Since Magnetic MRO began its cooperation with Solaride, an Estonian-based student initiative to build first-in-Estonia solar-powered car – and to race it in Australia in a few years time – both of the parties have become the witness of many changes: from changing outlook towards sustainability to tackling challenges via practice-based learning – it has been quite a ride, and we’re surely very happy to ride it in the front seat!
Get to know a bit more about the collaboration and what innovations, as well as challenges, lie behind it as Risto Mäeots, CEO at Magnetic MRO, and Kristel Leif, CEO at Solaride, share their experience of this ride so far.
Risto, let’s start with you. How do you evaluate this cooperation between Solaride and Magnetic MRO?
Risto Mäeots: It may seem odd why our type of organization would go along with Solaride, but it all has a very strong reason. When Solaride presented its first pitch, I focused heavily on Magnetic MRO long-term strategy, spending time on our new potential horizons – and this horizon was design & manufacturing: financially the largest segment of aviation. We decided to take a robust and focused step towards the conservative OEM industry – and Solaride was just the breath of fresh air we aim to be, coming our way just the right time. Their primary focus is solar power and lightweight, durable design that aligns with our vision within our plans, and we are just about to see whole aviation shifting there.
Indeed, it seems that this type of collaboration benefits both parties – and both companies have their eyes on innovations! Kristel, what role you think innovations play in the industry, what are the main innovations of this project, and what are the challenges of introducing innovations like Solaride?
Kristel Leif: I think Solaride is much more than just innovation in the industry or sustainable transportation: it is about education and experiences that young engineers gain from this project. In other words, we see that innovation, this solar car, is the best possible tool to communicate sustainable energy and technology education as well as to encourage people to take big challenges and think outside the box, do something differently. It was challenging – at the start, considering the fact that there’s not that much sunshine in Estonia, our idea was greeted with skepticism. But after we managed to communicate this as an educational project in the first place, previous critics seem to vanish.
In terms of innovation, it is the first year for us, so we focus on the experience and understanding of how to build a solar car. However, we already have some hints that we can provide to society – we are writing software that could calculate the best possible speed that electric cars should use to increase efficiency. Also, we already have some investors waiting to give their money as soon as we move to the next phase. We see potential in software and aerodynamics, and we are planning to do more product development in electronics. When it comes to solar panels and the improvement of their efficiency, we have great sponsors that are building roofs out of panels. Also, the Tallinn University of Technology has a big science project that we are included in. Thus, it is currently way easier to communicate about our work and that it might actually lead us to different spinoffs and startups. Besides, the innovations and the way this whole project is coming together are unique in Estonia: we have about 70 students from various universities and different fields in this project. We have people from design, marketing, human resources, logistics, and engineering. So, we are doing challenge-based learning: we put together people from different backgrounds to learn from each other. Thanks to that, we develop superior ideas than the ones that engineers alone could develop.
I think it is incredible how you are bringing innovations to Estonia! Risto, what about you? What role, in your opinion, innovations play in your industry? What innovations and solutions Magnetic MRO are implementing to become more sustainable? What challenges and opportunities innovations alike bring to the company and the aviation industry in general?
RM: Magnetic MRO primary benefit in sustainability is our ingenuity. To elaborate on that – an average asset (let it be airframe, engine, landing gear, or other) is disposed of, whereas it still contains unused life. In Magnetic MRO, in Magnetic Leasing, in Magnetic Engines, we primarily focus on evaluating each element of the aircraft and sub-system. We repair, swap parts, replace parts – all in such a way that all the asset’s green time is managed sustainably until the end. And of course, going into OEM business, as I mentioned earlier, we will not just manage assets that someone has created, but we will actually start designing ‘tomorrows’ aviation’.
‘Designing tomorrow’s aviation’ could indicate that Magnetic MRO is an innovation center. Kristel, do you expect that Solaride’s project will be the thing that promotes Estonia as an innovation hub?
KL: Yes, of course. For example, we are heading to the competition “World Solar Challenge” in Australia. It is a top-notch competition, where all big companies are looking for talents. Even Elon Musk is hiring its engineers there for Tesla. I think that succeeding there is an excellent opportunity for these young people and a suitable environment for Estonia’s promotion and for our sponsors to showcase themselves and make connections.
It is impressive that you are working towards competitions like that. Indeed, the project with Solaride is a good example of what Magnetic Creative is working on. Risto, can you elaborate more on how this unit is tapping into innovations, entering new markets and disrupting the conservative market?
RM: While in aviation, we have witnessed the dominant design comes from engineers, then we will put more focus onto involving alternative means of designers, such as industrial designers, artists, psychologists, biologists and others, to create the best solutions. If we look at some designs & products used in automotive, for example, then there is much more we can do, and still not compromising safety, to make future products. Magnetic creative will become the hub for any talent, and I will make sure that it will always contain a healthy amount of fresh thinkers outside aviation.
Indeed, fresh thinkers can considerably improve organizations. Nevertheless, Kristel, could you elaborate on what the general public thinks about the Solaride now? What feedback do you receive as the project has got more developed?
KL: Nobody expected, especially us, that in one year, Solaride will become a household brand in Estonia. We have built a strong community: from the random people from small towns to the President of Estonia, all of them are wearing sweatshirts with our slogan (translated from Estonian, it is “We do give a damn”). Moreover, within the first year, we got more than 70 publications in Estonia. Obviously, we not only talk about building a solar car, but we also try giving people a great example of dealing with innovation and sustainability. Thus, it was a strategic decision to start talking about the project from the beginning. In this way, we inspire younger generations with the results as well as with our journey of failures and successes. However, I must mention that not everyone sees our visibility as a positive thing: in Estonia, we have hardcore engineers that are used to the process, where first you have to build something, have great results, and only then speak about it. So, engineers who know nothing about communication think that we should stop “bragging” and built the car first. This resentment might come from the fact that Estonia is a tiny country where everyone has the same sponsors, the same talents that everyone wants. For us, with our project’s visibility, it is much easier to attract both of them.