Special conditions have laid the foundation for road weather know-how in Finland

Heikki MantsinenAki_Aapaoja

Pekka LeviäkangasRanko

Roads in Finland must be kept in a safe condition to allow smooth traffic flows under all conditions, including challenging winter conditions and sudden changes in the weather. Finland’s northern location with its challenging conditions has provided a needs-based foundation for robust know-how regarding road weather and winter maintenance.

Finland has a lot of high-level competence related to these fields. While internationally recognized, this versatile know-how has been dispersed between many companies, authorities, communities, experts and research institutions. This has hindered the development of comprehensive systems and services. Bringing together the strengths of these parties to build a competitive and comprehensive service package that includes all support functions would help promote the development of more comprehensive systems and services for winter maintenance, as well as the creation of useful and commercially viable entities.

Notable benefits to society

Several studies have illustrated that road weather and road condition services can provide notable cost savings and other benefits to society and various stakeholders, including road users. Investments in winter maintenance and road weather systems will pay for themselves many times over, once the systems are in place and the services distributed effectively. Advanced services make it possible to both cut the number of accidents and optimise winter maintenance. VTT has estimated that Finland achieved savings of some EUR 30 million in 2007 [1].

The number and severity of road accidents can be reduced by making road users better aware of current road conditions and by improving the efficiency of winter maintenance. Winter maintenance costs can be reduced without compromising the quality by timely maintenance and optimised levels of de-icing (mainly road salt). The latter not only saves money but is also better for the environment.

Preventive and timely action is the key for effective winter maintenance. This requires reliable, high-quality data on current conditions, maintenance activities, traffic conditions and future weather conditions. Mobile measurements and other new observation methods alongside new technologies allow the collection of more detailed and comprehensive raw data. However, timely road maintenance requires more than high-quality measurement and observation data. The data must first be refined with forecasting methods to suggest necessary actions, and these actions need to be carried out where and when required.

Consortium to develop and promote road weather know-how

VTT has participated in the FIRWE project (2012–2014) funded by the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation (Tekes), where a consortium of companies developed their winter maintenance projects together. Participants included Arctic Machine, Foreca, Teconer and Vaisala. VTT and the University of Oulu acted as the research partners in the project. Other partners included the Finnish Transport Agency, Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres), the cities of Helsinki and Tampere, Ministry of Transport and Communications, the Finnish Transport Safety Agency Trafi, road maintenance companies as well as SMEs specialising in IT and communications.

The aim of the project was to develop a product and service package by combining the participants’ expertise and utilising it on a flexible and standardised platform, and to make it export-ready. To ensure customer and user-centred design, service package testing and development was part of normal company operations. Development needs and the benefits of the service package and its modules were verified with research. In the target situation, different customer groups can procure the product, or service package, from one place without making costly investments or developing their own standalone systems.

The project provided promising results. The system was tested in practice in the winter of 2013–2014 in Southern Karelia on roads maintained by NCC Roads. From the point of view of the road maintenance contractor, the new services and products worked well, in particular automatic data collection. Practical tests continued in the winter of 2014–2015 in Vantaa on roads where Destia is the principal maintenance contractor.

The companies that participated in FIRWE were satisfied with the new method of cooperation. The work will continue in some form. This operating model could be easily replicated in different environments and sectors. All it requires is that companies working but not competing in the same industry would be willing and able to invest in product development. When the companies develop their products together, they not only act as sparring partners but also gain new viewpoints about the operating environment of their respective products. Cooperation in the consortium does not require major commitment, but does not exclude the possibility of cooperation, for example, to establish an export network.

 

Heikki Mantsinen, Research Scientist
Raine Hautala, Senior Scientist
Pekka Leviäkangas, Principal Scientist
Aki Aapaoja, Research Scientist

 

Sources:

  1. Hautala, R. & Leviäkangas, P. (2007) Ilmatieteen laitoksen palveluiden vaikuttavuus: hyötyjen arviointi ja arvottaminen eri hyödyntäjätoimialoilla [Effectiveness of Finnish Meteorological Institute (FMI) services]. VTT Publications 665, Espoo, VTT. http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/publications/2007/P665.pdf.

  2. Nokkala, M., Leviäkangas, P. & Oiva, K. (eds.), Hietajärvi, A-M., Schweighofer, J., Siedl, N., Vajda, A., Athanasatos, S., Michaelides, S., Papadakis, M., Kreuz, M., Mühlhausen, T., Ludvigsen, J. & Klæboe, R. (2012) The costs of extreme weather for the European transport system. EWENT project deliverable D4. http://www.vtt.fi/inf/pdf/technology/2012/T36.pdf.

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