Frictionless collaboration that benefits both sides
8 November 2017
What are the ingredients for a successful collaboration between universities and industry? One person who’s found the recipe for success is Susanne Norgren, who has helped develop over 300 patents for Sandvik. For the last six years, she has been working as an adjunct professor of Materials Science and Tribology at the Department of Engineering Sciences.
“It’s incredibly exciting. I have a lot to learn here at the university. I also feel like I can contribute by sharing what I know”, she says.
Susanne Norgren meets us at her office on the second floor of the Ångström Laboratory and its applied materials science department. She is waiting for a research student; they're going to the lab to study new cobalt-free rock drill bits in abrasion tests against granite and to investigate what happens to this proposed drilling material.
“I’ve created alternative hard materials that contain a reduced amount of cobalt – or none at all – because it has recently been classified as a likely carcinogen,” explains Susanne Norgren. Here on the tribo-materials team, we’ve developed a test method that mimics the prevailing conditions of abrasion in rock drilling. Now we want to see how these model materials behave when we use them in a rock drill bit.
Scientific testing methods
Developing and designing materials is just one of Susanne Norgren’s areas of expertise. She also specializes in cutting machining processes such as lathe turning and milling. At the Ångström Laboratory, PhD student Lisa Toller-Nordström helps her compare the lathe turning capacities of cobalt and nickel-iron based hard metals. Demand for alternatives to cobalt has increased as a result of conflicts in mining areas like Congo Kinshasa, as well as the cost of the metal and its potential health risks. Replacing or reducing our use of cobalt has become a global concern.
“We study tribology, the friction and abrasion mechanisms of new types of hard metals that contain very low levels of cobalt, or none at all. Here at the Ångström Laboratory, we develop test methods that mimic real-world conditions, but we do so in a scientific and more systematic manner that allows us to evaluate and understand their properties and relationships. All our research is published in scientific journals and presented at conferences. The basic understandings we gain through our research can then be used for product development at Sandvik,” says Susanne Norgren.
Her PhD student Lisa Toller-Nordström is funded by Sandvik Coromant, through a Vinnova project, and through a project run by EIT-KIC RawMaterials. Susanne Norgren’s employment at Uppsala University is financed by Sandvik. She works one day a week at the Ångström Laboratory. The rest of the time she is either at Sandvik's office in Västberga or on the road.
“I’m often out of the office, visiting our clients. Now that I’m involved with hard materials, most of my work has to do with cutting machining processes at Sandvik Coromant or rock drilling at Sandvik Mining – Rock Tools. But I also work with other Sandvik brands, including SMS, Hyperion and SMT.”
An impressive quantity and variety of patents
At Sandvik, Susanne Norgren serves as a corporate group expert in materials design and hard materials. She is one of two people at the company with such a position - the highest level achievable for those who follow Sandvik's expert career path. Furthermore, she's most likely unsurpassed at Sandvik when it comes to the holding of patents.
“I don’t know if I dare to say that I have the most,” laughs Susanne Norgren, “but I have many. I have over 300 patents in a rather diverse range of areas, like cutting machining, rock drilling, synthetic diamond materials, and biocompatible titanium alloys for implants.”
At the same time, Susanne points out that she carries out her work as part of a team, in which every member contributes his or her different competencies. She believes that this is the biggest difference between working at Uppsala University and jobs in the industry.
“At the company, everything is much more about teamwork, and the work is always product-focused. We set up project teams composed of people with different skill sets: a chemist, someone like myself who can design hard metals, and someone who is a specialist in an application area such as lathe turning. Another person acts as project manager, and oversees the work up until the product is released worldwide. Because at the end of the day, the team’s and the company’s success with the product is crucial when it comes to how it will be received once it’s on the market.”
The University – a natural hub
At the University, Susanne Norgren returns instead to research, in which she finds an outlet for her curiosity and eagerness to understand how everything works. She is very grateful that her position at the Department of Engineering Sciences was recently extended by another three years. Susanne’s collaboration with Lisa Toller-Nordström is ongoing, and she has also taken on a PhD student engaged in the study and development of antibacterial dental implant materials as well as a number of research students.
“I’m loving it. Working with the university has worked out great. The meetings with all the talented PhD students are amazingly fun and enriching. There’s also a natural meeting point here, not just for academia but for a wide array of different collaborative projects. Whenever I’m here, I also get input from many other fields and colleagues.”