Intelligent automation (IA) combines business process management, automation- and software technology into an efficient, seamless and constantly evolving process. Tampere trains future IA experts to meet the needs of the manufacturing industry, which is poised for a major leap.
According to the World Economic Forum, the Fourth Industrial Revolution will usher in technological advances that merge the physical, digital and biological worlds. This new stage in human development will change everything, but big changes often happen gradually. In some instances, change may even happen too slowly. Minna Lanz, Professor of Automation Technology and Mechanical Engineering at Tampere University, asserts that the skills and partnerships needed to accelerate change are already in Finland, and especially in the Tampere region.
That development is always happening faster than ever seems to be a misconception. It is true that Europe, especially Germany, is making huge strides in deploying intelligent automation. Things are happening in Finland too, but at a slower pace. We’re still looking for a way to effectively utilise all the data we have. Transformation requires a strong vision and a whole lot of courage.
Tampere region has an exceptionally good concentration of training possibilities, ready expertise, client relationships and development partners for IA. “Businesses in the region have been very active over the last few years. Industrial engineering students are sought after workers. Nearly 90 percent find work in the industry when they graduate,” says Lanz.
In order to meet the region’s demand for intelligent automation, the University of Tampere organises continuing professional education and tailormade programmes for companies.
“We work together and provide support through a variety of service packages and customisable study modules, such as distance learning and intensive courses. Of course, in the future, lifelong learning will become even more important.”
Ever more complex processes
Tampere-based Fastems provides intelligent automation solutions for the manufacturing industry. Their clients include companies in the production technology, aerospace and subcontractor sector.
The production process can be complicated by changes in the operating environment and the increasing complexity of production. Manufacturing companies are feeling the pressure to produce increasingly personalised products that meet stricter traceability requirements, faster and more efficiently. Consumer expectations about product lifecycle management and lifecycle services are also growing. These factor in the need for automation solutions and the people who develop them to be highly-skilled and agile.
“Automation solutions we develop need to be highly adaptable to changing production needs. Related technologies must also be easy to upgrade. This could mean increasing the use of robots and creating more intelligent solutions that enable cost-effective production even if the end goal is to produce one single item. The central importance that software plays continues to grow,” Harri Nieminen, Head of Innovation and Research at Fastems, explains.
It’s not only physical automation solutions that need to improve, but also control systems, data utilisation and how robotics are looped into the process. The smooth collaboration between robots and people, as well as the solutions for related security issues, are growing rapidly.
We need to be able to offer our customers even more extensive and integrated systems, which evaluate profitability and value from a wider production perspective. We are now looking into intelligent production control solutions that do not always involve physical automation. Solutions that can, for example, integrate standalone machines and manual operations into the system being controlled, Nieminen says.
Customer needs drive product development at Fastems, and open integrator solutions are not tied to specific machine brands or ICT systems.
“Technical solutions can always be found. What’s essential is truly understanding your customers’ needs. Being able to provide them with proper advice and guidance is very important.”
A careful approach to international cooperation
Fastems has found the right conditions for growth in the Tampere region.
“We have a great talent pool for our recruitment needs and a good partner network here. Tampere region is a major mechanical engineering centre in Finland. This creates opportunities for development and attracts new businesses to the area, with whom we can develop things together,” Nieminen describes.
Minna Lanz, Professor of Automation Technology and Mechanical Engineering at the University of Tampere, agrees with Nieminen’s assessment of the region’s strengths, but also wants to encourage companies to be bolder on the international scene.
Tampere has both end users and system integrators in a relatively small region. International players can easily find the service they need. University and research are concentrated in a small area, which makes collaboration exceptionally easy. However, we need to be more creative and brave in seeking international cooperation. We give other countries a very unnecessary competitive advantage by staying on the side lines of international projects, Lanz says.
The next export-driven growth spree will once again demand a huge pool of talent.
“The birth rate is falling in Finland. We have to ensure we get international talents here. If we do not have the skilled workforce we need In the next boom, we will be in trouble,” Lanz cautions.
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Text: Laura Merilä