The close collaboration between regional industry and innovative research at UiA receives praise from the Research Council of Norway. This is reflected in their evaluation of SFI Offshore Mechatronics.
The report concludes with keeping the SFI status and extending funding for the final three years of the scheme.
The Research Council of Norway (NFR) strongly supports Centres for Research-based Innovation (SFI). The goal is to forge close alliances between research-active enterprises and prominent research groups. There are now 24 SFIs in Norway. UiA has hosted SFI Offshore Mechatronics since 2015.
“The goal is to develop relevant solutions for end users in collaboration with industry partners”, Geir Hovland says.
He is professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Science at UiA and centre director of Centre for Research-based Innovation Offshore Mechatronics (SFI).
The research centre at UiA now receives praise from the Research Council of Norway. MHWirth, National Oilwell Varco and Cameron are some of the local industry partners. Despite the downturn in the offshore industry over the past years, all industry partners in the SFI have wanted to continue the collaboration. That impresses both the Research Council of Norway and the SFI management team.
All the research projects in the SFI collaborate with industry partners. Some projects cover topics like hydraulics, motion compensation, robotics, automation and machine condition monitoring.
“There is good co-creation between the researchers and industry partners. The industry reports that the collaboration and the outcomes are useful to them. Formerly, the industry was very development oriented. More are now reporting good progress on research”, says Senior Consultant Leif Haukom in GCE NODE and chairman of the SFI.
This spring, the project was midway through the scheme. Experts from NFR visited the centre for a whole day to evaluate the activities of the Centre. The recently published evaluation shows that the centre keeps its SFI-status and funding until 2023.
“We are pleased that we can continue our activities. The evaluation day was an exciting and important day for the SFI. Our centre was selected in 2015, and we got to show the Research Council the work we do and demonstrated that it still fulfils the intentions”, Hovland says.
The report from NPR is positive:
Overall the evaluation team was impressed with the Centre’s research. The Centre’s research has been reported in a substantial number of peer-reviewed contributions to internationally well recognized conferences and journals. Some work packages have had close research collaboration with obvious synergies. The Centre’s wish for further integration across the work packages is endorsed by the evaluation team.
The SFI is organised in seven work packages, each covering topics in offshore mechatronics.
The Research Council is also impressed that the Centre has recruited many research fellows, among them several candidates from the industry. The Centre now has 22 PhD students and postdocs. Four have graduated after 3-4 years’ doctoral work. There are now 14 PhD and postdoc positions available for the period 2019-22. This year, in addition, the various work packages have 28 Bachelor’s and Master’s projects connected with them.
Industry partners were also present during the evaluation this spring.
“A good collaboration with business and industry and regional and international partners is of fundamental importance for the SFI. The centre should contribute to growth and innovation in the sector, create new job opportunities and enterprises with potential for growth both within and outside of the offshore sector”, Haukom says.
Haukom has long experience from the industry, both MacGregor and Aker Solutions. MacGregor is an industry partner in the SFI.
Haukom explains that the collaboration with industry partners is strong and that it is important to the SFI, something the Research Council also points out.
“We saw it particularly in 2015 during the downturn in the oil and gas industry. Despite the downturn all the partners wanted to continue the collaboration even though they had fewer resources. This shows how important this project is for the industry”, Haukom says.
The SFI wants to look ahead and take on board the feedback from the Research Council. The centre received several recommendations and good advice.
“The response from the Research Council of Norway has been positive. We received feedback that some of our challenges are similar to those of other SFIs. They also said they had learned from us during the evaluation day. That is a positive sign”, Hovland says.
One of the recommendations is to communicate research findings more clearly. In addition, the SFI should showcase the great innovation potential for industry. The centre was also encouraged to create more opportunities for PhDs and postdocs to cooperate across work packages.
“These recommendations will further strengthen the centre”, Hovland says.
The SFI management has gained useful experiences from the first phase of the project. They also have their own ideas for improvement, which do not emerge from the evaluation.
“For instance, we want to develop so-called spin-off projects and emphasise innovation even more”, Hovland says.