Ditzingen and Stuttgart, Germany - Publically funded projects involving companies and universities are one of the best ways of preserving and increasing Germany's innovative strength. For Volkmar Denner, CEO of Bosch, and Peter Leibinger, the deputy chairman of the Trumpf board of management, there is no doubt that this is true.
"This path can be a decisive one for German industry," Denner said in Ditzingen last week. He believes such alliances are a good way of translating the results of research into innovative products faster, and of securing their economic benefit for Germany.
As a positive example of such an alliance, associates from Bosch,Trumpf, and the University of Jena have been jointly nominated for the Federal President's Future Prize. The three partners have worked to develop ultrashort laser pulses, from basic research to application as a new tool in industrial mass production. These high-energy pulses can be used to drill extremely small holes in the hardest metals or to cut sapphires and diamonds.
They are fired at the material up to 800,000 times a second, ablating microscopically small surfaces. This gives rise to holes or incisions. Trumpf currently supplies some of the most powerful industrial lasers in the field. Bosch has already used the technology in its own industrial series production. Many of the basic principles behind this process are the result of work done at the University of Jena. The parties presented the technology to journalists last week. The winner of the award will be announced in Berlin on December 4. Two other teams are in the running for the federal president's prestigious award.
Speaking to journalists, Bosch laser expert Jens Konig said: "At Bosch, this technology is on the point of making its impact felt in huge production volumes." By the end of 2013, it will have been used to manufacture 30 million products at Bosch alone, he pointed out. "A three-fold increase is likely in the medium term."
One such product that has been especially successful is a fuel-saving gasoline injection system that uses 20 percent less gasoline. But the laser pulses can also be used to cut extremely hard glass for smartphones or to shape medical products such as stents.
Denner and Leibinger unanimously agreed that many of the fundamental principles behind the laser were set down years ago in the 'PRIMUS' and 'PROMPTUS' projects, funded by the Federal Ministry of Research. They added that one of the conditions for such funding is that the projects involve people from different disciplines who cooperate across subject boundaries. They feel that this plays a decisive role in generating new ideas for innovative products. "Such innovative strength is crucially important for our country. Politicians, society, and companies should never forget that," Denner said. "The joint nomination for the Future Prize is an especially good example of such collaboration."
A hair in a hole
Precise work on the smallest scale – one of the minute holes in a Bosch gasoline direct injection system. A human hair (approximately 100 microns thick) has been threaded into the hole to provide a size comparison. The very sharp edges and very smooth inside walls help to finely atomize the fuel. (Bosch drilled the hole into the metal using ultrashort laser pulses.) Courtesy: Bosch