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Facing strong demand and technological competition, several companies in Southern Germany with an interest in carbon fibre composites decided to join together and create an association to help them pursue their development.
(Published on October - November 2007 – JEC Magazine #36)
In the area of carbon-fibre and fibrecomposite technologies, industry and research in Southern Germany are wellpositioned on the international scale.
Objectives and tasks
To further strengthen this position, the non-profit association Carbon Composites aims to systematically network with experts from science and industry; bundle competencies; expand and further develop the technological infrastructure at industrial and scientific levels; engage in joint public relations and joint technology marketing; and promote training and qualification systems. Another objective is to represent the collective interests of members in the political arena.
Carbon Composites brings together renowned companies and research institutions. Members have the opportunity to consolidate innovation by closely linking industry and science, and seek to further utilize this potential to improve their own economic resources.The founding members are: EADS Military Air Systems, Eurocopter, KUKA, MT Aerospace, SGL Group, Stuttgart University, Augsburg University, DLR Stuttgart, Chamber of Industry and Commerce for Swabia, and the City of Augsburg. The non-profit association will work actively to enlist new members from the industrial and scientific sectors, in particular small and medium-sized businesses. Note that Carbon Composites was an initiative of the region’s enterprises and not of the federal or local government, although the association was later successful in obtaining support for the project. Its member diversity is a reminder of the topical interest and the crucial importance of carbon fibre when it comes to international competition.
The energy challenge
Intelligent use of energy is one of the greatest challenges of the 21st century. Consistent lightweight construction is a valuable approach to reducing energy consumption. Growing raw-material consumption and the associated growing demand for primary energy sources have a negative impact on the climate and also lead to stiffer competition among economies on the global raw-materials and energy markets.In the international field of carbon-fibre and fibre-composite technologies, research and development skills are being focused increasingly on individual regions, which will affect German economic policies in the short to medium term.
In the absence of major raw-material deposits, the only resources that enable Germany to secure a global leadership position are its knowledge and its innovation capability. Creating innovation and implementing it in serial products means a chance to enter new markets and create jobs. As an effective way to reduce structural weight and hence energy consumption, carbon-fibre and fibre-composite technology can lead to production innovation.But the concentration of major capacities in those technologies in individual European regions could result in structural disadvantages for Germany. This could be offset through broader networking and expanding the content of Germany’s existing base of industrial and scientific expertise.
The changes we are facing in the global situation, i.e. the scarcity of raw materials and energy resources coupled with a strong increase in demand for them, clearly indicate that there is an urgent need to control the future use of energy in an intelligent manner. Carbon Composites can make a major contribution to that end.
JEC Composites Magazine: Can you tell us why the Carbon Composites Association was created, and what its main objectives are?
DR SCHRÖDER: Of course, there are always a lot of reasons for creating an association like Carbon Composites. For me, the most important reason was to help maintain and create jobs in the region. Important steps are to join forces in problem-solving, education, technology marketing, lobbying as well as development, and implementation of composite technologies. A regional network has to be created to bring together the industry, SMEs (small and medium enterprises) and academia, to share ideas, to learn from each other and to find new solutions.
JCM: How did you recruit the founding members? Do they play a specific role within the Association?
DR SCHRÖDER: When recruiting the founding members, we took the strongest industrial players within the Augsburg region, the city of Augsburg and the local chamber of commerce as supporters, and research institutes that together could provide the broad spectrum of research capabilities we need. To do the latter, we incorporated institutes from Augsburg and Stuttgart. The founding members play a strong role in the current build-up phase. They support Carbon Composites with their infrastructure and personal resources. With a growing number of members, the Association will have its own infrastructure and employees, and so the dependence on the founding members will decrease.
JCM: Are you thinking of recruiting new members? What would be the ideal size and mix of skills for the Association?
DR SCHRÖDER: In the first four months of its existence, Carbon Composites has more than doubled the number of its members. I do not have something like an ideal size in mind. I think at least three factors will influence the final size. First, only organisations will be members, not persons. Second, the membership subscriptions will serve as a certain entrance barrier. The third factor is the region in which the Association will be active. It might be wise to keep this region somewhat restricted. Travel times, travel expenses and language barriers should be low in order to allow a fruitful collaboration of all members on different educational levels. At the end of the day, it may turn out that the core region of Carbon Composites will be Southern Germany, Northern Switzerland and Austria. This, not because of intentional restrictions, but because of practical reasons in the decision of organisations to join. On the other hand, national and international suppliers might find it attractive to join the Association despite larger travel distances, especially when they have strong technological connections to members in the core region.
Carbon Composites will be active along the entire value chain of industrial carbon fibre and carbon composites manufacturing. It will need skills in materials, processes and automation, and it will need members from industry, SMEs, research and education. In order to get cross fertilisation with ideas, different fields of application should be represented. The region of Augsburg is strong in aerospace and automation. At the time being, most of the members are active in these fields. However, Southern Germany also has a strong automotive industry. It is home to well-known brands like Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Porsche. Audi recently joined the Association. This will strengthen the importance of automotive applications in the future.
JCM: What projects will the Association carry out first? Have you already established an action plan?
DR SCHRÖDER: Working groups have been established on "materials & processes", "automation" and "education". These working groups identify, define and monitor projects.
Preform/resin infusion technology is the most important field of work. This technology is considered to be crucial by most of the industrial and academic members. Short- and medium-term projects on preform/resin injection technology already are under way. These type of projects are carried out in the framework of running programmes in order to reach common goals faster and with less resources. Long-term technology development projects are under definition. They are to be introduced into regional, national and European programmes. The long-term projects also will be centred on preform/resin infusion technology, with mechanization and automation being centres of gravity. Another "first" project is to offer a continued education programme in composite technology to the employees of Carbon Composites members. Building blocks that are available at different industrial and academic members will be brought together and offered to all members. Special needs coming from industrial or SME members will be fulfilled by special courses and seminars worked out and given by academic members of Carbon Composites. The programme will be organized by the local chamber of commerce, which is a founding member of the Association. It will start in autumn 2007.
JCM: What is the Association’s general philosophy?
DR SCHRÖDER: Maybe the general philosophy can be expressed by our slogan "Carbon Composites, the competence network".