Leveraging strengths through excellence and efficiency
To continue developing responses to challenges such as global warming, changing demographics, and declining natural resources, Fraunhofer has adopted a new strategic approach based on knowledge transfer, regional development initiatives, and lighthouse projects.
“Today’s research environment is marked by many different and sometimes conflicting global challenges,” says Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, who took office as the new President of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft in October 2012. “On the one hand there are issues such as global warming or changing demographics. The latter is beginning to have a visible effect in Germany, where qualified workers are already in short supply. On the other hand, there is an increasing demand for new products to meet the needs of the world’s growing population, which amplifies the rate at which our finite natural resources are being depleted.” He adds: “Other factors exerting an influence on our work as a research organization include shrinking national coffers, slowed economic growth, and the rising power of the emerging economies.”
To enable Fraunhofer to deal with these challenges and maintain its role in the future, Professor Neugebauer has commenced his term of office by defining a set of development horizons. “Fraunhofer is a recognized name in the world of industry and research, with a distinct profile. We are well placed in terms of our research portfolio and we possess a number of other strengths including our organizational structure, which gives us the ability to develop solutions to complex problems. Our maxim is to decentralize responsibility as far as possible while at the same time contributing just the right amount of centralized control,” explains Professor Neugebauer. “Our participation in national and international networks is a further advantage. These are all strengths that we aim to preserve.”
Systematic knowledge transfer
Professor Neugebauer intends to leverage these strengths, for instance through knowledge transfer based on the novel products, technologies and services developed by Fraunhofer. In addition to the standard route of patenting inventions and granting licenses, knowledge can also be transferred by sharing the results of publicly funded projects or through multiple-use arrangements covering diverse industrial applications. Other means of converting scientific knowledge into new technologies include the transfer of personnel from research to industry, the creation of spin-off companies, and the construction of prototypes. “We want to systematically exploit each one of these avenues,” says Professor Neugebauer.
Regional development initiatives
Fraunhofer Institutes already help to stimulate regional development by providing support to local industry and collaborating with other research institutions in the region. This aspect of their activities is to be extended through initiatives in which the Fraunhofer Institutes join forces with partners from science and industry and with representatives of local municipalities and regional government to deliberate on ways of exploiting locally available know-how and expertise to the benefit of the region’s economy. “If you look at the map of Germany, you can often see a correlation between geographical locations and specific Fraunhofer research topics. For instance, communications technology is centered in Berlin, mechanical engineering and innovation management in Stuttgart, and automotive and manufacturing technologies in Chemnitz«, says Neugebauer. “We want to raise the profile of these knowledge clusters and transform them into nationally and internationally recognized magnets for small and medium-sized enterprises.”
The long-term objective is to open up new opportunities which, according to Neugebauer, lie in the sustainable development of research potential: “We intend to preserve and strengthen Fraunhofer’s scientific excellence, but also remain flexible and open to change, so as to be able to advance in new directions as the need arises. Our mission and our aim are to develop solutions for sustainable value creation. We will succeed in doing so by building up expertise in new areas of technology through our own pre-competitive research projects.”
Lighthouse projects – reducing time to market
As a further measure, Fraunhofer’s established portfolio management process will be used to identify new lighthouse projects and sharpen the organization’s profile – based on the focal areas of health and nutrition, communication and information, mobility and transportation, energy and resources, safety and security, production and services. Priority is given to research that can be rapidly transformed into real-life applications. Four topics have been identified so far, two of which are already the subject of new research projects, one relating to cell-free bioproduction and the other a transfer project for electromobility. Two further projects – on rare earth metals and on E3 production – are currently in the planning phase. “Such lighthouse projects are designed to bring together Fraunhofer expertise in a flexible, interdisciplinary approach to future-oriented areas of research – thus bolstering Germany’s status as a leader of innovation ,” says Prof. Reimund Neugebauer. “By involving industrial partners in our research at the earliest possible stage, we aim to develop marketable solutions in a minimum of time.”
The purpose of the cell-free bioproduction project is to develop a novel platform for protein synthesis. There is considerable demand for peptides, enzymes and other biomolecules, not only in medicine but also in the food processing, farm products, cosmetics and laundry detergent industries. Current systems work with living cells: Fraunhofer aims to replace them with in-vitro protein synthesis techniques. The major challenge is to develop a controllable reactor system that can be scaled up to industrial production volumes. This project is partly financed by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and partly by Fraunhofer’s own funds.
As part of its electromobility systems research project, Fraunhofer has developed various prototype components with a view to putting more electric vehicles on the road. The technologies with the greatest likelihood of being implemented rapidly have been selected for further research in the transfer project.
The purpose of the rare earth metals project is to assure German industry’s access to these and other critical resources. Rare earth metals are needed for example to produce the powerful magnets employed in wind turbines and electric motors. In the course of the project, solutions will be developed for both the substitution and the recycling of the rare earth metals neodymium and dysprosium.
And lastly the E3 production project looks into the future of the manufacturing industry in general. E3 stands for Efficiency, Emissions reduction, and Ergonomics. The project aims to develop concepts and technologies that support integrated materials-flow and energy management. Equal importance is attached to developing instruments that evaluate energy efficiency and integrate ergonomic aspects into production.