The Switch, a Finnish company acquired by Yaskawa Corporation in 2014, has now become the Environmental Energy Division of the Japanese industrial giant, responsible for innovating and developing advanced electrical drive trains for wind, marine and turbo/industry applications. According to Yaskawa’s statement in April 2018, a new multimillion-euro investment in The Switch will strengthen its R&D capabilities and provide new equipment for its factory in Lappeenranta, Eastern Finland, which will serve as a test centre for drive trains up to 15 MW.
The successful, long-term process that led to Yaskawa’s investment in Lappeenranta has also involved Invest in Finland and Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (now both part of Business Finland), and Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT).
“The Switch and Yaskawa first discussed this issue two and a half years ago. The mutual interaction between Tekes and Yaskawa was an important factor in the whole process that led to the investment decision. Tekes was positively influenced by Yaskawa’s investment plans and provided a letter of intent to support the project with its funding instruments,” says Panu Kurronen, CTO, The Switch.
The Switch recently received a positive decision to its application for innovation funding from Business Finland.
“This process is also an opportunity to introduce Finnish know-how to Yaskawa beyond The Switch’s own portfolio. In addition to LUT, The Switch is also discussing research cooperation possibilities with the University of Vaasa in Western Finland and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology,” says Kurronen.
LUT’s expertise attracts international attention
LUT has established an international reputation as a location for research in energy-efficient engines and power transmission systems, and for producing high-quality engineers recruited by established companies as well as innovative new startups. Kurronen himself is one of the many PhDs produced by LUT.
Over the past two decades, LUT has been closely involved in the product development of many industrial companies, including the early days of The Switch after it was founded in 2006, according to Juha Pyrhönen, who has been Professor of Electrical motors and drives at LUT since 1997. Pyrhönen is also Head of the LUT Doctoral School in Energy Systems and acts as a scientific advisor for several Finnish startups drawing on the university’s R&D expertise, now attracting interest from global companies.
“Financing the product development of the startup companies was difficult without support from Tekes. From my viewpoint, the role of Tekes and later Business Finland has therefore been decisive. It is unlikely that we would have the news of Yaskawa’s latest investments in Lappeenranta without the role played by Business Finland,” says Pyrhönen.
“Yaskawa’s strengthening role means new jobs for graduates in Lappeenranta. In the long term, we hope the new applications based on the know-how developed at the university can be commercialized and that the companies will also be able to support the university’s research activities in the future.”
Building the ecosystem
Tekes has provided long-term support for the research into engines and electric drives at LUT.
“As a result of the research, Lappeenranta has emerged as one of the leading centres of expertise in Europe in this sector. The research has led to numerous innovations and the creation of new technology companies to commercialize them. The sector is growing rapidly. Business Finland wants to be actively involved in contributing to the emergence and development of the sector’s ecosystem,” says Kari Koskela, Senior Adviser, Business Finland.
"This further expansion in to R&D shows Yaskawa's commitment to Finnish know-how, says Sari Toivonen, Senior Advisor, Cleantech, Invest in Finland.
Read related article: The Switch and Yaskawa: growing together for wind and marine success>>
Senior Advisor, Business Finland, Invest in Finland
Mobile: +358 400 472 060