Better Collaboration with Industry in Research Projects using External Intrapreneurs and All-Embracing Collaborations

Gunnar Widforss

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Eduard Paul Enoiu

Alexandra Espinosa Hortelano

Helena Albelda Renet

Creative application of knowledge in the industry has been for a while in the research spotlight. There is a mismatch between challenges faced by industry and the capacity of companies to create and use new and existing human knowledge for overcoming this burden. Thus, cooperation, both over company boundaries and together with academia, is indispensable for European industry’s ability to be competitive. But how is close and fruitful collaboration initiated and nurtured? This paper analyses the raised questions.

Using the example of the research projects and collaborations between Mälardalen University (MDH) and Bombardier Transportation (BT), this paper studies the performance of the cooperation, and its concrete impact on the already mentioned company.

Since several years, researchers from MDH have collaborated with BT [2], by performing research inside the company, while performing small or long longitudinal projects and supervision of master students or PhD students. Meanwhile, the interface and synergism between the research performed and the company has increased, through informal interaction and consultations outside the predefined project plans through informal meetings in their premises.

The experienced effect of this all embracing collaboration is that researchers could more easily understand the concerns and challenges faced by the company, while the trust on MDH researchers has increased from the company's point of view by having the results directly impacting the company processes. The results of this collaboration are based on industrial-scale challenges in the involved organization. The presented cases provide input to our observations and indicates some key enabling factors as well as potential improvements of a successful industry-academia collaboration.

A Process and Model of Research Collaboration
Although collaboration starts in many different forms and motives, a generalizable model underpins co-production research collaborations in the sense used in the collaboration between BT and MDH. We plan to conduct semi-structured interviews in the form of a focus group with researchers and engineers working at BT and MDH. The interviews will be analyzed by means of thematic analysis [4]. We will focus on the (positive and negative) impact of this relationship over time mainly focusing on the key persons in BT and MDH. We will also take into account and investigate the impact of current and earlier projects in which MDH has collaborated with BT (e.g., ATAC, MegaM@rt2)

Expected results and impact
As we can preview, there are notable improvements in the in the development process of the union between BT company and MDH.

Collaborative research is an effective tool to promote research results if appropriately implemented. The impact of starting this collaborative projects (e.g., MegaM@Rt2 [3], XIVT, TESTOMAT, among about 16 ongoing and finalised research projects during the last 6-7 years). For example, the ATAC project results helped BT reduce their testing effort for software development by 80% through the use of an automated testing tool [5]. On top of that, the collaboration was strengthen with over 40 master and bachelor theses, as well as through tailored education through online courses, hackathons [2] and tutorial for industrial professionals (e.g., through the PROMPT initiative).

On the other hand, we can assert that one of the most significant outputs from these collaborations have been the increased value added for BT. In addition, the results from this cooperation have resulted in new collaboration projects, a potential increase in productivity and improved efficiency, as well as better development, and possibly also an increased turnover. Moreover, we found that these projects have been also enriching the communication with BT employees, since working together with external researchers contributed to more valuable and long-term co-production and knowledge during the project execution.

Some of the results of this type of collaboration led to the creation of a start-up (and ATAC project spin-off) company for commercially exploring the area of test analysis and process improvements.

In a nutshell, while innovation and technology are strong enablers to better close collaboration with industry, what makes this endeavour truly successful are related to communication and human aspects. The physical presence of academic researchers as (external) advisors in the premises of the company could improve such a research project between industry and academia. This could be complemented with regular collaboration visits, industrial PhD students, and tailored training and courses. In this way, research projects and other long term collaborations can create the research culture and promote the benefits internally in companies.