Diving deeper with the help of PhD projects

I am Iiro Harjunkoski and I work at ABB Corporate Research with the title of Corporate Research Fellow. In the PRONTO project, I have had the pleasure to be the industrial supervisor for Giancarlo and co-supervisor for Frederik. In general, Corporate Research does research that typically falls between industrial and university R&D, typically including the creation of concepts applying existing theories, resulting in prototypes that in the best case are handed over to a business unit to be further productized as future ABB solutions. We also act as an interface to the academia, and university collaboration is part of our strategy. Thus, this PRONTO collaboration fits very well into our daily work. Working with Giancarlo has been truly rewarding, and he proved to be a very quick learner. He has been able to bring completely new aspects into solving the problems at hand. In his research, he could investigate and compare the performance of heuristics, genetic algorithms and mathematical programming, as well as, combine these in an efficient manner to solve large-scale industrial problem instances. The PRONTO project has allowed us to spend much more efforts on analyzing the problems deeper and trying out various alternatives than would had been possible in a typical research project.

Another very beneficial aspect of PRONTO has been the networking and getting exposed to topics that are outside our usual scope of work. It has also helped to establish new contacts to European top academics and other companies that are confronting similar challenges that we are experiencing. Within the PRONTO “team”, we can also perform scientific discussions at the same level without having the roles of solution providers and end customers. The work of Frederik educated me about maintenance problems related to compressor trains and how to optimize the balance between productivity and reliability. The multiple other collaborations that Giancarlo established during the PRONTO project (e.g. with Jesus, Ouyang and Egidio) gave me new insights into detailed operations of energy-intensive processes, as well as, into fouling of batch operations. As a part of these activities, we also hosted two visiting students and had multiple meetings with a third one.

I have personally very much enjoyed the project and it has been a pleasure to interact with the PRONTO network and get insights on various problems and solution approaches. It has also been great to listen to the fresh ESR thoughts and opinions on various topics as they are young and unbiased, also representing a different generation. We really had an excellent global team in place! Having the students on-site also has allowed us to work together, to go much deeper into understanding the problems and to try out completely new methodologies, allowing also the “wild ideas” that also might fail… Here the PRONTO has shown to provide a good value with low risk, as also a failure is a very good learning experience for a PhD student. Provided that there are identified benefits for the company, I would be extremely happy to actively participate in another similar EU European Industrial Doctorate project.