Bridging the gap between academic research and industrial application in the perspective of industry 4.0

“Good is not good enough when better is expected”. A quote that may very well apply for Atul Singh (29) from India working tirelessly at his computer optimizing engineering designs for the better.

In a world of complex computer models combined with his solid engineering background, Atul is a scientific adventurer always looking for new land to discover. Currently setting his landmarks and waypoints in Denmark assisting Vestas aircoil to further improve their engineering designs in marine and industrial cooling systems.

Atul: “Finding trade-offs is my trade” – 25 November 2021

“At present, we look into the next generation of heat exchangers as we focus on new concepts. In its essence engineering is truly multidisciplinary. I perceive my three PhD-colleagues and myself pretty much as a family on a mission: My goal is to optimize an engineering system – which happens to be a heat exchanger in this case – with each of us bringing our expertise to the table: Comprehensive knowledge on real life testing, vibrations, fatigue and – for my part – design optimization,” explains Atul Singh.

Trade-offs are important

Along with Atul the talented “four-piece PhD puzzle” is personalized by Milena Watanabe Bavaresco from Brazil, Kevin Jose from India, and Khandokar Abu Talha from Bangladesh. All four are invited to be part of the ambitious research and development team at Vestas aircoil currently expanding its R&D facilities and activities in Denmark.

Four teammates that are both professional colleagues and best friends – or to put it in Atul’s more poetic way: “We talk about everything under the sun… including, sometimes, the sun”.

In a world of physics, equations and natural laws optimization by engineering design is, however, objective dependent.

”It depends! If the task or the objective, as it is normally called, is to reduce the weight, then the optimization process would focus on a certain set of design choices. And if – on the other hand – the purpose is increasing energy efficiency or thermal output, or reducing emissions, then the set of design choices would be completely different. Basically, there is a trade-off that needs to be understood. Building efficient tools for analyzing such complex types of multi-disciplinary problems is what my research aims at providing”.

Despite his age and relatively brief career, Atul has crisscrossed the European continent after finishing his 4-year Bachelor of Engineering in Gujarat hometown Ahmedabad, India. If Ahmedabad occurs familiar to some readers the reason would probably be the fact that the city in 1887 witnessed a graduating 18-year-old high school student later to become one of the most famous and admired leaders that ever walked on this Earth: Mahatma Gandhi.

Universally respected for his wisdom, one particular Gandhi quote means a lot to Atul as it basically connects to optimal usage of resources which magically relates to Atul’s work of optimization as well.

Gandhi said: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed”.

Look forward and reach out

Atul did not walk a historic nonviolent disobedience Salt March but travelled 6.000 kilometres from Ahmedabad to Rostock in Germany to take the final steps towards his Master of Engineering degree finishing his thesis, after having further specialized in engineering design at a jet engine research team in B-TU Cottbus, Germany, then at a supercomputing centre of Cineca in Bologna, Italy, and at truck manufacturer Scania in Södertälje, Sweden.

Despite the reputable venues Atul is a sincerely humble young engineer with a September 2022 deadline for his PhD thesis to be handed in at Southampton University in England. A work that will probably comprise some 150-200 pages and – if acknowledged by the scientific society – will add another name to novel science making him one of world’s leading experts in his highly specialized area of interest.

“I have been very lucky. So far, my career has had a domino effect – one good thing leading to another. It is almost surreal. I spoke with my father about the opportunity to join Vestas aircoil in Denmark. He noticed Denmark’s supreme rank on the global happiness index – and advised me to look forward and reach out. And here I am part of a magnificent PhD-team in a very well-structured Danish business”.

A revolution in engineering

Atul’s fascination with engineering design is well rooted in a restless search for ideal second-to-none solutions. Regardless, if that is a meticulous detail in a subcomponent or a giant scale structure, or a completely different engineering system altogether.

“The heat exchangers developed by Vestas aircoil are cooling down ship engines the size of buildings. We talk massive dimensions. And yet, even a giant diesel engine is a precise clockwork that must be designed carefully into every detail in order to function in an optimal manner. I guess one could argue that engineering design in the past often tended to be very robust structures with little or no considerations to emissions or climate footprint. Down the road, however, we have realized that modern engineering design must pay further attention to the environment offering more comprehensive solutions that pay respect to improved sustainability. My research would be no different,” says Atul.

He would not be surprised if global challenges related to climate change and resource scarcity will manifest as main drivers that will eventually materialize themselves as high octane fuel in an engineering design revolution.

“Life cycle and recycling aspects is definitely becoming a new and very inspiring a challenge for engineering design over the past years”.

Cost-conscious at the same time

“It is very expensive to develop new prototypes and models. Another very interesting aspect in engineering design is the effort to optimize and yet be cost conscious at the same time. Customers and companies cannot afford to spend endless resources in new engineering designs. Hence being cost- effective in terms of both time and resources, is – more often than not – another important aspect of the equation,” Atul explains.

Taking a brief look in the rear-view mirror it is almost four years ago, the market-leading Danish manufacturer of marine and industrial cooling systems joined forces with the University of Southampton in preparations for a fellow European Industrial PhD project financially supported by the EU Horizon program. The international collaboration, including UK, Denmark, the European Union, and talented young people from abroad carry the ambition to spark even closer cooperation between academia and industry for their mutual benefit.

“After Southampton, I am open to opportunities anywhere in the world, as I am indeed, a citizen of the world. Opportunities will show when the time comes,” says Atul.

It seems fair to conclude that the generous “domino effect” will once again be a guide to Atul as he moves along and take the next steps in his career.

Their time to shine

The very first steps, however, will bring Atul back to the University of Southampton in England to fulfil the contract signed with Vestas aircoil and the university.

University of Southampton is ranked Top 100 globally. On the website the university flash its payoff: “This is your time to shine” with a promising ambition to “develop critical thinking and independent learning skills that are essential for future leaders and decision makers”.

Currently, Atul shines at Vestas aircoil along with Milena, Kevin and Talha. Soon four PhD thesis will probably shine equally intense on the science sky with stars of new insights, thoughts and learnings picked up and examined closely by four talented engineers spending three years together in UK and Denmark.

Talha: “Failure is what i predict” – 16 May 2021

If – for some reason – you want to know when any given component will eventually fail or break down Khandokar Abu Talha (26) from Bangladesh is a young expert, and you should consider paying a visit.

Given his capacity to predict the lifespan of a wide range of materials and structures, one could, in fact, argue he is a master of disaster. Yet, engineers don’t use that kind of language which seems a fairly good reason to have Mechanical Engineer and PhD Talha explain himself:

“My work is to investigate the fatigue behaviour of components in a certain structure… let’s say a heat exchanger. Combining fatigue testing with cyclic amplitude loading, observations and merging these real-life data into established and well-proven general theories and methods, I can predict when the component will fail. In a fairly precise manner”.

Using heat exchangers as an example to illustrate his point doesn’t come by accident. Talha is currently working on his PhD thesis, Fatigue evaluations of additive manufactured materials in novel heat exchanger design in the headquarters of Vestas Aircoil – for the past seven decades, a pioneering and market-leading Denmark-based manufacturer of marine and industrial cooling systems.

Knowing what we don’t know

“As goes for any PhD thesis, however, my work has the essential second part not just to obtain an in- depth understanding of what we can observe and already know but indeed carry on the thought process to a next level enabling us to realise some of the knowledge gaps we still face. Realising what we don’t know is a fundamental first step in science to build new experiments that will generate more information and data upon which we can crystallise out ground-breaking new evidence and knowledge”.

Predicting failure in a modern setting basically involves extremely heavy data, capable computer modelling and real-life cyclic loading tests. Inside Talha’s modern computer and its powerful models, however, sits knowledge, part of which goes way back in time.

Understanding the cyclic behaviour of material goes back to World War II. In 1943 two American scientists working for NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA) established the Ramberg-Osgood equation that describes the non-linear relationship between cyclic stress and strain, which still is a relevant and widely used theory even though more advanced models are available.

From elastic to plastic behaviour

The constitutive equations themself are so complicated it would probably take an engineer to fully understand it.

Yet, the stress-strain curve related to the constitutive equations illustrates the behaviour of materials near the yield points.

In material science and engineering, the yield point is the point on a stress-strain curve that indicates the limit of elastic behaviour and the beginning of plastic behaviour. Below the yield point, a material will deform elastically and return to its original shape when stress is stopped. Once the yield point is passed, however, some fraction of the deformation will be permanent and non-reversible. That stage in the process is known as plastic deformation.

And plastic deformation can often lead to microscopic cracks that, in themselves, are not destructive but can develop further and make the material or structure deteriorate into weakness, malfunction and eventually total breakdown.

A process well-known from numerous incidents and accidents – recent examples being airplane accidents in the US and Europe with engine parts ripping off due to metal fatigue and consequently damaging the entire structure.

Everything will fail one day

“The cyclic behaviour combined with stress-life – the number of cycles to failure under a certain stress level – can predict failure of a structural material with reasonable accuracy. It all started in 1837, when a german engineer, Wilhelm Albert published the first article on metal fatigue, later which was termed as ‘metals being tired’ by Jean-Victor Poncelet, a French engineer. Then, O. H. Basquin proposed the relationship between stress and number of cycles to failure, which marked a major milestone in fatigue research history. For generations, engineers stood on the shoulders of these pioneers, and created complex models of fatigue failure as phenomena and how to excel the prediction of it”.

The pioneering nature of these early realisations proves themselves on a daily basis as theories turn out to be applicable not only to metal as they originated from but – at least partly – also to other materials such as composites, plastics and ceramics.

At the coffee machine in the Vestas aircoil reception area, we briefly dwell at the slightly more philosophical truth that everything may eventually fail. Any structure we build, any machine we manufacture will fail at last. Even human beings and what goes beyond our wildest imaginations have an end:

“Ultimately, even the universe as we know it will possibly collapse one day… in what is to become the biggest failure ever,” Talha says with contagious laughter. “But I am not sure my computer models are capable of predicting much in that context”.

Young talents from abroad

In other words: Fatigue, failure and collapse is a law of nature. And Talha’s engineering nature is to describe and predict.

“Predictions of failure are highly relevant in, let’s say, the car industry. Most failures – probably 7 or 8 in 10 – have a cyclic nature. Fatigue cracks in materials and components will correspond in a certain ratio with the numbers of miles the car has been driving. On top of that comes other crucial factors such as climate, load, user characteristics etc. Predictions basically enable companies to set up maintenance schedules, guarantees, spare part production etc. In fact, to a large extent the core business model itself”.

Working closely together with PhD-colleagues Milena Watanabe Bavaresco from Brazil and Kevin Jose and Atul Singh from India, Talha is part of the ambitious research and development team at Vestas aircoil currently planning to further expand its R&D facilities and activities in Denmark.

Three years ago, the market-leading Danish manufacturer of marine and industrial cooling systems joined forces with the University of Southampton in preparations for a fellow European Industrial PhD project financially supported by the EU Horizon program. The international collaboration, including UK, Denmark, the European Union and talented young people from abroad carry the ambition to spark even closer cooperation between academia and industry for their mutual benefit.

“Representing academia, I find the industrial environment very rewarding. It’s indeed inspiring to face real-life challenges. Another upside is the potential networking and collaboration opportunities enabling us to generate new solid knowledge essential for the PhD”.

The deadly winter in Denmark

Talha will work on his thesis at Vestas aircoil until December 2021. Going back to the UK, he will finish his PhD at the University of Southampton within 6-9 months.

Where prediction and failure will bring him after that he doesn’t know yet:
“Before arriving in Denmark, I worked in Bangladesh, France, Germany and England. I am open to any opportunity. Given the current Covid-19 situation… who knows what travel bans will look like in the future?”.

Instead, Talha puts a lot of energy into his passion for cooking. Often together with PhD colleague Kevin Jose from India.

“I am very excited about both the Asian and European kitchen. Coming to the sparsely populated Western part of Denmark, we have realised, however, the difficulties in finding those ingredients we are familiar with in Southeast Asia”.

“Apart from the Asian food resource scarcity, living in Ringkoebing and Denmark has been a wonderful experience so far. People are fun and very nice. I am quite excited about the Nordic work-life ratio allowing me substantial time to enjoy the sea and re-energise. The one thing I don’t like about Denmark is winter. No life… no sunshine. It’s deadly!” says Talha with a smile and wraps up:

“And yet I survived…”

Kevin: “Now i see structures everywhere” – 17 November 2020

”I was born and raised not far from New Delhi… a giant metropolis with 22 million people. I also lived in New York with a population of 8 million. Even Southampton – hometown of my university – has 250,000 inhabitants. Now I live in Ringkøbing together with 10,000 people or so. It’s quiet but I actually find the rather sleepy atmosphere charming. I believe it’s an ideal place for me to write the initial part of my PhD thesis”.

Kevin Jose (25) came directly from India to Denmark in January 2020. He arrived in the midst of the month-long Nordic winter darkness challenging even to many native Danes suffering from a weather- burdened mood. On top of only a few hours of daylight, this particular winter was distinct with a record number of rainy and windy days.

“The subtropical summer we experience now, however, definitely warmed me up. Actually, I find the indoor temperatures a bit challenging these days. Unlike India there is no air conditioning inside our office building and the campus where I live. The bright summer nights with very early sunrise is also something for me to get used to”.

Structures in nature

Working closely together with PhD-colleague Milena Watanabe Bavaresco from Brazil, Kevin is part of the research and development team at Vestas aircoil. The market leading Danish manufacturer of marine and industrial cooling systems joined forces, three years ago, with University of Southampton in preparations for a fellow European Industrial PhD project, financially supported by the
EU Horizon program that Kevin is now part of.

The international collaboration including UK, Denmark, the European Union and talented young people from abroad carries the ambition to spark even closer cooperation between academia and industry for their mutual benefit.

“And that is indeed what we achieve by spending time at Vestas aircoil. Once your fundamental knowledge is in place you start to see the structures we examine everywhere. Even in nature and the landscape surrounding us”.

The beauty of our work

“To give you an example, one day I was at the fjord watching the waves coming in. What I observed and realized was how plants along the shore influence the rhythm of the water surface. In fact, plantation at the fjord has an effect on the waves that in some ways is similar to the effect that tubes and fins in a Vestas aircoil charge air cooler have on vibrations of the cooler. I find it rather fascinating to recognize and retrieve the dynamics from completely different spheres and potentially make them relevant even to an industrial cooling system. That is the beauty of our work”.

For Kevin the inspiration goes far beyond observing waves at Ringkøbing Fjord. Even his knowledge of vibrations from musical drums and trees reactions to earthquakes carry insights that Kevin can take advantage of on a daily basis.

Troubles to shoot

Sitting at his desk in the Research and Development Department at the Vestas aircoil headquarter in Denmark Kevin is working on computer models that are capable of translating the physical dynamics that he observes elsewhere into tools that have the capacity to make sophisticated know how workable in an industrial setting as well.

One highly relevant topic at his current employer is the effect of manufacturing tolerance on vibrations.

“Vibrations cause deformations in materials and structures that – if not predicted accurately in calculations and design – potentially may cause failure. From let’s say aircraft jet engines we know that even the slightest deviations in geometric or material parameters in one fan blade eventually may break down the entire engine with catastrophic consequences to follow. 1 or 2 percent dissimilarity can easily evolve into a 100 percent disaster. Inspired by real life industrial challenges, my work focuses on building the simplest possible models that translate issues related to vibrations into academic concepts and responses from physics that are durable at the engineer’s desk as well as in the production facility”.

Ultimately, Kevin’s ambition is to succeed with scientific simplification models that may not run three decimals on expensive super computers but strike an accuracy that make the models useful in contexts where thousandths are overkill.

The nature of the PhD

Kevin is currently researching and writing a PhD thesis he plans to submit in 2 years or so. Meanwhile, he will write numerous scientific articles submitted to relevant journals with the PhD constituting a summary of the original work presented and connected over the course of the PhD project.

”A PhD thesis would normally be 100-150 pages and must present what is acknowledged by independent researchers as new scientific realizations. If successful a PhD would ideally become one in only 2- 3 experts worldwide in his or her particular field of super specialized science”.

To focus one must, however, relax now and then. In Kevin’s case he prefers to rest his curious scientific mind while searching through a camera lens for picturesque landscapes, sunsets or lighthouses along the North Sea coastline and Ringkøbing Fjord. Or enjoy the social life at the campus in Ringkøbing with those 30 other young international talents living there… many of them young researchers at the wind turbine giant Vestas Wind Systems located next door to Vestas aircoil.

Now and then, Kevin also put aside the scientific literature and allow himself to linger with books describing recent Danish history.

“I am rather stunned by the homogeneity of the Danish society. Once in a while, though, I miss the dynamic cultural dissimilarity I grew up with in India. I speak two Indian languages fluently and my parents are part of a religious minority comprising only two per cent of the population in India. I find it exciting when cultures and contradictions meet, but I am deeply impressed by the non-hierarchical society in Denmark. We sit in the CEOs office to do this interview for instance… that pretty much explains the Danish informality”.

Magic in the campus kitchen

Most of all, Kevin misses the spicy Indian cuisine he was born and raised with. After months of searching and assisted by friends in Denmark and abroad, a decent spice rack with ginger, turmeric, cumin, cilantro and fenugreek is slowly materializing in his campus kitchen. As well as new discoveries in kitchen machinery.

“We do not use electrical ovens in India. It was a somewhat magical discovery to me, and I decided to bake bread only to suffer the painful response that fellow students in the campus kitchen complimented me for my “fine cake”. After that, I started looking for bakeries with bread on sale”.

It may well be that his core competences lay outside baking, however, true talent does not deny itself. Looking into the future Kevin sees himself almost anywhere in the world his expertise may unfold:

“If my future career will lead me to a university position as a professor or a cutting-edge research and development position in the private sector I really don’t know. It is still in the making, I guess. In fact, I don’t have strong feelings what part of the world will become my future home. I am very flexible and mostly driven by job opportunities that have the potential to unleash the science I feel passionate about”.

Mmilena: “I fell in love with research” – 9 October 2020

“Arriving in January was… Well, how can I phrase it? It was cold and dark! But for me positive as well. Coming to Denmark I was surprised by the hospitality and spaciousness of my new surroundings. I truly appreciate the nature at the fjord… it gives me the opportunity to live, work and study in a peaceful manner. To enjoy the privilege to disconnect”.

Milena Watanabe Bavaresco (28) moved to Denmark in January 2020. She travelled from a summery Brazil in the southern hemisphere to the western part of Jutland, at that time of the year a wet and windy peninsula region even by many Danes considered to be part of the outskirts of the tiny northern Kingdom.

Time to shine

Amongst her travel documents, Milena brought a contract signed by the University of Southampton in England and Vestas aircoil in Denmark. The university is ranked Top 100 globally. On the website the university flash its payoff: “This is your time to shine” with a promising ambition to “develop critical thinking and independent learning skills that are essential for future leaders and decision makers”.

Currently, Milena shines at Vestas aircoil. Supported by funding from the EU Horizon program she splits her PhD time equally between the UK and Denmark in a project planned to last four years.
Having a master’s degree in Engineering Milena now has the ambition to succeed a PhD working closely together with her PhD-colleague Kevin focusing on their studies in vibrations.

Minimize the risk of failures

“Vibrations cause severe problems in many industries. If we want to find solid and lasting solutions, we must understand the challenges first… and we need to start by the fundamentals. If we realize the structures and comprehend the nature of vibrations, I believe we offer ourselves the opportunity to solve most of the troubles as well”.

Regardless of the structure itself – a building, an aircraft, a car, wind turbines, a vessel or any other structure exposed to vibrations – over time these periodic movements may cause failures that have the potential to be very expensive to the company that manufactures, maintains or has the ownership of that structure.

“I find vibrations a very interesting topic due to the amount of internal and external factors that play a significant part: materials, geometry, mounts and connections just to mention a few. To build strong structures capable to withstand years of wear and tear the complexity of vibrations must be recognized and fully taken into consideration in their design process”.

Finding new ways to test

The complexity of vibrations may appear obvious for the Vestas aircoil charge air coolers mounted deep in the machinery next to a double MAN modern two- stroke diesel engine delivering a total of 86,000 BHP onboard a majestic Triple E container ship from Maersk Line.

“The complexity, however, may apply to much simpler constructions. Dynamic properties are intrinsic to all these objects around us,” says Milena spreading her arms at the meeting table in the office where we talk. “Combined with certain loadings, these properties can determine the success or failure of a structure in terms of vibrations”.

“My work focuses on researching new ways of testing structures and implementing existing methods to make them useful in both a Vestas aircoil setting and to other industries as well”.

Vestas aircoil is a market leader in marine and industrial cooling systems. For decades the company has faced the fact that one of the main challenges in cooling systems is actually the cooling itself: bringing temperatures from 225 degrees Celsius to 35 with air travelling within a cooler that is only half a meter wide is highly complex and only possible with air exposed to a humongous cooling surface cramped into the cooler.

Despite having the size of a wardrobe, a Vestas aircoil cooler may easily contain a cooling surface of 1,000 square meters. Such massive differences in temperatures from input to output within the same structure, however, expose materials and components to extreme conditions.

The gamechanger

Having the opportunity to research and develop together with a world leading manufacturer in marine diesel engine and industrial cooling systems Milena is thrilled with the future perspectives in 3D printing:

“It is a technology that lay out new land for us to discover. In traditional materials and processes we experience many restrictions. However, 3D printing allows us to change the name of the game… at a microscopic scale. We can build our structures with innovative geometry and we can place different materials in strategic positions. That allows us to manufacture goods with a built-in vibration control strategy that is sophisticated in concept, yet simple in operation”.

The introduction of new fuels such as biofuels and hydrogen are also keeping engineers busy with new designs, calculations and re-designs as we prepare engines for a greener and more climate friendly future.

Practice what they preach

Another day at the office is often working hours with Milena on the constant move between physical laws and engineering drawings at her computer desk and real life testing and experiments in the probation area in a corner of the Vestas aircoil production facility.

“We conduct these experiments to test, understand and document how materials react to temperatures and vibrations making us able to transform theory into practice and harvest new knowledge based on the processes. The genuine passion and interest in my PhD work makes it highly encouraging for me to be with Vestas aircoil. Most companies would probably flash an interest in bridging academia and industry… at Vestas aircoil they quite simply practice what they preach”.

Fell in love with research

It’s Friday afternoon. Lunch – the traditional Danish rye bread with cold cuts – is over. The weather outside is quite contrary to Milena’s arrival half a year ago. A high-pressure weather situation pumps hot and dry air from the European continent to Scandinavia. Temperatures are 30 degrees Celsius. Had it not been for a knee injury Milena would probably play tennis this weekend, but she plans to go to the beach instead.

“Going to the beach in Denmark is quite different, though. In Brazil we are much noisier and extroverted. In Denmark people are rather understated and relaxed in many aspects. I had no idea what to expect when I first went here. I never met a Dane before moving here in January. But I like the people and the country… I really do”.

Summer holidays are closing up. Covid-19 travel restrictions prevent Milena from visiting her family in Brazil. Instead, she will spend three weeks in August together with her cousins in Ireland and visit her boyfriend in the UK.

Looking into the future beyond her PhD Milena is less certain what territories she will explore.

“During my master’s degree in vibration control I simply fell in love with research. Trying to tackle what is unknown to me and sometimes even others definitely motivates me. If my future work will be in academia or the industry, however, it is hard for me to tell. I do not have a fixed goal… I am ready to walk in any direction my curiosity dictates”.

The Multidisciplinary Indestruct Project and why is it vital that academia meets industry from the perspective of industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 is happening now, with immense focus on the digital transformation of companies and the use of IoT (internet of things). In the interview below, Claus H. Ibsen, R&D Director at Vestas Aircoil, and InDEStruct Project Early Stage Researcher Atul Singh, discuss the importance of making theory and practice come together, ultimately benefitting both academic societies and private companies as well as the outside world.

The InDEStruct Project provides a digital twin platform (1), and is a collaborative doctoral training programme that provides a model for the development of technology leaders, enabling them to apply scientific methods from academia to interdisciplinary industrial design. Why is there a need for this?

Claus: As part of the InDEStruct Project, we held an innovation workshop in February 2022, where it became apparent that, for industry to take full advantage of our findings, we need to go from current Technology Readiness Levels TRL3 to TRL7 or 8. This is why we ask, how can we efficiently move from three to seven? The answer lies in bridging that gap between industry and academia.

The main driver for the InDEStruct project is the distinct lack of well-trained scientists in the area of multi-disciplinary optimisation of systems that involve thermal and mechanical loading caused by vibration excitation and aerothermal flow and their combined effect on structural damage. The project brings together four different disciplines to have a multidisciplinary cohort working on a challenge. The knowledge each of the four Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) comes together to find solutions to widely different challenges, through developing tools and methods to improve the design of a gas-to-gas heat exchanger for the company, Vestas aircoil A/S.

Furthermore, a digital twin is necessarily a multi- disciplinary concept, where well-trained scientists integrate technology to provide indicators of engineering performance, thus requiring a multi- disciplinary understanding of systems – the InDEStruct project will contribute to that.

Atul: The four individual projects each have their own core competencies, at the same time as the ESRs gaining PhDs. So there is a balance between the academic and industry, which often is not there. Theories are often limited to academic settings. For example, there are various formulas and methods which are studied in an academic setting, but what we miss is asking “when is this problem relevant?” Here, the relevance of the problem becomes clear when we are exposed to an industrial setting.

Through InDEStruct, the four ESRs have had the opportunity to be exposed to all these problems in which we can understand context and apply our theoretical knowledge to an industrial setting. The work of the early-stage researchers brings valuable insight into the characteristics of heat exchangers which in turn will help improve their durability and performance, proving extremely helpful to any challenges Vestas experience, both now and in the future.

What is the importance of collaboration within your work?

Atul: The project definition was to bridge the gap between industry and academia such that after we have our PhDs, we will be able to provide our expertise to various industries that experience similar challenges across them. Each ESR has varied competencies, so will be valuable in different areas, yet are able to call upon one another for help. The collaboration fostered by the project is hoped to continue throughout, addressing whatever challenges are faced in the future. Thus, we are not just bridging the gap between industry and academia, but also between people.

Claus: We’ve been very collaborative throughout, in particular, we have had an excellent experience working with the University of Southampton, as our first collaboration outside of Denmark and we would love to continue this. The doctoral students have been supervised jointly by the academic and industrial supervisors at the University of Southampton and Vestas aircoil, in addition to specialist training provided by six industrial and academic partner organisations.

We have also learned that there are still important aspects to be improved when bridging the gap between academia and industry. It should be a priority to keep the project’s scope rather narrow, which may not go well with the view from management level of the company. However, a narrow scope will be beneficial when ESR’s deliver a project/task on TRL3 and the company need to find the resources to bring it to TRL8, 9 or 10. It will become more manageable, thereby paving the way for a success.

What do you hope for the future of this project?

Atul: As a PhD student, it is important that our research work can be varied in its application. For instance, Vestas deals in heat exchangers and heating applications for industries and cooling solutions. However, similar companies or industries, such as turbomachinery, or companies working on structures specifically, could also use our research.

Claus: Not only will heat exchangers be improved, but also the technology behind their design, which is applicable to other industries as well. Even after the project ends, its research will still be available to be applied to other sectors of industry, and it is an exciting time to see where and how this will be used.

The InDEStruct Project, scheduled to end in September 2022 through an extension due to COVID- 19, has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie SkłodowskaCurie grant agreement No 765636. There is also a conference scheduled in Portugal in June, where the ESRs will present a mini symposium. Find out more about the project here.


(1) What is a digital twin? A digital twin offers the potential for companies to generate new revenue streams and provide cost savings by reducing, or eliminating expensive laboratory testing, delivering growth with increased insight and real-time data. However, it can also be used for real-time monitoring of the remaining life-time of a product.

How can we bridge the industrial-academic gap? Closing the industrial-academic gap is the future of innovation

How do you translate scientific results into innovation?

Vestas aircoil A/S values the potential of being part of the Horizon 2020 project InDEStruct. Besides the project outcome, it has also been a possibility to reflect on how the EU funding most efficiently translates scientific results into innovation in the industry and eliminate the industrial-academic gap.

Scoping a project that does not require numerous man-years for the industry to improve the technology readiness level is not unmanageable. At the end of 2021, Karl Brian started in a R&D position at Vestas aircoil A/S. He has 20 years of experience as a professor at a Danish University and brought with him the latest scientific work, to which, he quickly introduced a new material test (bulge testing – see figures) in the company which generates new knowledge of the materials and will improve the end product.

European Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel recently wrote a LinkedIn article ‘Startups and science: EU businesses will increase their competitiveness by linking closely scientists and startups’, where she highlighted that “With deep tech startups quickly translating scientific results into innovation, our deep societal challenges will be resolved much more quickly than in the past.”

We believe that quick translation of scientific results and methods into innovation should be the goal of all projects. Here, Claus and Karl Brian will reflect on what it takes to actually do that.

When it comes to the possibility of industry working more closely with academia, what do you think of the future?

Claus: “I think it would be beneficial for the EU if we could make the industry-academia partnership work efficiently and close the industrial-academic gap. How do we collaborate and increase the technology readiness level of the project, together with academia? We are almost four years into our InDEStruct project and we do certainly see interesting results. Though for some of the project outcomes, it may require five, six, or seven years to fully exploit the present findings. That is a long way to go and for the EU to gain from this. This we believe comes down to the scoping after the project has been granted funding and is ready to start.”

You want to connect academic insights to the industry. What recommendation would you make so innovation could be more easily implemented?

Karl Brian: “I think it takes a number of topics to turn out to be successful, to be fast and that technological development can be implemented in the company. The first thing that it takes is setting the context of whatever we are doing.

“Then the company needs openness in order to have the will to discuss what could be of interest, and then the company needs to have a certain level of academic skills. If it’s completely without, then it’s not a fast track to go that way. Mr Ibsen, who have been in Vestas aircoil for 19 years and withholds a PhD, has shown for many years this positive attitude to whatever topic that may be of interest. Finally, it takes the academic side, and there you need to find an academic person who has the research skills and understand the challenge of the business / sector.

“Also, it’s important that there is a certain history. Whatever brands you move into, you need a period of a half year, one year, two years of work into this brand, to understand what the product is, and what are the technologies, but how does this make up a business for the company? Because what I’m doing should somehow improve the business of the company.”

Would you suggest that scientists are trained at university, to understand the industry?

Karl Brian: “I have many colleagues from the academic world, who are leaders of the academic world, and their interpretation is that, well, we have solved all manufacturing problems, this process we have known for 100 years. So, what can be done with this? It’s a question of changing your research perspective. Instead of doing something with the balance of our metals, we’ll try to make a twist so that our product is performing 10% better than previous ones. Or we can be much greener in our carbon dioxide use, because then the research topic is the ability to make this change more than how to put in some more iron.”

Do you see anything in the EU engineer infrastructure that excites you about the potential of speeding up that process?

Claus: “We were recently in a consortium with research groups from all over Europe, which prepared an application for EU funding. The fund was not granted, but what we saw being in the consortium, was the many facets of research on one research topic, which can be found in Europe.

If you as an industry can identify the technology needed to do the innovation of your product, but the local University may not be an exact match, then there most probably is a European research group which has the capability.

By expanding the looking glass to the whole of Europe, you can find an optimal match for your Innovation. This we also acknowledged in our InDEStruct project, which brings together a consortium of industrial and academic partners in a bespoke doctoral training programme that is multi-disciplinary in its content. That multi-disciplinary match was University of Southampton for us.

What ambitions do you have for the future? What would you like to do with the technology?

Claus: “We have enjoyed being part of the InDEStruct project which is soon to end, and we are hoping that we can get a new project so we can continue having collaboration across the border with other universities. I think the small differences, which are between us living in Europe, are important to generate new perspectives and ideas.

To download this eBook in full, click the link here


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here