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Photo: Tomas Bergman
Anna Öhrwall Rönnbäck, professor of Product Innovation and responsible for the graduate school, Roland Larsson, professor of Machine Elements and Scientific Leader for CREATERNITY, Johan Carlson, professor of Signal Processing and responsible for the graduate school and Karl Andersson, professor of Pervasive and Mobile Computing and Scientific Leader for CREATERNITY Photo: Tomas Bergman View original picture , opens in new tab/window

Patched and repaired; the new high-tech

Published: 4 February 2021

The wear and tear era is over. What increases the competitiveness of the industry of the future is to succeed in designing a product, for example a car that can be recycled, upgraded and reused over and over again. Luleå University of Technology's 28-million investment CREATERNITY with 100s of researchers in 25 different research subjects and a new graduate school, will develop the new circular economy with the help of, among other things, artificial intelligence, telecommunications and sensor technology.

– New business models are needed to create the impetus to design and manufacture products that last a long time or that can be remanufactured, by, for example, replacing certain components. Both the customer and the supplier have equal reasons for the product to last as long as possible and function smoothly in a circular economy, Roland Larsson says, Professor of Machine Elements at Luleå University of Technology and Scientific Leader of CREATERNITY.

Sells services instead of products

For industry, the circular flow of materials that CREATERNITY develops can mean that a company sells a service instead of a product. SKF, formerly SKF AB Svenska Kullagerfabriken, has, for example, started selling rotation instead of ball bearings. SKF retains ownership of the warehouse itself and is therefore very careful that it does not break down. Another company that CREATERNITY works for is Electrolux. There, the researchers at Luleå University of Technology want to use so-called modularization to create a circular economy. The washing machine can be built up of a number of modules. The service life of the modules is different and perhaps only individual modules really wear out and need to be replaced. Then that particular part of the machine can be replaced and the old one repaired and used again in another machine. A module may be replaced because it has become obsolete and the old one is taken back and can be used in another way or upgraded.

CREATERNITY works closely with, among others, SKF, Ericsson Research, ABB Corporate Research Sweden, Ragn-Sellsföretagen AB and Sweco and Gertrud Åström, company and organizational researcher and gender equality expert.

Reuses space debris

The research project is about enabling circular economy by reusing materials and products such as machine components, clothing, electronics, appliances, vehicles and even space junk; to patch and repair with high-tech. In order for suppliers to know if the product is about to break down, they want to monitor their systems. This is done through sensors in the machines that send information about how the machine is doing. Then the supplier of the service / product can know at an early stage that the product needs to be repaired. The latest technology in artificial intelligence, telecommunications and sensor technology allows us to connect and connect people, products and processes.

Artificial intelligence, sensor technology and telecommunications

– To cope with this, lots of data from the various systems that exist in society are needed. This data is used to optimize operations, resource consumption. As all companies and households will soon be interconnected in a complex collaboration, digitalisation is required as support. Digitization is a prerequisite for society to be able to switch to a circular economy, Karl Andersson says, Professor of Pervasive and Mobile Computing and Scientific Leader for CREATERNITY.

Cheaper to repair than to buy new

Digitization is also needed to keep track of complex business agreements between different actors in different parts of the circular value chain. The goal is to repair much more, it should be cheaper to repair and upgrade a system than to buy a new one.

– Our research project CREATERNITY is far from just about technology. To create a circular economy, we must all learn what it means, not least the children in school. We must also change the laws and the economic control systems in society, Roland Larsson says.

In August, the graduate school in CREATERNITY will start at Luleå University of Technology and doctoral students will be recruited in the spring.