José Ramón Sierra Blasco

José Ramón Sierra Blasco

Position: Innovation Director at Automotive Cluster of Aragon (CAAR)
Education: (Degree + MSc) Industrial Engineer and Erasmus + exchange program at NTNU and MSc Mechanical Systems at EINA; High Management Program at IESE

My best interview - José Ramón (Jota) Sierra Blasco

My experience at NTNU could be shortly described as an “open mind period”. I experienced very different ways of reasoning and teaching. I was involved in different methodologies, immerge in a culture different from the one I knew. Without any doubts, it was a turning point in my personal and professional career, even if I didn’t fully realize it at that time.

Portrait of Jose Blasco

Good morning José Ramón, could you please tell us about you, your studies, and your professional career…

First of all, it is a pleasure to be part of this great initiative, of course, considering the current circumstances, I hope all NTNU’s community is safe and healthy.

I was born in Zaragoza, a city located in Aragón (North-East of Spain). Since I was very young, I was very curious about how things work and perhaps that is why I started studying industrial engineering at Escuela de Ingeniería y Arquitectura of the University of Zaragoza (EINA). I have always tried to discover new ways of thinking and doing. This curiosity led me to apply for an Erasmus + exchange program getting a grant for one year at NTNU.

My experience at NTNU could be shortly described as an “open mind period”. I experienced very different ways of reasoning & teaching. I was involved in different methodologies, immerge in a culture different from the one I knew. Without any doubts, it was a turning point in my personal and professional career, even if I didn’t fully realize it at that time. At NTNU I saw how the university boost soft skills and diversity and I understood how important both are. The experience opened my mind and made me to work and live in 4 different countries later on, working on a lot of international projects, with diverse people from different countries and cultures. I could understand and appreciate our differences and enjoy learning something new every day.

After one year in Norway, I started my professional career as R&D Engineer

After one year in Norway, I started my professional career as R&D Engineer within the Mechatronic Product Design Center at Technological Institute of Aragon, which offered me the opportunity to spend time within the Simulation department at TRW (currently part of ZF) in Germany. This second international experience allowed me to build up a solid experience in technology, innovation, and virtual simulation in full vehicle models (complex models).

Then I moved to the UK and worked at Altran UK. First as Integration and Modeling lead, then as team leader for the first Hardware in the Loop vehicle level test bench in England for the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) Jaguar Land Rover.  After two year in the UK, I had the opportunity to come back to Spain to join the 3M company, serving as program & project manager and responsible of projects delivered in Spain. 

Finally, since 2018, I have been working as Innovation Director at Automotive Cluster of Aragon, facing professional challenges in every project.

I am very grateful to have had the chance to grow through this professional path, developing a wide vision of several technical areas in different roles and countries.

You are working at the Automotive Cluster of Aragon, could you please explain what is a cluster?

What is a cluster is the million-dollar question! To be precise we should use the Harvard University professor Michael Porter's definition popularized in the article “The competitive advantage of nations” in which he explains the cluster impact concept. The description is: “A business cluster is a geographic concentration of interconnected businesses, suppliers, and associated institutions in a particular field. Clusters are considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally. Accounting is a part of the business cluster.”

My vision is that a cluster is an organization which support, boost, lead and build bridges. It supports the development of new projects and opens new businesses, boosts innovation and knowledge transfer between members and also third parties (providers) gathering and canalizing the information through common channels. A cluster leads their members to a common path building a sense of community, which is very important specially in VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) environments. It builds bridges between Industry, Universities, Government, and the citizens in a model called quadruple helix model (figure 1).

Figure 1. Quadruple Helix Innovation Systems (Visualisation © Fraunhofer CeRRI)

Figure 1. Quadruple Helix Innovation Systems (Visualisation © Fraunhofer CeRRI)

What is your role in practice at the Automotive Cluster of Aragon?

I am currently working as Innovation Director at Automotive Cluster of Aragon (CAAR), a non-profit organization which is the reference entity of the automotive sector in the Region of Aragon. Aragon is a strategical location, it is the automotive hub of southern Europe, with a production of more than 2M vehicles every year in a range of 300 km from the city of Zaragoza. Aragon concentrates the industries dedicated to the manufacture of automotive components, as well as other companies directly related to this value chain. Currently it has 90 company members, which represent an aggregate turnover of more than 2,500 million euros and more than 14,000 employees. As you can imagine, 90 enterprises mean very high diversity, with very different technical levels and needs. 
The past 2 years were intense, we have re-built the Innovation Department from scratch, increasing technical capabilities, supporting our members by doing technical advising and leading regional projects and European proposals. We also focus on digitalization (industry 4.0, paperless, company mindset, etc), electro mobility, European collaboration projects, transfer knowledge and activities to increase members capacities. It is not an easy task due to the fact that the cluster comprises from small SMEs to big companies with very different digitalization levels, different needs and actions. One of the most exciting part of my daily work is understanding those needs and generating projects with different paces.

Electro mobility in a very hot topic of your sector, how do you think it is going to evolve in the future?

The automotive sector is going through massive changes. All CEOs acknowledge that we do not know how cars will be in 10 years. Customers and companies’ perspectives and demands continuously change trying to adapt to the evolving social and environmental concerns.

Let’s start by the product, the cars. We read about autonomous, connected, shared and electrified car. Each category implies very different technologies:

  • The autonomous cars are coming in a near future because the technology is already available for open roads. However, it will be more difficult to see it in a city, where real time interaction between cars, traffic lights and so on need a very low latency. It means that we need 5G widely installed to make it possible. 
  • The connected cars are a reality already, our cars can call using emergency systems and can be located in real time. Now focus is on increasing the service possibilities.
  • The shared cars are also in our streets, today the business models are not economical but fast changing mindset will help and an improvement of the business model performance is expected in the post pandemic period.
  • The electrified car, I am talking about electrified and not electric cars. According to the experts, a lot of technologies will coexist in the next 20 years. Hybrids, Hydrogen and electrical cars will be used in the coming years. Depending on the context we will select the appropriate technology. It is worth to have an electric truck with a battery that corresponds to 20% of its weight. The answer is easy.

In addition to that, not only cars are changing, but also the way we are building them. On the manufacturing side, with the convergency of OT and IT technologies, Industry 4.0 is introducing new ways of manufacturing like for example additive manufacturing and Artificial Intelligence, which allow developing better processes and products never thought before.

How do you think digitalization will affect companies in the future?

Not only the Automotive sector is changing, the world is changing very fast forcing society and companies to adapt faster than ever. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, said: “In the new world, it is not the big fish which eats the small fish, it's the fast fish which eats the slow fish.” This sentence makes clear the companies’ needs. They need to use the technologies to adapt as fast as possible to their environment. The automotive is quite good at it. Do you know that thanks to digital tools, one OEM has reduced the development cycle for its new vehicles by nearly the half, from an average of 20 to just 10½ months, something awesome!

To finish, what do you think students can do to cope with this fast changing environment?

Good and difficult question! From my point of view, it is very important for students to develop soft skills as empathy, active listening and respect. Unfortunately, the society is becoming very individual and those important soft skills are in disuse. I think that they are precious to understand and adapt to the environment. 

Also learning how to learn is important. We need to know how, where and what we have to learn to adapt our technical skills to what society and companies need. It is more than just finding the information. It is about knowing how to use it to build up the additional needed skills. There is a huge amount of information and we are not able to read and to understand everything in “real time”. We have to detect and analyze the impact of the key changes in our business and our life, focusing on the real needs, keeping our minds free of noise. Indeed, noisy trends are not often pointing at what is important. Good luck!

Photo: José Ramón (Jota) Sierra Blasco