ABIURODespite the advances in recent years, Brazil still does not occupy, in the world scenario, a prominent position in the field of technological innovation. The private sector’s investments in research and development are timid, and the partnerships between research centers and companies have transformed themselves into an important way out for overcoming existing technological obstacles, particularly in the industrial environment. One of the most important and productive forms of this kind of liaison is the Millennium Factory Institute (IFM in the Portuguese acronym), an organization with nationwide coverage supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT) created in 2002. With a focus on the research and development of technologies applied to the development of products, in the management of production and in technical solutions on the shop floor, the purpose of the IFM is to tighten the bond between academic institutions and industrial companies from the manufacturing sector. “We want to employ new technologies in products, processes or management to solve specific problems of the industrial companies and to increase their competitiveness in the domestic and world scenarios”, explains João Fernando Gomes de Oliveira, the coordinator-general of the IFM and a professor of the Production Engineering Department of the São Carlos School of Engineering of the University of São Paulo (USP).
In practice, the IFM is a large virtual network made up of 600 researchers distributed over 39 research groups and allocated to 32 higher education institutions in Brazil and abroad. These institutions form the so-called nodes of the network, which are linked to develop studies in management and organizational transformation, product life cycle engineering, manufacturing and industrial automation processes and product development and supply chain management. Through a portal on the Internet (www.ifm.org.br), the IFM puts at the disposal of the market a database fed by each one of the nodes of the network with an extensive list of researchers, information on results of researches and mapping of the demands from the industries.
Since it started to function, the research network has now interacted with over 400 companies from the manufacturing sector, like Embraer, Fiat, Rhodia, Embraco and TRW, resulting in about 50 master’s or doctor’s research projects that were effectively transformed into solutions for the productive sector. With TRW, for example, in one of the projects that IFM collaborated with, the objective was to improve the performance of the activities of making valves for automotive engines. New processes and new conditions of work were developed. These technologies are used today by several of the company’s factories in Asia, in the United States and in Europe.
One of the solutions proposed by researchers from the IFM and embraced by the industry was a project aimed at the mechanization of mollusk processing by producers from Santa Catarina. Coordinated by Professor Fernando Antônio Forcellini, from the Research Group of the Product Development Management, the project developed a line of four pieces of equipment to assist in the activities of Santa Catarina’s mariculture. The first of them is a module for mussel selection and cleaning processes, and the second is intended for washing the equipment used for cultivating oysters.
The third device serves to wash and classify oysters, and the fourth carries out the handling and movement of the structures for cultivating marine mollusks. The four pieces of equipment put right problems faced by the mariculturists in the expansion and maintenance of their activities and, at the same time, bring more safety and quality to the work environment. The prototypes of the equipment, presented in the middle of last year, were well received and are beginning to be incorporated by the oyster and mussel producers of Santa Catarina.
The work carried out by the researchers connected with the IFM have already resulted in 17 industrial technology processes, in a proof of the innovative potential of the network and of the capacity for improving Brazilian companies’ productivity. A highlight amongst the patents is one for a new cutting oil, a fluid that is indispensable for milling and grinding parts in manufacturing industries. The novelty of the product created by researchers associated to the IFM is that it is biodegradable and does not therefore cause damage to the environment. According to João Oliveira, despite being essential in the productive process, there is a worldwide tendency to reduce the use of these fluids by virtue of their high production cost and of the risks that they bring to human health and to the environment.
To get an idea of the contaminating potential of the commercial cutting oils that use chlorine in their composition, you just have to know that the inadequate disposal of 1 kilo of chlorinated agent can poison up to 40 million liters of water. The great chemical differential of the new cutting fluid is its high concentration of castor oil, around four times higher than that of the products currently available on the market. Furthermore, a lower variety of additives, only three, is employed in its production, while at least ten different types are used in the majority of the traditional oils.
“Industrial problems help us to train human resources with a more realistic view of the market, with a clear understanding of the business in itself, with a mastery of information technology and manufacturing and greater power for creating innovations”, says Oliveira. “With this, our researchers manage to understand the business system in a more pragmatic way, and, acting as veritable ‘general practitioners’, are capable of diagnosing problems and proposing solutions.” The market view is intimately linked to academic knowledge. In the last five years, the 30 coordinators of the nodes of the IFM network published over 280 articles in scientific magazines.
Although it has few years of existence, the IFM accumulates a by no means negligible experience that has its origin in one of the embryos of the organization: the Advanced Manufacturing Nucleus (Numa) of USP in São Carlos, a virtual organization created in 1996 under the auspices of the Nuclei of Excellence Program (Pronex) of the MCT, also with participations of the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), the Methodist University of Piracicaba (Unimep) and the University of Aachen, in Germany. Numa, where the IFM is currently headquartered, was a project that aggregated researchers from various areas of knowledge and institutions around manufacturing, including the industrial companies from this sector. The difference between it and the IFM is that Numa acted regionally, limited to the state of São Paulo, whereas the institute is present all over the country.
Storehouse of companies
Besides working in partnership with the industrial companies, another potentiality of Numa and of the IFM is the creation of new technology-based companies. In its almost 11 years of activity, Numa accompanied the creation of at least ten companies formed by its researchers. “The integrated view of business and technology is the main factor for us to have so many successful companies founded by former pupils of ours”, João de Oliveira says. One example of this is KSR, a software company created in São Carlos that developed an innovative product for generating process documentation in industrial companies, to meet the demands of the ISO 9000 and QS 9000 standards, referring to business quality control, besides drawing up analyses of shortcomings. The system developed by the former pupils from Numa beat powerful competitors in Brazil, like the multinational company IBM. After the Brazilian success, KSR started to supply systems abroad and received a proposal for purchase from T-Systems, of Germany, which belongs to the Deutsche Telekom conglomerate. “The company was sold to the German group and today KSR’s product is employed by industries from all over the world”, Oliveira highlights. At the beginning of its activities, in 1997, KSR was able to count on financing from the Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE) and had its project cancelled with the sale of the company.
The increase of the participation of solutions in information technology in companies opened the doors for the success of another company linked to Numa and to the IFM: Spring Wireless, created in 2001. The company is a leader in mobile business solutions in Brazil and in Latin America, with over 100 thousand users and 200 clients in 20 countries, including companies of the size of Ambev, Souza Cruz, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, Citibank and AES Eletropaulo. The company, which has amongst its investors two giants from the telecommunications and information technology sectors, Ericsson and Intel, develops, implants and manages business solutions based on mobile computing and wireless communication. These solutions make it possible for Spring’s clients to automate and to manage their business processes in the field (sales, marketing, services, logistics, etc.), increasing the productivity and the effectiveness of these systems, besides operating costs and response times.
“My main challenge as an entrepreneur is not just to develop innovative technologies, but also to transform them into profitable and lasting business”, highlights Cristiano Bevitori de Oliveira, one of the creators and technology director of Spring Wireless. For him, the five years in which he acted as a researcher at Numa was essential for developing these skills. “Numa-IFM is one of the rare academic centers in Brazil that combine vanguard scientific research with practical business applications. This challenging environment stimulates the researches to really select problems that are relevant to the market, address them in a structured and consistent way, and develop solutions that are applicable and have an impact.” Amongst the key positions of the company, which has 400 employees, ten came from the Numa-IFM group.
A similar opinion is held by researcher and businessman Carlos Bremer, a former professor at USP’s São Carlos School of Engineering and the current director of Axia Consulting, a São Paulo-based company that offers consultancy services in organizational transformation, with a focus of the perfecting of the value chain, which includes everything from the supply of raw materials to customer service. Amongst the company’s clients are Perdigão, Schincariol and the Amanco group, besides subsidiaries of Embraco, in China and in Italy, and Gerdau, in Argentina. “Numa and the IFM have a scientific rigor and a culture of excellence and international standards. It’s this philosophy that we apply in Axia”, says Bremer, he himself a former coordinator of Numa (see Pesquisa Fapesp No. 48). “Furthermore, these institutions are strong trainers of professionals, something that we value at Axia. We invest seriously in conceptual and technical training and much coaching, a way of developing and retaining talents.” A good number of the team of Axia’s 40 current consultants were trained in the ambit of Numa and the IFM. Of this total, 12 (30%) came from there, but in the company’s short history here have now been 25 professionals trained in the same group in São Carlos.
Bremer, who gave up the academic world when he saw the opportunity of creating Axia, together with two colleagues, in 2003, says that the methodology for transforming the integrated management logic proposed and applied by the company was born of researches done at Numa. “The embryo of our company was an agreement signed in 1998 between Numa and SAP, a German multination and world leader in business software. This agreement aimed at using in research and teaching SAP’s business management software”, the researcher recalls. Another key happening for the creation of the occurred in 2000, when its research project was honored by the SAP University Alliance Grant Awards, with a prize for the best project applied in the Americas, competing with 64 teaching institutions from the United States, Canada and Latin America. “The conclusion of the research was that a project for implementing software of the ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) kind depends on a great organizational transformation. We felt the need for applying this knowledge, and it was then that decided to invest in Axia”, Bremer says.
Control of the factory
A sense of business opportunity was also the reason that led engineer Carlos Magno de Oliveira Valente to create, three years ago, Sensoft Indústria e Automação, headquartered in São Carlos. A former postgraduate student at Numa, Valente realized that the knowledge acquired during his studies for a doctorate could be transformed into valuable solutions for the productive sector, and he joined two colleagues to set up the country. “We act with the state of the art in computer tools in the area of industrial automation, offering solutions to meet the requirements of instrumentation and control of the processes of this sector”, Valente highlights. One of the company’s largest customers is the aircraft manufacturer Embraer, for which Sensoft developed a system for monitoring the production line. “We created software for data collection during the manufacturing process, with a complete vision of the whole factory. This computer tool makes it possible analyses and to take decisions based on the company’s reality”, the researcher explains. In the place of an operator making manual notes on the production time of a given part or about the quantity of parts produced in a certain period, the system drawn up by Sensoft communicates with the machine and supplies this information in real time.
“The market view for our software was developed during my doctorate and that of another partner of Sensoft. We were encouraged by the environment of research and innovation in Numa and in the companies that support it”, Valente emphasizes. Baptized as an automatic machine data collection system, the software will be installed in 20 to 25 pieces of equipment in Embraer’s assembly line.
Another project from Sensoft, which since 2005 is being incubated at the São Carlos High Technology Park Foundation (ParqTec), is the development of a system for use in laparoscopy surgeries. The project enjoys financial assistance from Fapesp by means of the Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE). The system in question is an insufflator, which is the equipment used in laparoscopic surgeries (in which probes are inserted into the patient’s abdomen by means of small incisions produced by the surgeon) to control the flow of carbon dioxide (CO2) injected into the abdominal cavity. The onboard software inside the equipment will be responsible for reading various sensors – of pressure, flow and temperature – besides permitting the flow of CO2 to be controlled. “Sensoft’s great differential is its knowledge of the manufacturing process and the ongoing contact with the development of automation and optimization techniques. It is from the relationship with the research products and with the solutions that are standards in the industry that we seek our nature of innovation. This integrated knowledge was only possible thanks to the years of learning at Numa and at the IFM”, Valente stresses.
Quest for resources
The IFM is part of the Millennium Institute Program, which are projects of excellence in technological research and development created with an incentive from the Ministry of Science and Technology. In the program’s first notice, in 2002, the IFM received R$ 5 million, of which R$ 1 million in scholarships to finance its researchers. Last year, the partnership was renewed for another three-year period, but this time the research network was given a smaller budget, of R$ 1.5 million. The reduction, Oliveira explains, was due to the fact that the resources, originating from the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), are distributed to a larger number of projects connected with the Millennium Institutes.
“We are looking to other partners for another R$ 1.5 million to invest in our projects, and we now have an agreement almost closed with the National Federation of Industry (CNI)”, says the coordinator of the IFM. The objective of the partnership will be to intensify the liaison between the productive sector and academic institutions associated to the institute, such as the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), Embrapa Agricultural Instrumentation, the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar) and the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), amongst others. “The IFM acts in the improvement of industrial plants, which generates greater wealth for the companies and, as a consequence, for the country”, declared Maurício Mendonça Jorge, the CNI’s coordinator for industrial competitiveness, for an IFM newsletter. For him, the productive sector only has to gain with this interchange. “It will be a job of disclosure and liaison, to create a sort of agency for marriage between companies and research institutions.”
1. Millennium Factory Institute (IFM); Modality Millennium Institutes Program of the Ministry of Science and Technology (MCT); Coordinator João Fernando Gomes de Oliveira – USP; Investment
R$ 1.5 million (CNPq)
2. Research and development of microprocessed videolaparoscopy equipment; Modality Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE); Coordinator Carlos Magno de Oliveira Valente – Sensoft; Investment R$ 381,642.96 (FAPESP)