By Dr. Frank Brückner
Being active in networks and on platforms is common courtesy these days. Systematically connecting with other people is a huge priority now, in both the professional and personal spheres. This might mean face-to-face meetings, but there is also an increasing trend to connect digitally. "The more contacts, the better” is a common view - people have hundreds of numbers in their contact list and thousands of 'friends' on social media. But are social networks really a place for sharing, or just for transmitting information?
Sharing is not as easy as it sounds, especially with regard to valuable commodities such as expertise and thus an advantage in a certain field. Members of a network or community are then quick to disappear. After all, we live in a knowledge society. Knowledge is power - and ultimately means added value. But there is another way. Sharing expertise can enhance one’s own knowledge, too. But how?
Learn to share and you will be rewarded
One tried-and-tested method popular in, but not exclusive to, mechanical and plant engineering is cooperative industrial research (IGF), which receives funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and from industry itself. Multiple companies and research institutions come together in a pre-competitive environment and work together on a specific topic or technological challenge. Everyone involved is then free to use the results for further development as they wish.
IGF thus gives medium-sized companies in particular access to practical research, thus making them more competitive. The figures show how the IGF mechanism can turn comparably small sums into big results: In 2016, the AiF's (Federation of Industrial Research Associations) total budget of 139.3 million euros was contributed by around 100 research associations, representing around 50,000 companies. IGF is therefore effective, efficient and helps to build networks.
But the real challenge of knowledge networks like this lies in their organization - knowledge and its players need to be managed if added value is to be created in a targeted way.
FVA: Sharing drive technology
FVA has a long tradition of successful sharing under the VDMA umbrella. The independent association has been managing IGF projects for fifty years now and has developed into the world’s largest drive technology innovation network over the decades.
"We are proud of FVA's position and of the fact that we have managed to impress so many companies and research institutions. The great involvement of industry experts and scientists within our network is proof of that," Hartmut Rauen told VDMAimpulse.
As FVA Managing Director and VDMA Deputy Executive Director, Rauen is familiar with the challenges and occasional reservations that company representatives can have in shared projects with external research and with other market players.
"Some companies are initially skeptical about collaborating with competitors on topics for research and contributing their own expertise and staff. But the research is conducted at universities and the groups of industry experts merely provide advice and support. The concept works," explains Rauen. "Once they have experienced the collaboration and added value that the IGF brings, they are convinced that it works and are often very impressed." The theme for the FVA's anniversary in 2017 was not hard to find: Sharing Drive Technology.
The group currently includes more than 200 member companies, around 300 scientists from more than 100 research institutions, and over 2,000 industry experts. Together they form the FVA network and are all driven by the same thing: Drive technology.
The following figures are impressive proof of this:
- Approximately 1,700 research projects in 50 years
- Investment volume of more than 230 million euros for the projects (90 million euros from FVA funding and 140 million euros from companies)
- 262 ongoing projects in 2017
In addition, the FVA's working groups, congresses, seminars and workshops demonstrate how this network of the very best of drive technology works. "The FVA brings together people with an enormous amount of specialist knowledge, combining their expertise in a unique community. Of course, the focus is on outstanding technology, but what really makes the network work is the personal contact, working in project groups, and the dedication of everyone involved," says Rauen.
So what about a concrete example of an FVA project? This is a difficult question for the FVA team to answer. After all, every project is a key part of the success so there is no obvious choice. "Among the many projects, of course, there are a few examples that clearly demonstrate the real-life relevance of cooperative industrial research in the field of drive technology, even for those without technical backgrounds," says Rauen emphatically, hinting at the example of wind energy.
Harnessing wind power is a key aspect in the transition to alternative energies and there are great expectations on increasingly efficient systems. To achieve the best possible designs, the drive train of multi-megawatt wind energy systems needs to be researched under real-life conditions - at huge effort and expense.
The result was the FVA-Gondel project at RWTH Aachen University's Center for Wind Power Drives (CWD), which conducts simulations under the most realistic conditions possible in order to discover how to exploit wind power more effectively.
In this way, the FVA's joint project, with a total volume of just under 6 million euros, is making a vital contribution to making the transition to alternative energies a success.
Duration: 2015 - 2018
- To increase the reliability of wind energy systems through improved simulation models
- To develop a research wind energy system with 2.75 megawatt and a full drive train
- Tests on a 4-megawatt system test bench at CWD in Aachen
- Center for Wind Power Drives (CWD) at RWTH Aachen University (joint project partner)
- Joint project partners: Siemens AG and FVA e.V.
- Associated partners: Bosch Rexroth AG, Eickhoff Antriebstechnik GmbH, FUCHS PETROLUB SE, FVA GmbH, HYDAC INTERNATIONAL GmbH, RENK Aktiengesellschaft, Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG, ThyssenKrupp Rothe Erde GmbH, Vestas Nacelles Deutschland GmbH, ZF Wind Power Antwerpen NV
- Real operating conditions can be modeled 1:1
- Simulation models can be validated on the test bench
- Models are already being adapted with optimized components based on the measurement data gathered
- Findings are of interest to other sectors, too
3D Printing of electric powertrains
Duration: 2015 - 2017
Objective: Rapid prototyping for electric drive technology
- Institute for Drive Systems and Power Electronics at Leibniz Universität Hannover
- Institute for Applied Materials - Materials Science (IAM-KM) at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
- Direct Manufacturing Research Center DMRC at Paderborn University
- Dynamic parameters improved by at least 20 percent through integrated lightweight structures
- Faster prototyping in electric drive technology
- Companies can implement their own individual motor designs
- Conceivable USPs in the international competition in electric drive technology
Optimum drivetrain configurations for EVs
Duration: 3.5 years
Objective: To determine the optimum drive train configuration of an electric vehicle for a defined usage and user profile
- TU Braunschweig, Institute of Automotive Engineering
- TU Darmstadt, Institute for Mechatronic Systems
- TU Darmstadt, Institut für Elektrische Energiewandlung
- Systematic determination of an optimum electric car for any purpose
- Identification of trends relating to the design of the components
- Suitable tools for supporting vehicle development in the early stages of product creation
Low Friction Powertrain
Duration: 2008 - 2012
Objective: To reduce the frictional losses in a car drivetrain, consisting of the motor, gearboxes and axle, by 30 percent by optimizing the components and the system
- Technical University of Munich
- RWTH Aachen University
- University of Kassel
- Leibniz University of Hanover
- University of Kaiserslautern
- Clausthal University of Technology
Investment: 5.1 million euros
Looking to the future
New inspiration and exciting topics for IGF and the FVA are emerging all the time. Electrification and digitalization are sure to have a big impact on drive technology in the future, while the increasing options for connecting intelligent components are increasing potential for new system approaches and business models.
Predictive maintenance is a well-known example here. Another interesting field is the role of intelligent drive technology in autonomous, driverless transport systems, be it for people or materials, cars or agricultural machinery. Things will move quickly here, and research and development will need to keep pace.
"The idea of cooperative industrial research may not have been around in Benjamin Franklin's day, but a very appropriate quote is attributed to him: 'An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.' We at FVA could not disagree," says Rauen with conviction.
How FVA members benefit
- Only expert network of its kind in the world
- Shared fundamental research within IGF
- Fastest possible transfer of research findings into practice at member companies in the form of congresses, seminars and software
- Significantly shorter time to market
- Training of tailored specialists for the industry
- Advanced training for specialist staff in the industry based on the latest research
- Knowledge and tools for the development of efficient, resource-saving drive technologies
- Development of national and international standards
- Promotion of universities and research institutions to become international beacons of science
- Matchmaking between industry and science
FVA knowledge for operative use
The role of FVA GmbH is to proactively put FVA knowledge to practical use. To do this, it develops modern software solutions and calculation and simulation platforms for drive technology. The portfolio also includes professional service, support and organizing expert seminars and congresses. Quality and customer orientation are key focuses - as documented by certification in accordance with DIN EN ISO 9001:2015.