Dr. Wulf Brämer: Professional competence – concentrated in Materials Valley

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

DrThe 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.