One of the most successful ways of passing on professional knowledge and combining it on a regional basis is to form knowledge clusters. In the past, these clusters developed as a result of the regional establishment of companies and universities. Nowadays theses clusters are being formed deliberately by institutes of all kinds in order to promote the exchange of knowledge and expertise within industry and between industry and universities. The products and the newly developed process know-how that result from this context usually correspond to the highest technological standards, “radiate” out onto other companies and often cause these to join the knowledge cluster.
The materials technology network Materials Valley e. V. is such a knowledge cluster. Its members include long-standing companies that have “grown up” with the Rhine-Main region such as the Hanau stainless steel and technology group Heraeus, the special chemicals company Evonik, the catalytic converter manufacturer Umicore, the pharmaceuticals group Merck, the technology company Vacuumschmelze and the special glass manufacturer Schott.
The significance of materials technology for the Rhine-Main area is emphasized by its cooperation with the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Materialkunde (German Materials Science Society, or DGM) in Frankfurt am Main. The society is a member of the Germany-wide competence network “kompetenznetze.de” of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, and hence an important element in the competence network in the Rhine-Main region. In forming Materials Valley, the region has reacted to increasing globalization, which leads to regionalization and a bundling of resources in the area of business and science.
The Rhine-Main region has a concentrated accumulation of qualified and well-trained skilled employees in a wide range of disciplines (scientists, engineers and technicians) as well as research facilities which specialize in materials technology. The complexity of this area of work manifests itself in the structures and size of the companies in this field. While major company groups often cover a wide range of materials and technologies, small and medium-sized companies often specialize in certain materials and technologies and, independent of their size, have achieved a leading position on the world market.
High tech from Hanau. The competence fields in Materials Valley are as complex as the member companies. The competence fields range from electronics, magnetic materials, nanotechnology, metal powders, precious and special metals, thin-layer materials, liquid crystals, gases, catalytic convertor technology, quartz glass and special glass, fuel cell technology, dental materials, fibre optics and rubber/polymers up to plastics. The Materials Valley e.V. society has set itself the goal of maintaining and continuing to develop the almost unique (in this form) concentration of technological competence in the Rhine-Main region.
Hanau member companies in Materials Valley can shine with the finest high tech and know-how. For example, the Umicore Group is a leader on the world market as a manufacturer of exhaust-purification systems and catalytic convertors for the automotive industry. Vacuumschmelze GmbH is a leader in the development, manufacture and use of magnetic materials and has a wide range of high-quality semi-finished products, parts, components and systems, which are used in many different areas and branches of industry, from watches to aircraft manufacturers.
Many world-record magnets come from this Hanau magnet maker. Whether precious metals such as platinum and gold, special metals such as niobium and tantalum, sensors, dental products and bio-materials, as well as quartz glass or special light-sources – industrial and medical products from the worldwide family-owned company Heraeus can be found in all aspects of everyday life, such as catalytic convertors and temperature sensors for motors, quartz glass for telecommunications and microchip production, filling materials for natural aesthetics and longevity, high-performance ultra-violet spotlights for water-purification, infra-red spotlights for industry and temperature sensors for the steel industry.
Competence from professional seminars. A long-term goal of the Materials Valley e.V. society is the creation of a new culture of innovation both in manufacturers and in member institutes. This includes the expansion of existing knowledge networks to a long-term research network of alliances between scientific institutes and companies in the region as well as between companies as a basis for cooperative schemes and joint research and development. The quickly increasing need for innovative products demands a rethinking in the research scene and in the cooperation between universities and companies and between individual companies.
In professional circles, the Materials Valley competence network has gained a firm place in the appointments calendars of major decision makers with lectures and workshops from companies, research centres and universities. Apart from passing on expert knowledge and meeting professional colleagues, the events, such as the Materials Forum, which is held eight times a year, make it possible in particular to extend personal contacts. Workshops focus on debating major areas of concern and current issues from industry and are oriented mainly to a professional public.
The author studied chemistry in Münster and worked at the Max-Planck Institute in Stuttgart until obtaining his PhD in 1977. Subsequently, he joined the R&D department of Heraeus Kulzer GmbH, where he was promoted to head of department in 1985. Today, Dr Brämer is Managing Director of Materials Valley e.V. and supports the innovation management of Heraeus.