An interview by Isa Hofmann with Werner Loscheider, Head of Division for Construction Industry, Lightweight Construction/New Materials, Resource Efficiency (IVB4) at the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action about the lightweighting initiative that he initiated and that he is constantly carrying forward.
Isa Hofmann: Which expectations does the Federal Ministry have with regards to the Lightweight Initiative since its incorporation in 2015 and which developments took place in the meantime?
Werner Loscheider: Networking has been and continues to be crucial in lightweighting, which is a horizontal technology. In Germany, this first meant cooperation across as many industries and on as many materials and production methods as possible. Today, international networking is increasingly gaining importance. Lightweighting is a global opportunity and climate action is a global challenge. These are two sides of the same coin.
However, the Lightweighting Initiative has long ceased to be a mere networking concept. We have created an entire toolbox to help this sustainable technology thrive. For instance, we have established the Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office, which serves as a key point of contact for interested stakeholders from business, science and government. We also have our Lightweight Technology Transfer Programme (TTP LB), various networking tools such as the Lightweighting Atlas and a number of conferences, including the Lightweighting Summit, which is embedded in the HANNOVER MESSE trade fair. A strategy advisory board has been initiated to serve as an advisory body for the Lightweighting Initiative. This year, we also launched a joint stand entitled ‘Sustainable Lightweighting – Made in Germany’ to be showcased at trade fairs. It serves as an important new tool in our work to promote foreign trade and investment.
I.H.: Which were the decisive steps to let the initiative gain momentum?
W.L.: Lightweighting brings together the three dimensions of sustainability – economy, ecology, and social aspects. Lightweighting creates opportunities for industrial GDP growth, promotes climate action and the protection of resources, and creates innovative jobs.
At the same time, the lightweighting community generates much-needed impetus and fresh ideas. Despite the heterogeneous nature of the lightweighting community, the focus is on a shared goal: harnessing potential to the full. This is what makes the Lightweighting Initiative so successful.
Forum Leichtbau © Initiative Leichtbau
Which are the outstanding game changing characteristics of lightweighting?
W.L.: Lightweighting is increasingly being recognised as a driver for climate action and the protection of resources, and being associated with highly skilled jobs and highly innovative companies. As lightweighting combines with digitisation and bionics, this opens up new, forward-looking markets. Digital product development and cost- efficient production go hand in hand with a responsible and sustainable use of resources and energy.
In which areas lightweighting is playing an important role currently?
Lightweighting is already in use in many areas today. The innovations are being driven by aerospace and the automotive and transport sectors. Each kilogram saved means an extra kilogram of payload. Also, if the weight of a car is reduced by 100 kilograms, its fuel consumption will fall by approx. 0.5 litres per 100 kilometres. In the case of an Airbus A 320, 100 kilograms less weight means almost 10,000 litres less kerosene per aircraft and year. But the technology is also taking on an ever more important role in the construction sector, sports and leisure, the maritime industry, the energy industry and in medical engineering.
To set the goals for the future the lightweight initiative has established a strategy advisory board. Who is part of this board and which are the preconditions and selection criteria to become a member?
W.L.: The strategy advisory board of the Lightweighting Initiative is an advisory body that covers a broad range of materials, methods, procedures, industries, and German states. It welcomes new members representing materials and focal areas that have so far not been included. We also have the German Metalworkers’ Union (IG Metall) on board. I would assume that, as we move forward, the highly important fields of climate action, the protection of resources and sustainability will become even more prominent within the advisory body.
The Lightweighting Forum is organizing regular meetings like “round table talks”. Are they taking place on a national or transnational level?
W.L.: Round table talks are organised by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action on a regular basis. The Lightweighting Forum is a platform for an efficient transfer of expertise across different technologies and between the various stakeholders at federal level. The Forum focuses on technology trends, the activities of the Federal Government and the German states, and the opportunities and risks associated with foreign markets.
Furthermore, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action organises the annual Lightweighting Summit, which takes place during the HANNOVER MESSE trade fair. This is a political highlight that has an international impact. On the agenda of this top-level international forum with policy-makers, business representatives and researchers are the importance of lightweighting, the competition situation in different countries, and improved European networking in the field of lightweighting.
During your presentation on the occasion of the JEC Forum DACH you mentioned the internationalization plan. Which are the major steps foreseen in the near future and how the rest of the world will be involved?
W.L.: For the Lightweighting Initiative to continue to have a lasting international impact, it must be better incorporated into the context of European cooperation. This is why the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action has initiated an annual European network event on lightweighting. Representatives of the national ministries responsible for lightweighting in the EU Member States, representatives of the European Commission and from business and science discuss possibilities for cross-border cooperation on lightweighting.
A key role in international networking is to be played by the digital Lightweighting Atlas, which is available in English and allows companies to engage with each other across national borders. There are already close to 1,000 companies and scientific institutions using this digital networking tool. This shows how useful and interesting the Lightweighting Atlas is for businesses in Germany and beyond.
This year, lightweighting as a key-enabling technology will also be showcased to global audiences at a joint stand on ‘Sustainable Lightweighting – Made in Germany’ that will feature at various trade fairs, e.g. in Japan, China, and the U.S. The joint stand had its first appearance at the Automotive Lightweight Technology Expo in Tokyo in mid-January this year.
We have launched a multiannual Market Entry Programme on mobility with South Korea. This is a new tool of our work to promote foreign trade and investment. It provides for the continuity required over several years on lightweighting markets that are highly interesting, but also challenging.
The final new component of our work to internationalise the Lightweighting Initiative is our Lightweighting Radar: it is designed to continuously monitor national, European, and global stakeholders in lightweighting and gain relevant information on their activities. The plan is to use this information to make recommendations on strategic business partnerships, on attending trade fairs and events, on other international activities, and on how to implement all of these.
Lightweighting technologies and Industry 4.0 applications in companies go hand-in-hand. In which way synergy are created on the offical platforms of the Federal Government?
W.L.: The ongoing digital transformation is resulting in new expectations and requirements at all levels of the value chain. As this affects every industry, it is also of great importance for lightweighting. The series of workshops on the Lightweighting Strategy of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action has already highlighted the common elements of lightweight construction and Industrie 4.0.
ZIM – the central innovation programme for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s), is another crucial initiative of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. In which way is it linked to the technology transfer program Lightweighting?
W.L.: In launching the Lightweight Technology Transfer Programme (TTP LB), we have created a tool that perfectly combines with the existing funding programmes of this ministry and other ministries. Complementarity with existing funding programmes, such as the Central Innovation Programme for SMEs (ZIM) is ensured by a strong focus on applications that are close to the market, on climate action and on sustainability, combined with a transfer of expertise and technology along the lightweighting value chain. Unlike the Central Innovation Programme for SMEs, the Lightweight Technology Transfer Programme (TTP LB) is also open to large corporations and offers larger volumes of R&D funding.
Lightweighting is of essential importance for key sectors including the automotive and aviation industries. Beyond this, it offers potential for increased competitiveness and resource efficiency in other industries and for new fields of application. Whilst Germany is in a strong position in several key fields of research, development and technology, it is lagging behind in terms of patent applications and transfer activities in lightweighting. The Lightweight Technology Transfer Programme of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action helps address these shortcomings.
Could you give us an insight in the funding budget for the upcoming years and advise composites industry partners how to tie in with innovative ideas and projects?
W.L.: Currently, there is €73 million available in annual funding under the programme. The future budget is still being negotiated; we will have to wait and see what will be possible.
Under the TTP LB, innovative ideas that have recognisable market potential can be introduced on 1 April or 1 October of each year. The programme is open to industry- driven approaches from the field of experimental development (technology readiness level higher than 4). Cross-sectoral approaches that have strong potential for transfers stand the best chances of receiving funding. On account of the fact that the programme is financed from the Energy and Climate Fund, eligible projects must make a relevant contribution to the Federal Government’s sustainability and climate targets. This must also be demonstrated in the application. In the case of composite materials, recycling and re-use after end-of-life should also be addressed. We recommend that applicants use the advisory services of Project Management Jülich before submitting drafts.
In which way the corona pandemic affected the TTP? Did it rather slow down or speed up activities?
W.L.: It is likely that the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic will force companies to reduce their research and development expenditures. However, experience teaches us that innovative companies are much more resilient to crises and do not reduce their workforces to the same degree as other companies.
Nevertheless, the COVID-19 crisis is forcing countless companies to be extra creative in product development.
The TTP LB programme has been launched in April 2020, during the first phase of COVID-related restrictions. Despite this, the programme was received well by companies, especially SMEs. That said, we do see the challenges: first, companies are asking for higher rates of funding due to their economic situation; second, they are affected by fast-rising prices for materials and by supply shortages. There are highly dynamic changes in the value chains, resulting in a greater focus on resource efficiency and recycling.
What are the most promising fields of lightweighting as far as materials, technologies, production processes and application areas are concerned?
W.L.: Lightweighting is of crucial importance for the competitiveness of many sectors and the thorough modernisation of Germany’s industrial sector. It involves a whole new level of complexity as the entire value chain needs to be organised and controlled across the whole lifecycle of a product. The fundamental changes associated with this mean that workflows and the way our work is organised are being radically transformed.
An important driver of innovation in lightweighting is the field of car and vehicle manufacturing. Mechanical engineering and the construction sector also generate much-needed momentum. There are highly promising ideas on functional integration, digitisation, automation, process chains and on how to make use of bionics. Also in demand are holistic lightweighting approaches based on closed recycling loops for new materials and ideas on how to improve energy and resource efficiency.
However, lightweighting is a horizontal technology that cannot be reduced to individual materials, technologies, production methods or fields of application. Its true potential is to offer innovative, bespoke lightweight solutions that are targeted to individual needs.
What is your personal vision or dream for the future of lightweighting and how this key enabling technology could change the world to the better?
W.L.: Germany is already well-positioned in the field of lightweighting. My hope is for strong European cooperation in this field, which would help harness the full potential of lightweighting. Lightweighting is an important catalyst for the decarbonisation of the European economy and can make a significant contribution to the objectives set out in the EU Green Deal and to the ambitious national climate targets defined by the Federal Government. Close cooperation within the lightweighting community generates important expertise. An efficient transfer of expertise and technology at European level can help bring these new discoveries to application within a short time. This not only creates new jobs, it also brings sustainable economic activity to a whole new level.