Martin Proba: Automotive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar – Networking for the supplier industry

The Rhine-Main-Neckar region is an im­­portant location for the automotive in­­dus­­try. 100,000 people directly or indirectly work in the automotive sector in the greater region. Many automobile companies manage their activities in Germany from the region: Opel, Seat and Škoda are among the European manufacturers, and the Asian brands include Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Mitsubishi and Suzuki. In Mannheim, Daimler’s bus division operates a large plant and the city is also home to John Deere’s largest European tractor plant. A large number of renowned suppliers are also represen­t­ed in the region: Continental in Frank­furt is one of the region’s largest employers, while Umicore can claim this distinction in Hanau, and technology produced by Freudenberg in Weinheim can be found in nearly all Western European automobiles. In addition, a wide range of small to medium-sized suppliers are at home in the region, which provide innovations, in part as market leaders, in their respec­­tive market niches: Curocon and Syn­­ventive in Bensheim, KLN Ultraschall in Heppenheim or Autoneum (formerly Rieter) in Roßdorf.

The Automotive-Cluster RheinMain­Neckar (www.automotive-cluster.org) is active along the entire automotive value chain and currently has 600 mem­bers. As a business cluster, it bundles the re­­gion’s know-how and promotes competitive cooperation. The cluster sees itself as a platform for establishing con­tacts bet­­ween companies from the region, as well as at a cross-national level, and supports the dialogue between bus­­iness, research, government and admin­is­tra­tion. The focus is on engineering. The engin­­eering service providers Bert­randt and EDAG have been supporting the cluster since its beginning. Several automa­kers have established their Euro­pean tech­nol­ogy and develop­ment centres in the Rhein-Main-Neckar region, fore­­­most Opel, but also Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Mitsu­bishi. However, the research and devel­op­ment capacities of the TIER1­suppliers, such as Conti­nental or Umi­core, are very diverse. The Auto­mo­­tive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar supports the cooperation between suppliers so that companies can maximise their potential – if not alone, then together. This can help win market shares, which have particularly remained out of reach for small and medium-sized businesses with their own, limited resources. In addi­tion, the cluster benefits from the excellent science-ba­sed infrastructure. The RheinMain and Darmstadt Univer­sity of Applied Sciences, as well as the Tech­ni­sche Universität Darm­stadt, possess a high de­­­gree of competence in vehicle con­­struc­tion. Further­more, the region’s Fraun­hofer Institutes, particu­larly the Fraun­hofer Insti­tute for Struct­ural Dura­bility and System Reliability LBF, deal with automobile-related issues.

 

Networking science and business. The cluster sees itself as an intermediary between business and science. This is successful because the network receives scientific advice from Prof. Dr. Birgit Scheppat of the RheinMain University of Applied Sciences. This allows bringing together the interests of companies and researchers quickly and easily. The cluster in particular supports smaller companies by assisting, together with contacts at scientific institutions, in finding suitable research partners. It also works together with experts from the Chamber of Indus­try and Commerce (IHK) Darmstadt in advising on legal or financing issues.

Networking between suppliers. However, the initiators of the Automotive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar, IHK Darmstadt and the Business Development Board of the Groß-Gerau district, had anticipated an easier and above all quicker realisation of the networking of supply companies. Today, in 2013 – ten years after launching the cluster – the initiators are well aware that many of the companies in the cluster work together closely. Many aspects are subject to confidentiality agreements between the clients. Mutual familiarity and trust form the basis for the close co­­operation. Automotive companies in the cluster take advantage of the cooperation database and the cooperation exchanges, which the cluster organises for its members. The exchanges boast a very high success rate: these contacts have provid­ed the foundation for long-term business relationships for nearly 60 per cent of the participants. Five per cent of the partici­pants even sign agreements during these meetings. International relationships are established thanks to the networking with other European clusters. The automo­tive cluster from Konya in Turkey is a frequent guest, as are the supplier networks from Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Birming­ham and Derbyshire in Great Britain, from Haute-Normandie in France or the mem­bers of the automotive cluster in Slovenia.

 

Quantum leap in cooperation: project circles. So-called project circles were es­­t­ab­lished in the cluster in 2010. Here, ex­­perts from various companies dedicate themselves across company borders to very special issues related to the automo­bile supply industry. Electrical drives are a topic along with automation, project man­a­gement or the need for skilled work­ers. By concentrating on one issue, and the fact that this involves closed groups, the cluster creates even better conditions for bringing together cross-company com­­­petencies and interdisciplinary knowledge. The members of the Automotive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar are convinced that this collaborative, trusting cooperation beyond the daily competition has a future. Along­side all the detail projects, several mem­bers got together and compiled a draft for an electromobility concept for rural areas. An electric vehicle represents the nucleus. However, an initial master plan covering development to production and mainten­ance has been formulated in which regen­erative energy generation also plays a major role. Current discussions with potential users focus on implementation opportunities.

 

Forum-bei-Opel-1-Kopie

Future opportunities provided by the cluster. The proven practice of a trusting cooperation within the cluster represents an excellent basis for mastering future challenges. The “mutual knowledge” makes it possible to tackle technological issues and develop solutions within the network. The topic concerning the need for skilled workers can also be handled better in a cluster than in a single company. An attrac­tive network offers its skilled workers a wide range of opportunities. This is in addition to the attract­ive location factors of the Rhein-Main-Neckar region, such as engineering science competence at the highest level, highly qualified skilled workers, an ex­­cellent transport infrastructure (roads, railways, air and water) as well as the extraordinary quality of life.

The Automotive-Cluster RheinMain­Neckar will in future continue to stand for quality workmanship made in Ger­many, which has its roots in a strong network, and a re­­gion known for its long tradition as a bus­iness location, cos­mopolitanism and quality of life.

 

Proba-1-KopieThe author was born in Straubing in 1965 and as an officer studied Eco­no­mics and Organizational Science in Ham­burg. Since 1995, he has worked for the Cham­­ber of Industry and Com­merce (IHK) Darm­stadt and heads the business areas Business Start-Up and Sup­port as well as International Affairs. He was one of the co-initiators of the Auto­motive-Cluster RheinMainNeckar in 2003.