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Harri Kuusela  

Who is Harri Kuusela?
I hold a Master of Science in mechatronics from Tampere University of Technology in Finland, and after graduating I spent 21 years at Pilkington Glass. When I started, there was very little in the way of robotics in the glass industry but there was a huge need for automation, and then during the 1990s, robots began to become more affordable. Using my background, I understood what it might be possible to do so we started with a simple experiment to lift large glass panes. Over the next few years, we increased to 30 robots in the factory. A lot of what I learned during that time has huge relevance today in terms of production that is flexible, just-in-time and programmable. From the glass industry I went to work for Hermia - the regional technology centre based in Tampere – where I gained insight into what other industries were doing, how public funding mechanisms worked, what roles the universities could play, and - most importantly - how it could all be connected together. And now at VTT, I’ve been two and half years working on the DIH² project.

Tell us what excites you about robotics today.
What is amazing is how sensors and vision systems have developed. They used to be very complicated and needed a lot of programming. Now they are easy to use, highly adaptable, connected and they have become an integral part of the robot which enables the robot to work so much more efficiently than before.

The DIH² network is about agile production in manufacturing. What sort of challenges do you think SMEs are facing when it comes to agile production?
There is a huge need for digitalisation across Europe and beyond. Funnily enough, funding isn’t the biggest issue for industry in Finland, rather the challenge is for companies to get hold of relevant knowledge, how they can gain experience and where they can obtain support. DIH² has done a really great job in filling these gaps. Our success stories in particular show concrete examples for SMEs of what to do and how to do it.

One of the key goals of DIH² was to fund Transfer Technology Experiments in agile production. You oversaw A2CS (Agile and Adaptable Cobotics System) in Finland. Can you tell us about it?
A2CS consists of two partners. Mariachi is an Electronics Manufacturing Services (EMS) company making electronic components some of which are used in the medical industry and some for industrial purposes. They operate in a low-volume/high-mix manufacturing sector and it is a highly competitive area. Mariachi had a need for flexible automation and wanted a system that would be reconfigurable and adaptable for several uses. Their manufacturing process involves taking components from the drawing board to final production and this obviously includes assembly and testing. Although computers perform the actual test, it’s incredibly boring manual work, requiring a human resource to carry the board to the machine, insert, and then remove once the test has been completed. Basic assembly isn’t quite as dull, but it requires accuracy, and it is highly repetitive. The Technology Provider, Exsensio developed a cobotic solution that enabled testing to be performed overnight and this led to increased throughput of the overall production process. As you can imagine, payback was very fast.

Give us some insight into what you had to do to bring A2CS together.
Well beforehand, I didn’t personally know either the SME (Mariachi) or the Technology Provider (Exsenio). We organised a Robot Day in Finland and using my contacts, invited who I thought would be interested parties to attend. Honestly though, although we facilitated the event, it wasn’t me personally that created this partnership. The magic happens in the coffee breaks when they get to know each other. I know lots of other relationships were developed that day - not just this one.

Were there any major challenges that A2CS had to overcome?
Both parties are highly experienced so mentoring and guidance once we got underway was specific to assisting them technically when it came to things such as FiWare or developing a Grafana dashboard. On the other hand, Covid obviously made life difficult. We had wanted to conduct more extensive testing on site at the factory in Turku, but circumstances meant that we had to adapt. This community in Finland is quite small and highly professional so we start from a position of trust and that was very helpful during this time.

What is the future for A2CS?
Exsensio and Visematic (the robotic manufacturer) are working together on this and already have new customers in Finland who have similar problems. The local market in particular looks very good. Trade fairs have restarted in Finland post-Covid and A2CS is now a real product with a demonstrable industrial background. They also know FiWare and what they can do with it.

This network brings together a diverse and wide-ranging membership - both geographically and the sectors that the partners operate in. How did you find working across such a large, far-flung group?
It’s been incredibly interesting. There are a lot of very good partners in the network, and we’ve all got to know each other well through meeting in person when that’s been possible, but also on our regular virtual meetings. One of the strengths of DIH² is that we combine partners with research backgrounds and those that work first- hand with industry so seeing how we can bring these together is crucial. From a personal perspective, I’m looking forward to the exchange programme and learning from one of the other DIHs how they work hands-on with SMEs and how their own service structure is built.

Why should other DIHs join the DIH² network?
Robotics and digitisation are at the core of DIH² and it is vital for any potential member to have access to resources in these fields. DIH² provides that access. Beyond that, the EU wants to build out a strong EDIH network across Europe which will support digital transformation and public sector organisations and DIH² will play a key role in this.

What does the SME factory of the future look like when it comes to agile production?
Cleaner, with less inventory and higher profitability. To that last point, in Finland we know that companies that have introduced digital tools into their manufacturing processes have profits that are 10-13% higher than before. This is a fact.

 

See LER's profile: Harri Kuusela