Partner advantage: Why co-creation is so important for the future of innovation

Developing innovations for customers alone is becoming a thing of the past. This path is often too slow, not cost-effective, and limited to in-house skills. Many arguments now point instead towards the benefits of a shift to co-creation. And the growing list of successful cases is even more convincing. That’s why Siemens Energy is decisively taking this path with co-located partner development projects and open innovation centers.

 

By Uwe Gruschka and Stefan Raab

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Siemens Energy is dedicated to leading the energy transformation with innovative solutions. So the company's technology strategy focuses its innovation explicitly on action fields making a difference to sustainable decarbonization. In particular, these are power-to-x, energy storage, decarbonized heat and industrial processes, condition-based service interventions and resilient grids and reliability. Such innovations can make a significant contribution to achieving the climate targets that the European Union has set itself for 2030 but the development of innovative solutions must be accelerated further to achieve this. Innovative paths need to be developed with a much closer link between technology and business development than before. Siemens Energy is tackling this with two distinct elements: with an incubation strategy that strengthens the outside-in view, but especially with the targeted expansion of external partnering ecosystems, enabling very early and close co-creation with customers, industrial partners, universities, research institutions and start-ups. This will be implemented in individual projects but also specialist innovation centers where technology and product developments are jointly driven forward.

“The development of innovative solutions needs a much closer link between technology and business development than before.”

Uwe Gruschka is Vice President of Technology at Siemens Energy and responsible for the alignment of the technology and innovation strategy.

Concentrated power where value is created

Close co-creation enables partners to work co-located in a distinct a move away from previous practices seen in partner projects of working at separate locations and connecting at joint meetings. This allows the focus of co-location to increasingly be on the locations where the innovations are needed to create value, for example production sites, power plants or infrastructure hubs. Regional development centers can connect local innovation partners and locations in their regions to form central nodes for innovation networks. These nodes bring together experts with a wide range of skills and provide all the tools needed to design and simulate ideas, produce prototypes, and test them directly in the real operating environment. This approach facilitates innovation development and implementation from idea through to requirements specification, demonstrators and prototypes and on to the final solution.

“Co-creation greatly expands the pool of skills, experience, technologies, development processes and resources that the project partners can access. ”

Stefan Raab is responsible for the alignment of the technology and action fields in the Technology and Innovation Strategy team of Siemens Energy as Head of Technology.

Opening up new business and market opportunities

Aside from the trend for increased co-location and the benefits it brings, many other aspects make co-creation in external partnering ecosystems a more attractive option. Firstly, it deepens the partners' understanding of each other, not only for respective objectives, but also capabilities and load limits. This understanding can have a huge impact on the success of the project, especially when it is under time pressure. Secondly, co-creation greatly expands the pool of skills, experience, technologies, development processes and resources that the project partners can access. This can considerably accelerate development but also open up previously unattainable solution spaces. Finally, investment costs and financial risk for the individual partners can be lowered, potentially allowing access to public funding or new business and market opportunities via the partners' networks and markets.

Real-time rejuvenation with artificial control intelligence

Siemens Energy is already living this co-creation in a large number of projects across all business areas. In the Jebel Ali power plant of the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority DEWA, the GT Auto Tuner control upgrade is currently being rolled out in the gas-fired power plants of Unit M, which compensates for age-related power losses in real time. A combination of digital twin and artificial intelligence increases turbine output by up to 3.5 MW each and reduces nitrogen oxide emissions by up to ten percent. This innovation was made possible by a particularly close collaboration between developers and engineers from both companies. In many hours together - many of them on site in Dubai - they developed the project idea for an automated power compensation system based on the thermodynamic power plant data collected there, and then sought out, adapted, tested and finally implemented the necessary technologies and components.

Making green chemicals with artificial photosynthesis

In the Rheticus project, the share of joint development hours at the partner location in Marl in Northwest Germany is even greater. Here, Siemens Energy and specialty chemicals manufacturer Evonik have realized a plant that uses green electrolysis and bacteria to produce green chemicals from carbon dioxide and water in an artificial photosynthesis process, while at the same time binding climate-damaging carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Rheticus impressively demonstrates the innovations that are possible when experts from companies with different skills join forces to form a development team. The plant combines an electrolysis system with a bioreactor, each of which requires a high level of expertise in its own technologies. The electrolysis system, which uses electricity to break down carbon dioxide and water into carbon monoxide and hydrogen, is from Siemens Energy. The bioreactor, in which the mixture of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and hydrogen is then converted by bacteria into alcohols and other starting materials for the chemical industry, comes from Evonik.

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The Siemens Energy Orlando Innovation Center. One Location: All Capabilities

Everything a developer desires within reach

Co-located co-creation is also possible outside of the partner location. Siemens Energy Innovation centers such as the Werner-von-Siemens Centre in Berlin or the Innovation Center in Orlando offer ideal conditions for this. They are equipped with everything that makes developers' hearts beat faster. In Orlando, for example, in addition to multiple meeting rooms available on an area of 1,700 square meters, there is also state-of-the-art tool support, starting with design, through simulation and production, to testing, regardless of whether mechanical, electrical or digital solutions are involved. The offer ranges from software tools for design and simulation to 3D scanners, handling and inspection machines, machines for cutting and additive manufacturing, sheet metal working, welding and spark erosion machines, and non-destructive testing methods. Here too, close cooperation allows ideas to mature into solutions in the shortest possible time allowing projects to reach their goal after just a few weeks, as opposed to the months taken without co-located co-creation.

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The Werner-von-Siemens Centre Berlin. For Industry and Science

Maintenance Plus = more function and more efficiency

The innovation centers are also open to projects where experts team up with partners at an external co-location. Examples of this can be seen at the Werner von Siemens Centre in Berlin. One of them is the EU co-financed research project Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul. In this project, repair and maintenance solutions for gas turbines are being developed in a newly built hall at the Nonnendamm site of the Berlin gas turbine plant of Siemens Energy. These solutions not only restore the functionality of gas turbines, but also improve their operation in order to increase efficiency and reduce emissions. In addition to Siemens Energy, three other companies and three research institutes are on board as partners in this case. Their experts complement the spectrum of expertise in areas such as materials, 3D printing, automation, AI, user research, data analysis and visualization. The project thus brings together the concentrated research and development power of almost 100 experts at the point of value creation.

Close co-creation even in pandemic times

Co-creation can happen even without a specific co-location as has been seen through the increased virtual collaboration during the corona pandemic. However, what is critical for successful co-creation is how closely the cooperation is lived. A joint project between Siemens Energy and the wind turbine manufacturer Vestas demonstrates this very well. The goal to provide customized transformers for the wind turbines of the Scottish offshore wind farm Seagreen for grid connection that fit through the small tower access without being dismantled. To achieve this as soon as possible, both sides set up a very tight coordination procedure for the requirements which allowed them to efficiently discuss initial designs. The final solution with a new core design and an innovative cooling solution was thus completed after only a few months.

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January 28, 2021

 

Uwe Gruschka is Vice President of Technology at Siemens Energy and responsible for the alignment of the technology and innovation strategy.

 

Stefan Raab is responsible for the alignment of the technology and action fields in the Technology and Innovation Strategy team of at Siemens Energy as Head of Technology.

 

Combined picture credits: Courtesy of Vestas Offshore Wind, Evonik Industries AG, Siemens Energy