The following is an excerpt.
It is a challenge to work closely with industry on the one hand and do basic research on the other. But it is also a strength, according to Frank Schäfer.
Basic facts first: Professor Dr. Frank Schäfer is a physicist and affiliated with the Institute for Earth and Environmental Sciences of the University of Freiburg. He is deputy director of the Fraunhofer Institute for High-Speed Dynamics, Ernst-Mach-Institut (EMI) in Freiburg, Germany. Also, he is head of the Fraunhofer business unit Space – and a representative on SFI CASA´s Scientific Advisory Board.
The Missing Link
In early September 2018 NTNU launched its much-discussed media campaign «Challenge Everything». Shortly after, CASA assembled its partners, the Board, the Scientific Advisory Board and core team in Oslo. During presentations, discussions and meetings they pinpointed some of the Centre’s main challenges:
- How to go from basic research to innovation?
- How to find the link between the academic and the industrial worlds?
- How to bridge the gap?
Difficult tasks. Nevertheless, Frank Schäfer thinks the way CASA operates today is very helpful in bridging the gap between the academic and the industrial worlds. He says that he really values the Centre´s close cooperation with its core industrial partners.
The latter introduces a certain pressure in order to fulfil the customer´s requirements. According to Schäfer, intense dialogue is important – and the right way to go.
«An important step forward is when customers and scientists understand the challenges and the scientists find solutions based on excellent research».
However, Frank Schäfer underlines the importance for scientists to also follow their own fundamental research interests. This will lead to new insights and methods, and eventually benefit industry.
Challenge – and strength
Just as in Norway, there is a strong push in Germany to establish new enterprises and spinoffs from research.
Fraunhofer EMI performs applied research. In close cooperation with the industry on the one hand, and with basic research on the other. Customers expect it all: Excellent research, high output in scientific publications, new research and new findings.
«It is definitely always challenging to be excellent in science and at the same time cooperate closely with industry. Industrial customers are primarily interested in responding quickly to the needs of the markets. Their expectation is to make innovative products based on our research. But, they cannot spend much time and effort on understanding all the science behind these solutions. For us researchers the situation is different: We do not need to understand in depth all market constraints of the customer. We need to do excellent science and combine this with a good understanding of the customer’s requirements. This is undoubtedly the foundation for better products».
CASA is in really good shape, and on track with its scientific and technical goals. The Centre has existed for 3 years and still has 5 years to go. That is enough time to generate a lot of innovations that are useful for the partners
«Identify the entrepreneurs early»
The professor points out that another way to fuel innovation is for engineering schools to prepare young researchers to become entrepreneurs at an early stage:
«Master’s and PhD theses can be the nucleus for small businesses. Either in material science, environmental technology, software or technical engineering. There is a lot of potential».
In Schäfer´s opinion it is easy to identify entrepreneurship in young people. «You can start early identifying the entrepreneurs and finding good candidates for startups later».
He sees the SFI scheme as a good tool. There is a strong research component, and it allows young people to meet and interact with industry. In turn industry shows considerable interest and support for the work such people are doing.
This has some similarity to how they operate in Fraunhofer EMI, and Schäfer thinks it ensures that the results of the work at the SFI are useful applications for its partners.
Next step: steel?
One of the main achievements of CASA is the «Virtual Lab for microstructure-based modelling and simulation of aluminium structures».
It is still in the making, but the idea is to obtain all parameters required for the design of a structure from lower scale analyses, thus making physical tests superfluous.
It is described as an enormous time-and-money-saving tool.
CASA´S Scientific Advisory Board has firmly supported the introduction of the Virtual Lab. They have stated that «It is of obvious benefit to the partners as a mechanism for speeding up and making the design process more accurate, particularly by using the NaMo module for aluminium alloys». The board also encourages the extension of this approach to relevant steels.
«We could be strong partners»
Fraunhofer EMI also deals with dynamic materials research. They have a substantial number of test facilities. Schäfer sees a strong overlap with CASA, especially in mesoscale and full-scale testing.
«However, we do not do research on the nanoscale. As a physicist I am very interested in this area of research. It is important to understand how the nanoscale influences the material processes at the macroscale».
He does not consider CASA to be a competitor. EMI and CASA are funded from different sources, and Schäfer encourages more cooperation: «It would be very beneficial to work together. We are both strong in research on the dynamic behaviour of materials and structures. We could be very strong partners in EU programmes. I hope that we can take a closer look at this together».
More innovations to come
So. What does he think will be the Centre’s main challenges – both in the short and long term?
«CASA is in really good shape, and on track with its scientific and technical goals. The Centre has existed for 3 years and still has 5 years to go. That is enough time to generate a lot of innovations that are useful for the partners».
He says that this certainly means continuing the dialogue with the partners from the core areas: the automotive and oil and gas industries as well as physical security.
The industrial partners are following the activities in the Centre closely through active participation and dialogue. This gives everybody in CASA the opportunity to intensify their work and increase their understanding of the needs of the partners.
New topics emerging
There are new topics emerging. Schäfer points out that work on the behaviour and modelling of joints with dissimilar materials is very interesting and highly relevant for the partners. There are challenges in joining steel and concrete, and other multi-material structures relevant for structures in the automotive and oil and gas industries as well as for the industry working with physical security.
«Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing of metals, is also a topic which might be of interest for CASA to work on in the future. This is interesting both from the scientific and application points of view», Frank Schäfer states.
PhDs give a lot of potential
He is impressed by the number of PhD candidates working in CASA. At the moment, there are 24 of them and they are all running parallel projects on what he calls the CASA topic.
«That really means a lot of potential. A PhD community with strong collaboration between the candidates is always favourable, and good for research. With such a large number there will be a lot of output in terms of future scientific findings from CASA that will benefit the industrial partners».