Collaboration key for innovation as industry demand grows

July 10, 2015

The world is getting more complex. Technologies are quickly becoming more advanced, customers are raising demands, and society is requiring environmentally sound and labor-friendly solutions. This means it works less and less well for companies to develop products and services in isolation. Collaboration is more important than ever.

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“Collaboration is the way of the future,” said Mikael Ramström, Manager Global Strategic Projects and Alliances at the Underground Rock Excavation division in Örebro, Sweden.

A look at Atlas Copco’s Mining and Rock Excavation Technique business area shows that collaboration indeed is vital to the future – and that it can take many forms, involving customers, suppliers, governments and universities. One important forum for collaboration that the business area participates in is Vinnova, a Swedish government agency promoting innovation.

“Together you are stronger,” said Mikael Ramström, Manager Global Strategic Projects and Alliances at the Underground Rock Excavation division in Örebro, Sweden. “You are listened to more than if you as an individual try to lobby for your ideas. This forum will pay dividends in coming years.”

Consortium with 116 partners

A similar concept to Vinnova’s* is now being applied to all of Europe. Atlas Copco, together with Swedish-based LKAB, a state-owned mining company, and Boliden, a mining and smelting company, successfully sold the idea to the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT), an agency of the European Union, and built a consortium now consisting of 116 partners. The EIT agency gave go-ahead to the seven-year EIT Raw Materials program in December 2014, agreeing to pay 25% of the cost, with the industry and universities funding the rest. The broad scope is how Europe best can secure raw material access in the future. Currently, negotiations are being held between the consortium and the EU to decide on the legal responsibilities and how to allocate funds, with a final agreement planned for September 2015. All the divisions within Mining and Rock Excavation Technique should get cooperation projects as a result, Mikael Ramström said.

In a parallell European-wide collaboration, Atlas Copco President and CEO Ronnie Leten is a member of the European Innovation Partnership on Raw Materials, together with other company executives, governmental ministers and EU commissioners. Topics discussed include how to improve the research and innovation climate in Europe, extract raw materials in new innovative ways, and how to best recycle raw materials from products, buildings and infrastructure.

“It is no secret that the mining industry is going through a trying period. In these difficult times it becomes even more crucial to work together with selected partners,” said Andreas Nordbrandt, President of the Rocktec division.

“While your resources to accomplish exactly what the customer wants go down, it is super important to focus on a few high-priority development projects,” Andreas Nordbrandt said. “Because each of the development projects we work on now is so important, it makes cooperation even more vital.”

Cooperating with the most demanding

Mining and Rock Excavation Technique has a history of cooperating one-on-one with customers and suppliers. Cooperation with LKAB goes all the way back to 1908 when Atlas Copco for the first time delivered rock drills to the iron ore mine in Kiruna in northern Sweden. Since then the two companies have regularly worked together to develop high-quality mining equipment. For instance, in the 1990’s, Atlas Copco and LKAB together made a giant leap in mining technology with water powered, fully automatic remotely-operated drill rigs. Later, about a decade ago, one of the fastest rock drills in the world, Atlas Copco’s COP 3038, was field tested in LKAB’s Malmberget mine. Andreas Nordbrandt said the two companies have a common vision for the year 2030 that include no harmful emissions, no accidents, high energy efficiency, and an attractive workplace.

“My impression is that we as a big, important and strategic supplier of machines have higher expectations on us than we did 20 years ago,” Andreas Nordbrandt said. “We are expected to be sort of a consultant who knows a lot not only about the machines but also about the customers’ processes. We must know their applications better, we must know what it means for the customer if the machine is not running. For us, to be integrated like this gives us the opportunity to learn more and deliver more – if successful it’s a win-win for both parties.”

Per-Erik Lindvall, LKAB’s Senior Vice President Technology & Business Development, said in an interview that cooperation both in industry-wide forums and on a bilateral level is vital.

“The industry needs to be an active player, and it’s important that industry representatives like us and Atlas Copco participate in order to affect political policy decisions,” Per-Erik Lindvall said. “We have always appreciated Atlas Copco’s positive view towards cooperation. Competition is tough, and we work very hard on quality and productivity. For more than a hundred years, Atlas has been a good partner for us.”

… throughout the value chain

Collaboration with business partners is also important. SSAB, the Swedish-based maker of high-quality steel, has worked closely with Atlas Copco on such issues as the development of dump boxes in underground mine trucks. This has resulted in Atlas Copco using more resistant steel, increasing the durability of the mine trucks.

“Throughout the years we have had rewarding collaborations in several projects for everything from technical machine shop issues to design and selection of materials,” said P O Stark, head of SSAB’s Special Steels division, regarding the collaboration between SSAB and Atlas Copco. “Time to market is the key to success and I am convinced that the fastest and most efficient development can be achieved in broad collaborations where you work with transparency and common goals.”

Mikael Ramström summed it up: “Collaboration is the way of the future.”

“The vision for the year 2030 include no harmful emissions, no accidents, high energy efficiency, and an attractive workplace.”- Andreas Nordbrandt, President of the Rocktec division

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