Special competence in electronics is Finland’s ace in the hole

Finland has several things to be proud of. In addition to the clean nature, high-quality education, health care and many other oft-mentioned things, we should bring up our world-class research. The ecosystem formed by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd, universities, Tekes – the Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation, the Academy of Finland and companies produces innovations for different industries.

Finland possesses top-grade special competencies, for example in the fields of sensor and measurement technology, microelectronics and their integration, printed electronics and health technology. By grasping the new opportunities of electronics, we can develop IoT products, digitalise traditional industries and create new business and jobs in Finland.

The Internet of Things will explode the demand for sensors and electronics research

Over the last couple of years, the industrial Internet has been on the rise in Finnish and global industry. The Internet of Things (IoT) will connect increasingly varied devices to the Internet and bring automation to a whole new level. The first autonomous cars and ships, as well as care robots, are currently being introduced. In order to become a reality, a majority of the visions requires a significant number of sensors, and electronics integrated into the devices.

The need for electronics-based research and innovation is emphasised, and that is something we Finns excel at. Finland does not compete in the mass production of semiconductor electronics, or in consumer electronics, but once we start talking about sensors requiring special know-how, and their materials, manufacturing processes and applications, we are a world leader.

Analysis of foodstuffs at one hundredth of the price

VTT is strongly involved in applied research in the electronics industry. We have developed, for example, a Fabry-Perot interferometer that can be used to measure, e.g. air pollutants, foodstuffs or, let us say, the condition of the atmosphere from the space in a wholly unique way. Since then, Spectral Engines Oy has commercialised microspectrometer technology based on the Fabry-Perot interferometer that allows the implementation of a spectrometer suitable for analytics at one tenth to one hundredth of the price.

Spectral Engines recently won the main prize, EUR 800,000, in the Food Scanner competition arranged by the EU. The awarded concept combines an infrared spectrum identification module, advanced algorithms, a cloud service and a materials library that allow the user to measure, for example, the main components and total energy of foodstuffs.

Printed electronics are on the rise

In the early 2000s, VTT began research in printed electronics and also made a significant investment in pilot production lines. The risk paid off and today, when it is time to apply printed electronics and build new products and business on the foundation laid down by the research, we are a global frontrunner. The electronics meld into the surfaces of the products and follow their three-dimensional shapes. Organic solar cells or interior lighting can be a part of building architecture or the interior design of cars.

We recently introduced a display element laminated into the windscreen of a bus with Pilkington. Printed electronics are deeply integrated into traditional products, giving them added value. We must not squander this opportunity and headway and allow other countries to reap the benefits!

Rapid diagnoses on the spot

VTT possesses the ability to combine know-how in medical science, chemistry, printing technology and measurement technology into new and competitive products. One interesting application area for printed electronics can be found in the health care sector. The so-called ‘point-of-care diagnostics’ means making diagnoses on the spot instead of in laboratory conditions as in the traditional method. Disposable rapid diagnoses utilising printed electronics save both time and money.

The products are cheap and look simple, but when you start to consider how a sample of one thousandth of a milligram is managed, and how a specific illness or, for example, the blood alcohol content is reliably indicated, a clear role for research and competence becomes evident. For example: Promilless is a consumer product that costs a couple of euros and allows an uncertain driver to test their driving condition with a saliva test. The test is simple for the user, but it is based on years of research.

Need for an electronics research programme

There is a significant number of growth-oriented start-ups utilising electronics, photonics and printed electronics technologies in Finland, boosted by the Printocent company cluster, for example. They create export products, profitable business and jobs – which Finland needs.

Although innovating in electronics and measurement technology continues apace, there exists a need for a growth-oriented research programme that would bring together the resources of entire Finland. Public funding of electronics research has decreased radically, and the latest Tekes programme in this sector was ELMO that ended in 2005.

The goal of the programme jointly implemented by the actors in the sector should be the creation of new products and production in Finland. Manufacturing capability is fundamentally connected to the industrialisation of printed electronics, for example. Let us digitalise Finland and the traditional industries with electronics!

Jussi Paakkari VTT

Jussi Paakkari
Vice President, Sensing and integration

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