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Lightweight Design worldwide

, Volume 11, Issue 1, pp 18–21 | Cite as

“Lightweight design must reflect the interests of industry”

  • Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden
Interview
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A position paper issued by a coalition of 18 industry associations and research bodies calls for a close dialog between politicians and industry. The aim is to develop Germany into the lead supplier of lightweight design using a variety of materials. Dr. Elmar Witten, AVK, played a leading role in formulating the paper.

lightweight.design: The outgoing federal government invested large amounts of research money in the development of lightweight design techniques in the last legislative period. Why should a new federal government put lightweight design back on the agenda?

Witten: Although the subject of lightweightdesign was enshrined in the previous government’s coalition agreement, industry was not involved in the formulation of the objectives. As industry representatives, we want lightweight design to be incorporated into the coalition agreement again — and we want to play an active role in shaping the content. Industry and politicians must work in unison. Politicians won’t gain anything if the subject of lightweight design doesn’t reflect the interests of industry. And industry won’t benefit without political support. That’s why we want to work more closely together than before.

Are you criticizing the fact that too much public funding flowed into academic research? And that research findings were insufficiently exploited by industry?

I cannot judge whether there is a healthy balance between the research funds invested by the government and the level of exploitation of the research findings. And I certainly don’t intend questioning it.

So your call for a closer dialog on lightweight design is not to be seen as a criticism of previous funding practice?

No. We greatly appreciate that the grand coalition made research funds available for the subject. This has given us in Germany a good position. The goal we set ourselves with the position paper was to continue to develop Germany as the lead supplier for lightweight design — and we are well on the way towards achieving this goal.

Where do you see this?

For example the use of fiber-reinforced plastics in the automotive industry. It always suffered from the fact that the decision-makers, such as in the OEMs, knew far too little about our material. While they were excellently trained and had heard a lot about processes, process technologies and materials, they knew absolutely nothingabout fiber-reinforced plastics. This has now changed, not least as a result of research funding and through excellence initiatives. Today’s students are taught a great deal more about the subject of fiber-reinforced plastics. When they later start working in industry, they are familiar with our materials and are able to compare them with others.

“Becoming a lead developer doesn’t mean that we want to use as much material as possible.”

So industry is already benefiting from lightweight design funding.

Yes, we have a good position here in Germany. But it’s only in the area of fiber-reinforced plastics where I see this. Measured by the production volume of fiber-reinforced plastics, Germany is the European leader. In addition, we also have by far the greatest rates of growth in Western Europe. We are moving in a good direction, but we want to increase the pace even more rapidly.

In recent years, other countries have also invested heavily in lightweight design. Does German industry need to be concerned about this?

That’s correct. Back under Obama, the USA already invested state funding and federal resources in large initiatives. It’s similar in South Korea and other countries. The topic of lightweight design of course benefits from what is happening there between the government, state funding and the economy. This also means, however, that if German politicians fail to recognize the importance of lightweight design and fail to invest in specific areas, we may at some stage be left behind.

© Katrin Denkewitz

Dr. Elmar Witten

Dr. Elmar Witten has been the Managing Director of the AVK — Federation of Reinforced Plastics e.V. — in Frankfurt am Main since 2007, and he has been the Spokesmanfor the trade association Composites Germany since it was founded in2013. His previous posts include Head of Innovation Process Management at TÜVRheinland. Witten studied Economics and has a PhD in Business Administration.

But the lead is still significant, isn’t it?

I still see Germany ahead, for example in technologies for fiber-reinforced plastics, and in lightweight design in general. But we will lose the lead if other nations deploy huge amounts of public money. We have to be careful there. And that’s why it is important for us to raise awareness among politicians. We must pull together to continue to develop Germany as the lead supplier. This must be the goal of industry and politicians.

“We want to maintain a permanent dialog with the ministries.”

In your position paper, you demand that politicians give central priority to lightweight design. Are they listening?

When we sent out the paper, we targeted — besides others — relevant contacts in the ministries of economics and research. We received considerable feedback acknowledging the paper, which is not a matter of course. We received between 10 and 15 concrete responses that notice had been taken of the paper and that it had in some cases been forwarded to the relevant departments.

How do you intend ensuring that the future German government will continue to fund lightweight design?

We are currently identifying the individuals who will play a major role in coalition negotiations. We will try to enter into a dialog with these people to ensure that our subject is incorporated into the coalition negotiations with our suggestions. I can’t judge whether they will be implemented. But I see good chances of this because we have a combination of organizations that compete with each other in some cases. We have nevertheless found an overriding topic that doesn’t focus on individual materials but on lightweight design as a whole. And just think about what lightweight design can be used for — for example, as efficient materials to save fuel in vehicles. The subject of lightweight design is politically welcome, and we are promoting it in the interests of the public.

However, public debate tends to focus on topics like electromobility and digitalization and their effects on industry. Lightweight design is definitely a subject for experts.

I wouldn’t see it quite like that. E-mobility and lightweight design are closely connected, since e-mobility increases vehicle weight. And industry needs to reduce weight if it is going to meet its obligations with regard to CO2 emissions. Increasing e-mobility will bring greater pressure for the topic of lightweight design. And on the subject of digitalization, Industry 4.0 and this complex of topics: Increasing digitalization, for example in work processes, can only be conducive for Germany as a country and in our own interest. We will only be the lead supplier for lightweight design if we maintain a lead over other countries. This lead doesn’t come from cheaper production methods or because we supply the most inexpensive material, but because we have the best technologies in order to manufacture the most innovative products. And this is closely linked to digitalization.

In your position paper, you call for funding for energy-, material- and resource-efficient processes and products. Will research into carbon-fiber reinforced plastics, which have outstanding technical properties but which require large amounts of energy to produce and are difficult to recycle, fall by the wayside?

CFRPs can now be recycled, and fibers thathave been already used can also be reused — this is true of waste from the production process as well as of complete components. The current drawback with implementation is that the quality of the recycled products is not being documented in the way potential users need it. The production of CFRPs may perhaps require higher energy input than is the case with GFRP components, for example. But you need to put the production of a product into the perspective of its entire useful life. And CFRP materials can contribute to a product remaining in use for longer, and is much lighter than other products.

Could you give an example of this?

Aircraft construction. Airbus, for example, calculates as follows: Reducing the weight of an aircraft by one kilogram saves three tons of kerosene over a service life of 20 to 25 years. If you therefore save just one kilogram using CFRPs, you will save three tons of kerosene over the service life. You need to take a holistic view; you just can’t say that manufacturing a raw material for use is not so beneficial and so you should no longer promote its use.

In what fields should lightweight design be further developed in future?

The transport sector — passenger vehicles, trucks, rail transportation, aircraft — is certainly still up there. The entire construction sector, which already accounts for one third of composite production volume, is currently emerging, in particular with regard to fiber-reinforced composites. And there is infinitely great potential that has not yet been realized on the subject of lightweight design — for example in bridge construction.

© Katrin Denkewitz

According to your paper, conceptual lightweight design alone can result in products that are 80 percent lighter. Conceptual lightweight design wants to reduce materials while industry wants to sell materials. How does that fit together?

There’s absolutely no contradiction, since the aim of becoming a lead developer doesn’t mean that we want to use as much material as possible. It won’t be possible to replace an existing aluminum or steel structural element with a fiber-composite component. Instead, we need new concepts tailored to the fiber composite or to the interplay of different materials. What is important for us is advancing the topic of lightweight design. What material is ultimately used is up to the individual responsible for the decision.

You also call for a closer dialog with politicians. What has been lacking in the dialog so far?

Dialog must be permanent. It is underway and long-term in some places, for example with the Ministry for Economic Affairs. Its lightweight design forum is held on a regular basis. Representatives from industry have also become familiar with the position paper during the forum. We came together not least because of one of the ministry’s initiatives. However, the Ministry for Economic Affairs doesn’t want to monopolize the topic of lightweight design. This is why we now wish to extend the dialog with the various relevant ministries, for example with the Ministry for Education and Research. While there are contacts to individuals in our organization, there is no continuous dialog between the Ministry for Education and Research and our general consortium. But that’s what we want to achieve. We want to talk to the different ministries on a continuous and permanent basis. It is not about incorporating the topic into the coalition agreement on a one-off basis. Instead, we want to conduct a permanent dialog.

© Katrin Denkewitz

You want the future federal government to move towards “systemic coordination of research projects”. Have funds so far been distributed rather indiscriminately?

Yes, there is a little bit of that behind it. You see a lot of individual initiatives, and the user ultimately wonders how it can all fit together to form a big picture. We are certainly calling for a little more coordination in the approach to the overall subject.

And presumably also in order to translate more findings from lightweight design research into industrial practice. How will that succeed?

A close dialog needs to be conducted with industry. Companies know where things are needed. We regularly discuss this question in our organizations and working groups. When we, the associations, are approached on the matter, we also learn where the needs of industry lie.

Why are politicians required to bring businesses and research institutions together? Can’t businesses find their own way to the research institutions to promote the interests that concern them?

Everyone can promote what is important for their own materials. We don’t really need politicians for that. However, where lightweight design in general is concerned, we as the AVK or as the composites industry, respectively, step in and call for funding, and then the aluminum industry joins in, before the steel industry comes along. Politicians are then unable to judge who has the better materials and who deserves research support. This is why we are unanimously calling not for a specific material to be promoted but for the general concept of lightweight design.

“We are calling not for a specific material to be promoted but for lightweight design in general.”

You mentioned the conflicting interests within the lightweight design community. Will the network represented in theposition paper persist? Or was the task of formulating the paper such a strenuous effort that it cannot be repeated?

Astonishingly, it wasn’t that strenuous. The paper was prepared within a matter of a few weeks, and with almost 20 signatories, after all. Although there were admittedly some frictional losses, we now have a paper supported by all the organizations. In the next step, we will enter into a dialog with the politicians involved in the coalition negotiations. We already agree that we will again do this together. We also agree that other organizations that have so far not been represented can also join us. For example the wood-processing industry has recently joined. This group of organizations is therefore likely to grow. The cooperation on the topic of lightweight design is not going to disappear overnight; we are more likely to strengthen and extend it.

And if politicians have questions about lightweight design, can they call you, the network’s spokesperson, so to say?

I’m not the network’s spokesperson; I’m an equal partner. I coordinated the preparation and distribution of the paper. I’m currently the point of contact in this initial process of addressing politicians.

Will the network in future have greater visibility and act, for example, as “The German Lightweight Design Network”?

There are no plans to establish a new organization. I don’t think there’s a lack of organizations in Germany. On the contrary: From the perspective of industry, there are too many organizations, to be perfectly clear. I don’t mean, either, that some of them are superfluous. We are just interested in bundling our forces. We came together under the general topic of lightweight design, and I personally don’t think we need a new association for that.

Dr. Witten, thank you very much for speaking with us.

Position Paper on Industrial-political Dialog

A network of 15 companies, associations and research institutions presented a position paper on industrial-political dialog in July 2017. In it, they call for collaboration with politicians to develop Germany across different sectors into a global lead supplier of lightweight design solutions using a variety of materials. They say that lightweight design must become one of the core industrial and innovation-related political topics in the new legislative period. In particular, they call for support for multi-material lightweight design, construction and conceptual lightweight design, digitalization and development processes in companies and integration of new production methods such as additive manufacturing in order to maintain competitiveness and future jobs — ideally as part of new interdisciplinary funding programs to be initiated by the EU as well as by the federal and state governments.

The network points to the current inadequate level of industrial exploitation of many lightweight design technologies that are currently realized at research institutions — for the most part in isolation. They have so far failed due to a lack of networking projects or a readiness to assume risk for required investment. As a consequence, the signatories urgently call for a move toward the systemic coordination of research projects and the presentation, testing and market penetration of the latest research findings. In addition, it is also necessary to accelerate the training of new technical specialists and the development of new areas of business in small and medium-sized enterprises.

The following organizations so far are signatories to the paper: C3 — Carbon Concrete Composite, Forschungs- und Technologiezentrum für ressourceneffiziente Leichtbaustrukturen der Elektromobilität (FOREL), Forschungszentrum EcoMaT, Fraunhofer Allianz Leichtbau, Gesamtverband der Aluminiumindustrie, Industrieverband Massivumformung e. V., Interessengemeinschaft Leichtbau e. V. (igeL), kunststoffland NRW, Leichtbau BW GmbH, NanoMikroWerkstoffePhotonik, Stahlinstitut VDEh im Stahl-Zentrum, Institut für Leichtbau und Kunststofftechnik an der TU Dresden, Verband der deutschen Holzwerkstoffindustrie e. V. (VHI), Volkswagen AG, Wirtschaftsvereinigung Composites Germany (AVK — Industrievereinigung Verstärkte Kunststoffe, CCeV — Carbon Composites, CFK-Valley, VDMA Arbeitsgemeinschaft Hybride Leichtbau Technologien).

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© Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden
    • 1
  1. 1.Germany

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