Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Engineered Serendipity Shaping the Future

It is been a while, on March 2, 2017, the Economic Development Corporation Saxony (Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH) invited the press to their yearly press talk on the achievements of the past year and a lookout for the future.

Saxon State Minister for Economics, Labor and Transportation, Martin Dulig, SMWA, and Head of Wirtschaftsförderung Sachsen GmbH, Peter Nothnagel, welcomed the media and gave a broad overview of the activities and successes within the past year 2016. Despite the fact that the projects that the WFS facilitated a similar number of investments over the course of the year 2016 compared with 2015, the average invest volume was about half compared with that of the preceding year. Peter Nothnagel, "Auch kleine Projekte werden zu großen." (English: "Also small projects become large ones"). What at first sight might look as a not so positive outlook into the future might also be an early sign of focus shift from traditional industries towards advancing technologies. Such include space-related and exponential technologies such as additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing or AM) and other business fields that are massively impacted by the rising digitalization (e.g. e-Mobility, autonomous driving, life sciences, IIoT) and economic activities around emerging digital business models.

Extruder for probe picking
(prototype)
In general, it once more became clear that the WFS is a major "anchor point" between Saxony, its scientific communities, the established and emerging SMEs (though mostly small in size, nevertheless big at highest quality levels) in the region, and the international business community. The event took place at the headquarters of Hoch Technologie Systeme GmbH (HTS GmbH), a small yet unique supplier and service provider specifically for the aerospace, space and rail industry with 33 employees and currently led by its founder Dr. Wolfgang Göhler who had founded the company in 1996. One of the reasons not only the wide array of well-trained engineers streaming out of Dresden University of Technology (TU Dresden) but also the unique density of companies and a cluster in the field of aerospace in the region.

In 2016, HTS GmbH had its 20th anniversary of operations,  RUAG Space, the space division of the Swiss RUAG Group, had announced the take-over of HTS in order to build on their long-lasting business collaboration between the two companies which started in 2002 and has been successfully fulfilled projects around several space missions by ESA and players in the field. Quite surprisingly RUAG Space is involved in the project OneWeb. This ambitious project is supported also by serial entrepreneur and space enthusiast Sir Richard Branson and is aiming to position several hundred satellites around the Earth to provide internet connection to all regions of the world, especially remote ones as stated by Invest Switzerland on Twitter in late 2016.

from left: Dr. Axel Roenneke (RUAG Space), Dr. Wolfgang
Göhler, (HTS GmbH), Jakob Kania (Support Q GmbH),
Peter Nothnagel (WFS GmbH), Martin Dulig (SMWA)
As Dr. Axel Roenneke, VP Marketing & Sales of RUAG Space, stated at the press conference things are like to change dramatically in the space industry as it gets more industrialized.

Presently most of the equipment for space missions is small in number and unique, often made by craftsmanship. Whereas in the past building of a satellite took about nine months, processes, also supported by emerging additive manufacturing technologies in metal as well as in ceramics, now constructing three satellites per day (!) is one of the bold goals. Industrializing production processes, and keeping the highest standards is a challenge and an opportunity at the same time, bringing the relevance of lean (LAI, Lean Aerospace Initiative (1993-2012) by MIT), Industry 4.0 and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) into perspective. In this context, it is also worth to mention the conference on Industry 4.0 in Dresden, called "Industrie 4.0 - Sachsen stellt sich auf" (#SachsenIndustrie40).

During the event and afterwards it came up several times in personal conversations that the region, and especially Dresden with its legacy in material sciences, additive manufacturing expertise (the Fraunhofer Campus in Dresden is about to become a major research and applied research hub in the field)), the aerospace legacy and other technology fields may play a larger role than is presently visible in the space industry that is currently becoming more industrialized and scaling up. In this context, as scaling production processes need enlarged quality management efforts, Jakob Kania, founder and CEO of Support Q GmbH, was introduced. Support Q GmbH, based in the most eastern part of Saxony focuses on services enabling suppliers to deliver products, especially to the automotive industry to high-level quality standards. Jakob Kania had attended earlier last year a market research tour by WFS to Mexico where during one of the meetings during the tour a conversation with the head of the Mexican Automotive Supplier Association took place. This rather "unexpected" conversation pulled up a new potential market chance in Mexico where the automotive industry is currently scaling production, and with it as well as driven by rising production in the U.S. OEM plants, suppliers are coping with rising quality challenges with ramping production.

The key learnings from this press talk that might be useful for other industry leaders as well:
  1. take a long breath when working on something visionary (e.g. space technology)
  2. focus on core competencies and specific capabilities where you are a master in the field
  3. take opportunities (even when the outcome cannot be clearly defined)
  4. never underestimate the value of an organization or region due to its size and position 
  5. observe closely how industry reality shifts swiftly with exponential technology advancement

Update per 201-10-25
- Bauteile für Luft- und Raumfahrt aus dem 3D-Drucker, idw

Update per 2017-06-28 

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