In industry, computer simulations and optimizations are established approaches to inform and improve engineering designs. As part of his Industrial Fellowship, Postdoc Martin Řehoř works on numerical solvers that could help solve design problems that involve the processing of fluids.
Thanks to computer simulations, engineers can digitally design, virtually build, validate and test new products prior to expensive physical prototyping. However: manufacturing and product engineers innovate on new processes and product lines faster than new simulation tools are commercialized. This has led to an innovation gap and a continuous need to bring new simulation methodologies to the market.
Czech national Martin Řehoř is helping tackle this through his Industrial Fellowship, as part of which he works on a research project involving both an industry partner (Rafinex) and an academic partner (University of Luxembourg). Rafinex (founded by FNR AFR PhD ‘alumni’ André Wilmes), a company offering simulation and optimization tools that account for the real-life variability in engineering systems, rather than just considering idealized conditions, has the role of Martin’s host institution in the project.
“My research focuses on physical processes where a fluid flows inside a domain (container, channel, etc.). It is not only about the fluids that everyone knows from everyday life, such as air and water, but also about more complex substances including glass and rubber (in their molten states),” Martin explains, adding:
”The behaviour of such materials can be described mathematically via systems of partial differential equations (PDEs). Each such system poses a challenging problem for mathematicians who are striving to analyze its solution – if it exists!”
“In practice, we use sophisticated numerical algorithms to get an approximation of the solution with the aid of high-performance computing (HPC) facilities.”
One of the objectives of Martin’s current research project is to develop numerical solutions for complicated industrial problems without unnecessary limiting assumptions, thus using high-fidelity physics along with cutting-edge material models.
“In my current role at Rafinex, I am working on the development and implementation of robust numerical solvers that have a potential to be used in optimization tools for design problems involving the processing of fluids (melt extrusion additive manufacturing, injection molding, etc.).”
Projects where academic research join forces with industry are a win-win: industry gets access to the researchers’ expertise, while researchers often explain a big joy for them in such a partnership is being able to see their work have a direct impact. Martin gives a concrete example of why such a partnership is beneficial for industry and scientists:
“The float glass forming process and the extrusion of rubber compounds are typical examples of industrial processes where it is nearly impossible to do on-the-fly experiments. Tuning the operational conditions in order to improve the overall quality of the end product is too risky and expensive to do. Customers increasingly ask for greater automation of the virtual design, build, validate and test cycle; requesting optimised answers rather than just normal simulations.”
“However, very tight deadlines often do not allow manufacturers to spend enough effort investigating the most recent methodologies, let alone their costly implementation. Obviously, this opens the door for promising collaborations between researchers based either at public institutions, or at companies with strong R&D background. From the other point of view, I can hardly imagine a researcher who would not enjoy working on real-life problems/applications!”
Working in industry vs academia
The current project with Rafinex is Martin’s first on-site experience in a competitive industrial environment – a hugely different experience to working in an academic setting. Martin explains where he sees the main contrasts:
“Let us say, hypothetically, that I invented a novel numerical method. In academia, I would publish the results in a journal and the method would become appreciated and recognized by a narrow group of experts working in the same field, maybe. This step can already make me happy and satisfied. However, this is not the end of the story in industry, where I have to take that method, turn it into a simulation tool that works in a variety of test case scenarios and persuade the customers about its business advantages.”
“The last step is especially important as it has the potential to make the group of experts who will recognize and appreciate the original idea a bit wider. I personally enjoy finding myself somewhere between these two worlds, as it gives me the opportunity to mediate the transfer of the existing state-of-the-art scientific methods to the end users who can directly benefit from them.”
“Luxembourg’s innovation potential is huge”
R&D in the field of computational mathematics is an expensive area – Martin explains that not many places in Europe still support dedicated numerical math departments, but Luxembourg does:
“With the University being founded only in 2003, it is amazing what great progress Luxembourg has made in its R&D activities over the last two decades. As one of the co-founders of the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking, Luxembourg is putting a lot of emphasis on digital knowledge processes of the future, and now has invested in Meluxina, which is of direct interest to my research. So, I simply believe that Luxembourg’s innovation potential is huge.”
From conference participant to researcher in Luxembourg
Martin first visited Luxembourg in 2017 to attend a conference, which led to him returning later in the year – this time to take up a postdoc position, a collaboration between the University of Luxembourg and Goodyear S.A.:
“During the conference I started chatting with Dr. Hale from the University of Luxembourg and he mentioned that he had a postdoctoral position that was a good match for my skills. So, I came specifically to Luxembourg in late 2017 to start this position funded through the FNR BRIDGES project SLIPEX. Near the end of this project, I knew that I wanted to stay and work in R&D in Luxembourg, but I wanted to make a transition from academia to industry.”
“During his PhD at Imperial College London, Dr. Hale shared an office with Dr. André Wilmes, who would go on to found Rafinex S.à r.l. in Luxembourg in 2017. After some informal discussions together in early 2019, we realized that I could make a real contribution to Rafinex’s R&D work. So, with the valuable funding support of the FNR Industrial Fellowship programme I can now make a contribution at this exciting new company.”
“It is of note that the FNR has previously supported fellowships for Dr. Wilmes (AFR PhD), Dr. Hale (AFR Marie Curie Postdoctoral) and myself (Industrial Fellowship)! So without the FNRs support, I am certain that we would not be here now in Luxembourg working together!”
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