A buzzing sound can be heard from inside a manufacturing facility in the suburbs of Espoo. Opening the door reveals an assembly lab with pipes, wires, tubes and a computer – and a box shaped metal construction hanging from two wires, going up and down. That is the window cleaning innovation of Wall Robotics, an Espoo based company heading for new heights with the help of Helsinki Business Hub.
The story of Wall Robotics began like so many other innovations: accidentally. It was a summer day at the countryside of Finland. Mikko Valtonen, the CEO of Wall Robotics was washing the roof and exterior walls of an old barn. The roof was hot, rusty and very high. The job was unpleasant and tedious – and also a little dangerous. Then the worst-case scenario happened: Mikko Valtonen fell from the roof. It was a close call, but fortunately Mikko was saved by a safety harness. The accident pushed Mikko to think there must be an easier and safer way to do the job. Could the task even be automatized?
“I draw the first sketch of the robot there and then, and started looking for partners to realize my vision with. There was a global interest from the start. In the end I found a partner from the Netherlands, with whom I created a sellable prototype”, Mikko Valtonen recalls.
Originally, the robot was planned to be used for painting buildings. When Technology Director Petteri Kontio joined the company, the use cases were developed into their current form: a window cleaning robot, that can also be used for painting and inspecting buildings to search for cracks and checking the seams of the windows. These are only a few uses, and the company is developing more with their clients.
To realize the full potential and cost effectiveness of the robot, the building has to be more than 4 floors high. The challenge for Wall Robotics is, that the buildings in Finland are generally quite low. Currently only a limited number of buildings can be found in the whole country that rise above ten floors high. To succeed, Wall Robotics needed to think globally.
High-rises and a demand for hi-tech innovations
Singapore is known for its high density in very tall buildings and has fast become a technology hub of Asia. Finland on the other hand has a vast pool of innovative hi-tech companies with an offering to complement the Asian demand.
In the end of 2018, Helsinki Business Hub organized a business visit to Singapore together with Kira-Digi, a project aimed to boost the digitalization of the built environment and construction sector, and the Embassy of Finland in Singapore. The goal of the trip was to match Finnish small and medium sized companies with Singaporean companies to create growth opportunities and new business. The focus was on robotics, digitalization and automation solutions, which are in high demand in Singapore. Kira-Digi member companies’ participation was supported by Kira-Digi and the Ministry of the Environment. Wall Robotics was one of the companies joining the delegation.
To start the trip, the Finnish delegation coorganized an event with a Singaporean organization called Intellectual Property Intermediary (IPI). IPI’s goal is to connect Singapore-based businesses with solution providers to create growth and boost innovation. Helsinki Business Hub and IPI has a history of successful cooperation dating back a few years.
At the event, Finnish companies had an opportunity to pitch their offerings, and to network with potential Singaporean customers and partners. The event attracted so much interest, that it was fully booked and some Singaporean companies were left on a waiting list.
Especially for Wall Robotics, the seminar proved to be highly successful. They landed their first partnership agreement immediately after their first pitch.
“We started negotiations for a partnership and left to see potential buildings to install the robot in practically right after we finished our pitch. And the pace did not slow down. We had back-to-back meetings with potential clients and partners the whole week. At the end we were left with a number of very good leads and many companies were requesting a demo. And we can see the results even several months later. The visit did not open markets only to Singapore, but even to the other side of the world, like Chile! Helsinki Business Hub played an important part in connecting us with the right companies, and has opened a lot of opportunities for us”, tells Mikko Valtonen.
Construction tech market continues to grow
Following the success of the 2018 business visit, a similar trip to Singapore will be arranged again in April 2019. The cooperation with partners Kira-Digi and Embassy of Singapore continues, reinforced this time with Business Finland. Also Wall Robotics wishes to continue the well started collaboration, and is taking part on the next trip.
“We have seen that the Finnish expertise in robotics, building information modeling (BIM) systems and digitalization in the construction industry has a high demand in Asia. In addition, technologies, which improve human performance and wellness in the office have an increasing interest too. As Singaporean companies are doing business in other Asian locations, it makes the country a perfect gateway for Finnish companies to access a wider Asian market. We at Helsinki Business Hub wish to further strengthen the cooperation between Finland and Asia, and continue to actively seek opportunities”, says Irma Ylikangas, Senior Business Advisor from Helsinki Business Hub.
For Wall Robotics, their journey has just begun. They recently expanded their business by hiring a new employee, and are actively seeking growth opportunities . Next step globally is to find more partners in for example Singapore with whom to expand the operations.