Yaskawa Environmental Energy/The Switch and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology LUT have signed a Key Account agreement to strengthen cooperation and formalise the partnership the two organisations have enjoyed for nearly two decades. The move will lead to closer collaboration on a number of levels, including joint research projects, technology testing, thesis opportunities for students, and greater recruitment visibility for The Switch at one of Finland’s most respected seats of learning.
The Switch can trace its relationship with LUT University back to the mid-1990s. Rotatek Finland Oy, one of the company’s predecessors, was a spinoff from LUT when the startup successfully applied the research of solid rotor technology within their business. At the beginning of the 2000s, a group – mainly made up of LUT personnel, including professors and researchers and the Research Foundation of Lappeenranta University of Technology – bought half of Rotatek’s shares. Today, many of The Switch personnel, including those outside the main Lappeenranta operation unit, are LUT alumni.
“We have shared several common research projects over the years, and the latest agreement is by far the largest individual university-company contract in LUT history,” says Professor Olli Pyrhönen, who worked as CTO for The Switch for 3 years when the company was established in 2006.
“The Switch focuses on utilising its unique electrical drive train technology to help enable a greener, more efficient and smarter way forward into the future. That chimes with our own vision of harnessing the power of education to realise future potential and opportunity – both in individual students and for society as a whole. Our motto is ‘never to follow’ and The Switch shares that ambition. I believe we can play on one another’s strengths to continue unlocking mutual benefits far into the future,” Pyrhönen continues.
Panu Kurronen, current CTO at Yaskawa Environmental Energy/The Switch, adds, “Even though our cooperation is already strong on many levels, having a Key Account agreement makes our ‘engagement’ more official. It means we can build even stronger bonds, accessing the talent of LUT while they gain the opportunity to utilise our world-class facilities and learn about commercial applications. It is a natural partnership and I look forward to seeing it prosper in the years to come.”
The strong working relationship will give LUT access to The Switch’s new large drive test center, also in Lappeenranta, when it opens for operations early next year. Capable of testing drives up to 15 MW at the start, the facility, which boasts lifting capacity of 80 tons, allows The Switch to scale up its technology to meet growing market demand for increasingly large drives.
LUT is currently working with The Switch on a 1.5-year research study to develop next generation technology for wind power converters. Frequency converters, in general, are one key technology in modern wind turbines. They provide accurate torque and speed control for wind generators. This maximises the aerodynamic efficiency of the wind turbine, thereby reducing the costs of the energy produced. The Switch has developed high-efficiency wind power drive trains in collaboration with LUT over the years. This ongoing project is another example of long-term collaboration.
Another important area of collaboration is the development of energy-efficient high-speed motors and generators. This was actually Rotatek’s original business idea. By increasing the rotational speed of the electrical machines, gearboxes can be avoided in many compressor and turbine applications, increasing efficiency, reducing the system footprint and saving materials.
LUT’s high-speed technology research includes not only electrical machines, but also turbo machinery, bearing technology and machine dynamics, which are all important aspects to investigate in high-efficiency solutions for industrial processes. A common goal is to develop next-generation solutions also for high-speed electric drives. Shared laboratory resources can be utilised here, both for academic research and product development. Moreover, the city of Lappeenranta has supported the high-speed laboratory development at LUT.
The university, which has a strong tradition of collaborating with the national business community, was founded in 1969 and is currently composed of approximately 6,000 students and experts engaged in scientific research and education.
The Switch’s innovative product portfolio includes advanced technology tailored for wind, marine and turbo applications. The business became part of Japan headquartered Yaskawa Electric Corporation in 2014.