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Small business data adds up to big improvements

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Published on 14 November 2017

Finnish researcher Salla Marttonen-Arola's two year post-doctoral research project
Finnish researcher Salla Marttonen-Arola's two year post-doctoral research project

An international research project being developed in Sunderland could transform the way businesses operate and boost productivity simply by examining their untapped data.

Finnish researcher Salla Marttonen-Arola has begun a two year post-doctoral research project, based at our University, using lean management techniques, studying how smarter practices can be used to tackle the mountains of data, and increase business value.

Her project, LeaD4Value, is building data decision-support tools based on careful modelling and statistical analyses. Results include a map of ways to exploit the data, a process model, and a performance measurement system for optimising the life of physical and other industrial assets (for example machines, equipment, and inventories) in supply chains.

Regionally based company Greencore, an international convenience food producer, has agreed to work with the University and put their data under the spotlight. The company will work with Salla as she sifts through selected data to see where key information is missing, what’s unnecessary or what needs improvement.

Salla explained: “The tools can reveal missing or obsolete data, unnecessary data collection and maintenance, and ways to refine and optimise business value through better data maintenance.

“Using these could keep manufacturing chains productive and help industry to remain competitive. It’s getting rid of things which just don’t work or costs money. The process is not about criticising, just improving.”

Salla, who is based at Lappeenranta University of Technology in Finland, has been collaborating with Sunderland’s Dr David Baglee on a number of research papers in the area of maintenance over the last five years, and added: “I am very much looking forward to leading this collaboration at Sunderland, hopefully the results will support productivity for all sized businesses across the region, which are operating in an ever more growing competitive global market.”

The results of the collaboration will be shared through various North East maintenance forums which it’s hoped will help support and improve productivity, especially for resource-strapped businesses.

Dr Baglee, a Reader in Advanced Maintenance, explained: “This is another example of the collaborative partnerships that we have with the region’s employers, which will hopefully make a significant economic contribution. Our global reputation continues to grow and this opportunity to work with Salla on campus further develops our international connections that benefit our staff, students and the wider economy.”

Craig Fenwick, Engineering Controller for Greencore’s Consett site commented: “This is an exciting opportunity for our business to work with Dr Marttonen-Arola, Dr Baglee and the University of Sunderland.

“Their expertise, by considering lean philosophies and best practice recognised in the world of academia, will aid development of our data analysis. It is particularly valuable for Greencore to evaluate the benefits of transferring best practice into our industry.” 

Salla is leading the project as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellow in the UK, part of the Horizon 2020, the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation.

This year the European Union celebrates the 100,000 fellows funded from the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Action. Salla was one of the 30 researchers with the highest scores in the 2016 call, and was invited to an Awards Ceremony in Brussels in September 2017 to present her work in the Parlamentarium.



Horizon 2020 is the EU's biggest ever research and innovation framework programme with a budget of €77 billion over seven years (2014-2020). While most research and innovation activities are still underway or yet to start, the programme is delivering.

Horizon 2020 researchers have contributed to major discoveries like exoplanets, the Higgs boson and gravitational waves, and at least 19 Nobel Prize winners received EU research funding prior or after their award.

As of October 2017, Horizon 2020 has in total funded more than 15 000 grants to the tune of €26.65 billion, of which almost €3.79 billion went to SMEs. The programme has also provided companies, in particular SMEs, with access to risk finance worth over €17 million under the "InnovFin - EU finance for innovators" scheme. Furthermore,3,143 ERC Principal Investigators in host organisations and 10,176 fellows under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions have received grants worth almost €4.87 billion and €2.89 billion respectively.

Simultaneous to the adoption of the Horizon 2020 Work Programme 2018-2020, the Euratom Work Programme 2018 has been adopted, investing €32 million in research into the management and disposal of radioactive waste. It will also develop a research roadmap on safe decommissioning of nuclear power plants to reduce environmental impact and costs.