October 31, 2012    Volume 19, No. 17

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A Strategic Global Manufacturing Technology Vision Is Central To Germany's Economic Development And Export Plan

By Richard A. McCormack

STUTTGART, Germany -- There is no lack of strategic vision for manufacturing in the country called Germany.

The German Fraunhofer Institute has initiated a large-scale program to make sure German manufacturing companies remain as global leaders in producing a new generation of radical and innovative products aimed for use in sustainable cities.

The applied manufacturing research organization has developed a strategy for developing the products and systems necessary to create cities that produce nearly zero CO2 emissions. Driving the program is the knowledge that two-thirds of all humans will soon be living in megacities with more than 4 million inhabitants. Almost all of those cities will be located outside of Germany.

"In all sectors, revolutionary changes will take place," says the Fraunhofer Institute. "We are in the middle of a technology jump transforming our lives."

Fraunhofer wants to make sure German companies are on the forefront of those changes. It has assigned 10 of its 60 institutes to work with German manufacturing companies at developing clean and sustainable technologies that would be exported to major markets worldwide. It has created a "Vision for Tomorrow's Cities" program that would "offer the highest quality of life for all inhabitants" by having cities become highly energy and resource efficient, that intelligently network all of their systems and that would be "an expression of a post fossil society."

Fraunhofer says it has the ability to put German industry into the driver's seat. Its biggest centers are affiliated with major universities, providing professors and students conducting basic research with an avenue to transfer their ideas into an applied research environment. It has a budget of $2.6 billion, with one-third of that amount ($866 million) coming from the German government and the remainder from manufacturers hiring it to work on commercial product and process development and in training workers in the latest manufacturing production systems.

It has the power to bring Germany's strategic manufacturing vision to fruition. Between 2008 and 2009, the 60 Fraunhofer Institutes added 3,000 researchers to their total staff. "We at Fraunhofer have clear research results," says its president Hans-Jorg Bullinger. "We have a worldwide recognized model of research and application."

The "Vision for Tomorrow's Cities" project focuses on the production of renewable energy within the urban landscape. "We want to rebuild nearly the complete energy system for the country," Bullinger told the 400 delegates at the World Manufacturing Forum held in October.

The German federal government has developed an "Action Plan for 2020 High-Tech Strategy." Fraunhofer is leading the so-called "Morgenstadt," or "Cities of the Future" portion of the initiative that involves three German cities to serve as test beds for sustainable and innovative products manufactured by German companies. It has at least 52 other institutes and organizations involved and has opened the project to enterprises (for 75,000 euro) and cities and non-government organizations (for 37,500 euro).

German companies are already focused on exports and will need to be in the future, since Europe's population is the slowest growing in the world. (Germany ranked third in the world in merchandise exports in 2011 at $1.47 trillion, a fraction behind United States in second place at $1.48 trillion. China was well ahead of both countries with merchandise exports of $1.9 trillion.)

Europe's population is expected to grow by only 3 percent, from 526 million in 2005 to 546 million in 2030. The biggest markets for German goods will be outside of Europe. Asia's population is projected to grow by 70 percent between 2005 and 2030, from 1.553 billion to 2.637 billion. Africa's population is projected to double between 2005 and 2030 to 742 million. The U.S. population is projected to increase by 30 percent to 347 million by 2030; South and Latin America will experience a 40 percent increase in population, to 609 million.

Fraunhofer is working with German companies on developing products and manufacturing processes that address major challenges facing "megacities" including low-emission and low-noise transportation technologies, "low-loss" decentralized energy generation systems, sustainable production technologies, affordable health care, environmental and climate protection technologies, new buildings, and information and networking technologies that allow for dialogue between authorities and citizens. "What we learned from the research community is that it has to be a systems approach," says Bullinger. "We need engineers, economists, computer scientists, architects and social scientists to understand how the development goes."

Among it many projects, Fraunhofer is looking at how to design sustainable factories that produce all of the technologies that would enable such cities to exist. These factories would be both noise- and emissions-free so that they can be located in the middle of cities close to workers, research centers, suppliers and markets. They would be equipped with the most advanced automated mechanical machinery that is based on knowledge systems and utilizing the latest information and communications technologies. Such systems would enable all of the equipment to interact not only within the plant itself but throughout the entire supply network. Workers would be able to tap into the production system from any location, allowing them to work in real time from off site. "We have started here in Stuttgart," says Bullinger. "We put a factory back into a living environment and we have no complaints from the people living around it."

Fraunhofer and its partners are developing numerous technologies that increase the efficiency of supply chains and logistics, including "RFID gloves" equipped with transponders so that people packing and unpacking crates, pallets or trucks will transmit data in real time directly into computer databases and tracking systems without having to manually enter or scan packages or boxes.

It has developed image positioning systems with multiple cameras that provide offsite personnel with an unhindered "complete image" of conditions on a factory floor, at large storage facilities and even in shopping malls. It is using these virtual cameras to create "image-based situation control" to provide a "virtual top-view estimation of density of individual flow." This can be broadened into a city-wide application in which there is a need to plan for evacuations in crisis situations, providing citizens with clear messages as to where and when to proceed out of harm's way. Fraunhofer is developing "robust algorithms through the concept of the virtual bird's eye view," says the research group.

In the area of green automobile production, Fraunhofer has set a goal of developing electric traction vehicles with a low-energy motor and the use of lightweight materials throughout the vehicle. With its industrial partners and university research associates, it is developing wheel hub motors, battery systems and charging stations. It has set specific goals of reducing the weight of a camshaft by 50 percent and a crankshaft by 25 percent. It wants to increase the utilization of materials in a pressing plant by 75 percent, reduce energy consumption in the manufacturing process by 20 percent and increase efficiency of the automotive powertrain by 5 percent "through friction power minimization."

It is developing four-cylinder automobiles with the same performance characteristics of an eight-cylinder vehicle. The smaller engine reduces a vehicle's weight by 220 pounds and by an additional 110 pounds by having less cubic capacity and the need for a smaller fuel tank and brakes, since less weight means less inertia. Using lightweight, recycled materials such as aluminum, magnesium and carbon-fiber reinforced polymers will further reduce a vehicle's weight by 440 pounds. "Our cars will be mostly driven in megacities, so we have to have products that fit the specific demands of those megacities," says Bullinger.

The Clean Cities strategy includes an engineering-intensive effort to develop closed-loop product development cycles that involve the recycling of raw materials. Fraunhofer notes that there are up to 30 different functional metals in a mobile phone and 50 in a personal computer.

It is developing solutions for hybrid urban energy storage systems using "the city as a battery." It wants to develop low-voltage buildings that use energy-efficient local DC networks, microgrids and an "inductive charging infrastructure." Buildings themselves need to be "rethought," says the Fraunhofer vision. The goal is to build sustainable, "energy surplus" buildings throughout cities.

Industry currently uses half of the electricity generated in Germany, and Fraunhofer wants to reduce that substantially. For instance, the cost of energy and lubrications account for more than one-third of the cost of running a machine tool, it notes.

Those involved in the Future Cities initiative will start assessing sustainable urban best practices among six of the world's top cities: Singapore, Copenhagen, New York, Berlin, Freiburg and Tokyo. "During the seven-months between January and July 2013 we will analyze the approaches within these cities and learn about the interconnection of single urban solutions and the city system as a whole," says Fraunhofer. "An interdisciplinary team of five to seven Fraunhofer experts will travel to each city, talking to local experts, visiting best practice cases and finding out about active factors that explain the cities' success in terms of sustainability." It will share the results with its industrial sponsors and its network of applied researchers and workers.

Fraunhofer uses a quote attributed to Charles Darwin to motivate its German forces: "It is not the strongest of the species, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the fastest and most adaptable to change."

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