 to 80 per cent of the projects are licenced, so most companies get useful results through Demola cooperation.
“The fact that many companies come back with new projects also speaks for the quality of the results.”
Returning client Valmet wants to develop an innovation portal
Demola was launched on the initiative of Nokia at Tampere approximately ten years ago. Since then, it has spread to Helsinki, and then five years ago to Oulu and further to 12 other countries.
“Originated in Finland, Demola is unique even on a global scale,” says Pekka Silvén.
Demola development projects have dealt with product or service innovations or the development of internal company processes. In the beginning, the idea can be very much incomplete.
“A starting point for a project might be, for example, that there is a company that is interested in, let’s say, cryptocurrency, but does not know the first thing about it,” Kekäläinen explains.
CCSN has already carried through several projects with Demola. Now they aim to develop a mobile service enabling home therapy for children living in hard-to-reach areas of underdeveloped countries. Earlier projects have also utilised printed electronics, a field that Oulu has special expertise in.
“CCSN operates right next to the world famous Yale University. Nevertheless, they found the expertise they were looking for right here in Oulu,” Silvén says contentedly.
Valmet is partnering with Demola for the second time now. The company has given its team a challenge to create an operational portal that Valmet could use to develop its products and services together with its customers.
Petri Lakka, Vice President, Concept Development, Services Business Line at Valmet is convinced that his team can develop innovations for Valmet. The company is partnering with Demola for the second time.
“I believe that it is not the only thing that comes out if this, once we get the ball rolling,” says Petri Lakka, Vice President, Concept Development, Services Business Line at the group. At the Demola kick-off event, Lakka met the new team consisting of a physicist, a pedagogue, an environmentalist and a business student from the university of applied sciences.
“I am sure that a team such as this will bring fresh ideas and viewpoints to our engineer-driven house.”
Translated from Finnish text by Raija Tuominen
Photo by Niko Raappana, Studio P.S.V.
Main picture: In the Demola kick-off event this autumn, the first task for the new Demola teams was to build as high a tower as possible using spaghetti, tape and string. The tower had to stand on its own with a marshmallow on the top. Through the group formation task, the team members were introduced to each other. The tower built by Nemanja Vukota (left), Information Systems Engineer at Transtech, and his team looks promising in view of their smart tram project. The man with the tape measure is Demola facilitator Pekka Silvén.
Last updated: 6.9.2018