Foto: Bo Amstrup

Small business develops self-cleaning mirrors for ITER

Monday 02 Mar 20

Contact

Søren Bang Korsholm
Senior Scientist
DTU Physics
+45 20 64 55 61

Advice for SMEs

Polyteknik gives five tips for how to become a supplier for the world’s major research facilities:

Invest time

It takes a long time from the first fair to the first contract. You need to make your company visible and gradually build up a network. You need to be persistent to get a foot in the door in this market.

Focus on your strengths

Offer services your company excels at. The research world places high demands on suppliers.

Start with small projects

Start by choosing small projects to build up a good reputation as a supplier.

Start with the already established

It is easier to become a supplier for CERN as it has existed for many decades and knows what it needs. ITER is a new power plant that has never been made before, and some of the tasks test the limits of what is possible.

Be brave

Delivering services for ITER, for example, means that you might be asked to supply something no one has ever made before. That takes courage, but also self-insight—is it even possible? It also takes courage to say no thanks if the task is not suitable for the company.

How SMEs become suppliers

BigScience.dk is the link between Danish businesses and the major European research facilities, or Big Science organizations, of which Denmark is a member.

BigScience.dk is run by the Danish Technological Institute and DTU and is funded by the Danish Agency for Institutions and Educational Grants.

Among other things, BigScience.dk offers:

  • Matchmaking, e.g. matching specific tenders with relevant Danish companies.

  • Information on tenders, networking events, etc.

  • Promotion of Danish competences to Big Science organizations.

You have to be a member of the BigScience.dk network to receive these services. Membership is free.

www.bigscience.dk

A company from Northern Jutland in Denmark with 25 employees provides solutions to be used in ITER’s fusion reactor.

When Polyteknik from northern Jutland won a framework contract of EUR 2.3 million in May 2018, it became the first Danish company to call itself a supplier of the large fusion power plant in the South of France. The contract means that Polyteknik will develop a system of self-cleaning mirrors to be fitted close to the plasma inside ITER’s fusion reactor. The mirrors will become part of ITER’s diagnostic system for monitoring the plasma, where measurements of the light reflected by the mirrors will enable scientists to monitor and operate the reactor once it is commissioned in 2025.

The framework contract was won together with the Russian research institute Ioffe in St Petersburg and has had a major impact on small SME with only 25 employees in Østervrå, says René Bang Madsen, Technical Manager at Polyteknik Science.

It’s a four-year contract with the possibility of a two-year extension, and it has enabled us to set up a new department in the company that focuses exclusively on the development of projects for large research facilities,” says René Bang Madsen, who is head of the new department.

BigScience.dk paved the way

Before Polyteknik won the large framework contract for ITER, the company has been preparing the ground for several years, and this has required persistence, says Area Sales Manager Susanne Libergreen, who helped Polyteknik get in touch with ITER. BigScience.dk was a huge help with this, she says.

In 2015 we started participating in the ITER Business Forum fairs. At first together with BigScience.dk, but now we have our own stand at the fair, and people remember us,” says Susanne Libergreen.

The fairs provided them with contacts for ITER and Fusion for Energy, the EU organization responsible for Europe’s contribution to ITER. To keep in touch with the connections, Polyteknik hired a Dane residing in France to maintain contact after the rest of them had returned home.

BigScience.dk paved the way to those contacts to be maintained, and this has helped the small SME.

The fact that BigScience.dk could pave the way to contacts at ITER at the fair has been an invaluable help at the beginning, because it’s difficult to sit at home and find the right person at CERN or ITER to call,” says René Bang Madsen and elaborates further:

There is also a lot of unofficial talk going on before the tenders are published, and here BigScience.dk, who sits in at meetings and hears what’s in the pipeline, has also been really helpful. We’re a small company and we cannot travel the world for all sorts of meetings or to all the facilities, and in that respect BigScience.dk has really helped us spot the areas where it made sense for us to focus.”

CERN supplier

Polyteknik did not start appearing at the ITER Business Forum fairs out of the blue. The company had already provided solutions to other major research infrastructures for several years. The company, which specializes in manufacturing coating and machines for coating production, has assisted in the renovation of a large coating machine that ensures super-reflective mirrors for the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO) Extremely Large Telescope in Chile as well as coating ceramics for CERN. They are in the process of coating some chambers in the big synchrotron in Grenoble, and a similar task is to be carried out in an accelerator in South Korea.

We have landed our first projects, including ESO in Chile, with the help of BigScience.dk. We are now so well-established as suppliers in the industry that we’re starting to get direct inquiries,” says Susanne Libergreen.

Pressure for innovation

As a supplier of research facilities around the world, Polyteknik has had to stay on their toes to succeed in the development of new solutions.

For the company, this means that we’re forced to be innovative, and we constantly have to grow to keep up. On the other hand, the solutions we develop are also things we can use in our other departments,” says René Bang Madsen.

For Polyteknik, the long-standing effort to establish itself as a supplier of the world’s major research facilities has been a conscious bet and part of a long-term strategy.

We’re a company that delivers high-tech solutions and we can’t compete with the lowest price. On the other hand, we can compete on the highest quality, and this is something that is in demand at these facilities. With regard to ITER, we believe that fusion energy is something that will still be developed and expanded for many decades to come, and we expect to have a market advantage because we’ve been involved from the very beginning,” says René Bang Madsen.

Now ITER is becoming interesting for SME's

Several small tenders will be coming from the fusion power plant ITER in the comings years, and this presents an opportunity for Danish SMEs.

Construction work at ITER is now entering a new—and for Danish companies—exciting phase, says Senior Researcher Søren Bang Korsholm from DTU. He is Industrial Liaison Officer for ITER in the Danish network organization BigScience.dk, which he co-founded in 2010.

Huge components such as the world’s largest superconducting magnetic coils and the large concrete structures that make up the shell of the reactor are nearly finished, and now they need to develop and manufacture the smaller components and systems, which could provide an interesting opportunity for Danish SMEs,” says Søren Bang Korsholm.

The ‘small’ solutions for ITER will include tenders of single and double-digit millions.

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