We can make simulations based on what we understand and discover, but at the same time, every new idea, every new invention has to be tested in use before you can go further. And that process can be very long; it can take 5 or 10 years, even 20 years from an idea to proof of concept.
People may say ‘Can you accelerate this development?” Time to market is important, but it's not like making a new kind of bicycle or car. Today you can design a new car very quickly. A stirrer might look much simpler than a car, but it takes time to develop because you have to have a customer install it and use it to prove it.
What kinds of projects is your team working on at the moment?
Of course we have several projects at once. As manufacturers consider how they will produce green steel, we have to make our equipment adapt to this new industry. For example, green steel has been associated with the electric arc furnace (EAF), which currently produces steel from scrap metal and can be powered by renewable electricity. One related challenge is how to make the downstream process (casting and rolling) more compact. The production speed of EAFs is much higher than other furnaces, so we need to make the downstream process more flexible to suit that output by making our equipment more flexible in its operation.
Another focus for us is digitalization and realizing the potential of Industry 4.0 in metals manufacturing. For me there are three parts: measurement using new and different kinds of sensors; transferring the data to a collection point; and extracting interesting or useful information out of the data. Because we work in the metal industry and some reactions can be unpredictable, measuring is very important. People have developed very good measurement technology using different sensors. For example, on one project we are using optical fibers to measure temperatures in metallurgical processes. Then we collect the data, analyze it and use it to either control our equipment or to get new ideas to make new products.
That must be very exciting. What do you most enjoy about being the R&D team leader?
I have contact with different and new technologies, and with interesting people. I am a very curious person. I like to work with new ideas. I don't like to do repetitive work. Working in R&D I get to make something new all the time.
What does your typical day look like?
About 20% of my time is spent handling daily work, talking with my team members and distributing different tasks. Then 20% or 30% is spent working with our collaboration partners; so that's meetings and discussions. Then I spend quite a lot of time on project management: I'm the leader on some projects, which requires organizing and planning.