Why are lightweight technologies important for Germany?
Lightweighting – i.e. lightweight construction, materials and design etc. – is of central importance for the competitiveness of German industry. Lightweighting leads to various cross-industry challenges such as the reorganization and controlling of the entire value chain over the entire life cycle of a product. At the same time, Lightweighting offers enormous potential and raises high expectations of its strong impact on German industry.
Lightweighting is a key technology that can contribute to resource efficiency and climate protection through weight reduction and functional integration, while improving product properties and customer benefits. Energy, raw materials and emissions can be saved, and value created in Germany through innovative materials and design, joining and manufacturing processes. In addition, digitalisation and innovative production strategies such as 3D printing and bionic products can open new markets for the future. As a result, Lightweighting ensures the long-term competitiveness of Germany as an industrial location.
How did the Lightweighting Initiative come about?
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy supports a cross-technology and efficient transfer of expertise between the various lightweighting stakeholders in Germany. The Lightweighting Initiative serves as a central contact point for German businesses. As the head of the division “Construction Industry, Lightweight Construction/New Materials, Resource Efficiency,” I’m responsible for the Lightweighting Initiative.
With a view to bringing together all the activities relating to this field, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has set up the Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office in Berlin. Part of the Lightweighting Initiative, the Coordination Office, financed by our Ministry, is a national and international networking hub and assists German businesses, particularly -medium-sized companies, as they implement lightweighting in their operations.
What are the goals of the initiative?
One of the main goals of the initiative is to strengthen the lightweight-relevant competencies in Germany. The Initiative supports German companies, in particular SMEs, in further developing Lightweighting as a key technology and supports cross-industry technology transfer.
The instruments are:
- Lightweighting Initiative Coordination Office – national and international networking hub for Lightweighting in Germany
- LEICHTBAUATLAS – Lightweighting Map interactive website for presenting and researching tailor-made Lightweighting expertise at www.leichtbauatlas.de
- Lightweighting Forum – Round table with representatives of industry, research, government and administration
- Information platform – Website of the Lightweighting Initiative to accelerate transfer of expertise and networking
- Strategy circle Lightweighting of Federal Organizations – is a strategy, material, industry and transnational strategy committee as the voice of all around the topic of lightweight construction committed federal states
- Advisory board of the Initiative Lightweighting – is a cross-material and cross-sector advisory body as the voice of the industry involved in lightweight construction
What does Germany need to do to further develop its ecosystem of lightweight products and services?
In 2020, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy plans to launch a technology transfer program for lightweighting. This funding program promotes cross-branch and cross-material knowledge and technology transfer concerning broad lifecycle assessment.
It is a logical continuation of the already successfully established Lightweighting Initiative of the Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy and aims to bring lightweighting into a broad range of industrial applications, as has been described above.
What new lightweight innovations do you see on the horizon? (Any particularly exciting projects you are watching?)
At the BMWi’s 7th Lightweight Construction Forum in September 2019 as part of the Lightweighting Initiative, various industry experts gave insights into their upcoming lightweighting innovations in the respective industry:
- The vision is a CO2-neutral fleet of new cars.
- The focus of lightweight construction is on developments specific to fibre composites (including bolt-free connections, system integration, 3D printing), energy management and extremely lightweight construction.
Rail vehicle construction:
- Rail transport is an example of very efficient electromobility. Nevertheless, the mass of rail vehicles has an impact not only on energy consumption, but especially on train and infrastructure wear. Therefore, lightweight structures in aluminium and steel are continuously being optimized.
- The importance of lightweight construction concerns three perspectives in particular: society (reduction of emissions), shipping company (availability, functions of means of transport) and industry (competitiveness).
- Current research and development examples are large composite structures, automated series production and multi-material compounds.
Mechanical and plant engineering
- Research examples are flexible and modular production solutions for hybrid components and the joining of metal-plastic components without adhesives.
- Lightweight construction solutions in residential construction are, in particular, for movable components (e.g. visual protection), temporary components (e.g. weather protection), components for improving the building physical properties as well as lightweight components for the creation of living space (e.g. storey extensions).
- Composite materials are used primarily in the medical field, among other things due to their low density, high stiffness and strength, simple sterilisation, biocompatibility and transparency.
- The main fields of innovation for lightweighting in medical technology are orthopaedics, plastic aesthetic surgery and dentistry.
Can you give any concrete examples of international investment in Leichtbau projects in Germany?
Lightweighting – i.e. lightweight construction, materials and design etc. – is of pivotal importance for the competitiveness of German industry. Lightweighting involves various cross-sectoral challenges such as the reorganization and the controlling of the entire value-added chain throughout the life-cycle of a product. At the same time lightweighting offers enormous potential, creating high expectations of the strong impact it will have on German industry.
In addition, Germany offers attractive factors for international investment in Leichtbau projects in Germany. A leading economy, high productivity, excellent professionals and excellent infrastructure are just some of them. Some examples of international investment and cooperation are listed below.
With the help of Germany Trade and Invest, for example, Faurecia has invested in Augsburg. Faurecia required a site in Germany close to German premium OEMs and internationally recognized partners active the field of fibre composite technology research and knowledge transfer (universities, research institutes, development companies). The company decided on the city of Augsburg, home to one of Europe’s leading carbon fibre lightweight construction technology centres with building blocks right along the entire value chain.
The presence of the Augsburg Innovation Park and the publicly operated Augsburg Technology Center with technology centre areas and extensive services provided a further attraction. Proximity to lightweight construction clusters – including the MAI Carbon Leading-Edge Cluster and Carbon Composites e.V. network – added further to the attractiveness of Augsburg as a location. The project has a planned duration of several years and a corresponding budget of several million euros. Between 10 to 15 employees will work on the project with external partners in the first two years.
The Sierra Nevada Corporation (USA) has selected Germany for the production of the Dornier 328 aircraft. The new subsidiary DRA GmbH will produce a short-haul aircraft at Leipzig / Halle Airport in the future. The creation of 250 jobs is planned.
The Transatlantic Cluster for Lightweighting supports international cooperation and networking between German and North American companies and research institutions. The aim is to bundle technical know-how for the development of innovative lightweight construction products with a unique selling point in R & D projects between Germany, the USA and Canada (www.traclight.de).