Photo: Ulrik Jantzen

From lampshades to aircraft engines

Friday 06 Mar 15
|
by Signe Gry Braad

Contact

Thomas J. Howard
Associate Professor
DTU Mechanical Engineering
+45 45 25 47 41

Contact

Peter Jespersen, Scion DTU, pj@sciondtu.dk

 

Knowledge as a driving factor

‘Knowledge as a driving factor’ is a project rooted in Scion DTU. It is intended to facilitate partnerships between DTU researchers and technology companies that are either facing a specific technological challenge, or wish to seek out new opportunities in a hi-tech field. 

Each company is allocated up to 400 ‘knowledge hours’ from DTU, 45 hours of business consultancy and 100 facilitation hours from Scion DTU. Each company’s commitment to the project amounts to a minimum of 800 documented hours divided between 1–3 project participants.

Read more at
www.sciondtu.com

Based in Rødovre, a suburb of Copenhagen, Olsen Metaltrykkeri nurtures a dream of becoming a subcontractor to the aeronautical industry. However, this involves meeting stringent new requirements for documentation and predictability. The company has therefore sought assistance from DTU and the project entitled ‘Knowledge as a driving factor’.

The staff at Olsens Metaltrykkeri are currently putting the finishing touches to a new prototype for the aeronautical industry which—if everything goes according to plan—will not only double the company’s turnover, but also open doors to new markets.

From lamps to aeronautics
Olsen Metaltrykkeri used to focus primarily on lamps. However, in a globalized world where you can pick up a lamp made of steel for around DKK 149 in Ikea, it is hard for a lamp manufacturer to keep its head above water in Denmark. The company has therefore devoted the past ten years to completing a major change-over, and is now primarily focused on niche areas where buyers are willing to pay Danish prices for the expertise and experience that the 25 employees at Olsen Metaltrykkeri can supply.

The big dream is to become a subcontractor to the aeronautical industry. Stig Nalbandian, CEO, soon found out that this is not a goal that can be achieved from one day to the next.

“We were contacted by an international company that makes turbine engines for one of the world’s leading airlines and was potentially interested in working with us. However, the questions they asked were very different to the ones we are used to dealing with from our customers,” he recalls. So it was clear that the company needed help— which duly appeared in the form of an invitation to participate in Scion DTU’s project entitled ‘Knowledge as a driving factor’.

Knowledge to lead to growth
‘Knowledge as a driving factor’ links small and medium-sized companies to DTU researchers and students. These are companies that are typically facing a specific technological challenge, but do not have the experience or resources required to tackle the assignment. Olsen Metaltrykkeri was thus paired with Associate Professor Thomas Howard and postdoc Tobias Eifler—both from DTU Mechanical Engineering—as well as two engineering students.

Photo: Ulrik Jantzen

If a company wants to become a subcontractor to the aeronautical industry, it has to meet stringent requirements on the documentation of its production processes.

These processes are closely examined at Olsen Metaltrykkeri.

The two DTU researchers primarily work with a method known as ‘robust design’. This is an approach that, in general terms, centres on designing and creating products that remain as unaffected as possible by external factors—also called ‘geometric variations’. The objective of robust design is to support the product creators and to develop new methods and structures for the work process so that the product can achieve its full potential throughout its service life.

“We help companies to structure the knowledge they already possess and use it to identify what they can do to optimize their work. Finally, we build a strategic tool for them to use going forward,” explains Tobias Eifler. He continues:

“At the start of new partnership projects, we often find it a challenge to explain the purpose of our initiatives to the company in question, because the people involved are not used to thinking along these lines. The primary issue for companies is to deal with day-to-day challenges, and to achieve set production goals. They don’t have the time or the resources to step back and think about what they could be doing differently.”

On-site research
It is essential that the researchers listen to the company employees, who often possess a great deal of applicable knowledge about how the work is actually performed on an everyday basis. The two engineering students therefore visited Olsen Metaltrykkeri and initially started collecting data about all the factors that might exert a negative influence on the final product.

They then refined the list to identify the four factors with the greatest significance. On the basis of the information they collected, the students and researchers created a new, data-driven strategy, which is a method Olsen Metaltrykkeri can continue to utilize in the future.

“The partnership is a fine example that even at companies that run a process distinguished by a high level of manual work and expertise, it is possible to create a data-driven tool with the capacity to provide keen insight into process, performance and output alike,” says Tobias Eifler.

 Photo: Ulrik Jantzen  

 

Stig Nalbandian, CEO, received something of a wake-up all when DTU researchers and students systematically collected data about his company.


Staff expansion
Mathias Rask Møller was one of the students involved in the project. He found it fascinating to test his theoretical knowledge in practice, working at a company that gave him almost completely free hands.

“We spent a lot of time setting up machines and creating prototypes for research—which we then cut into pieces, provoking a range of reactions from the metal workers,” recalls Mathias, who must have done something right during his time with the company, as Olsen Metaltrykkeri took him on as a full-time development engineer in August 2014. He is the first person in the history of the company to hold this position.

New customers
Even though company is still waiting to sign its first contract with the aircraft turbine supplier, the partnership with DTU and the appointment of Mathias Rask Møller has already brought in new customers, as Stig Nalbandian explains.

“We have just delivered a new product to General Electrics, which is a direct spin-off of our work with the new documentation methods.”

Down on the factory floor at Olsen Metaltrykkeri, the machines are now working flat out to finalize the prototype, which is due for presentation shortly. If all goes well, Olsen Metaltrykkeri should be able to add clients from the aeronautical industry to its customer base as early as 2017. And optimism is certainly not in short supply.

“We used to move very slowly, step by step; but after the partnership with DTU, we have leapt up several storeys and laid solid foundations for our future work,” concludes Stig Nalbandian.

Edited article from DYNAMO no. 40, DTU's quarterly magazine in Danish.

Robust design

Robust design is a paradigm targeted at improving the quality and reliability of a design. Products will inevitably be exposed to geometric variations stemming from changes in temperature, load and so on.

The fundamental objective of robust design is to support designers in developing products that—from a technical perspective—are insensitive to variation: this means products or processes that function as intended despite variations in temperature, load, wear, or the varying geometries of individual components.

Generally speaking, this is achieved by examining methods, business processes, software and the like, structuring this knowledge and thus developing a more systematic approach to tackling challenges.

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