Professor Haag, your Steinbeis Transfer Center for Applied Systems Analysis (STASA) celebrates is 20th anniversary in 2015. What made you decide to become self-employed and find the courage to enter the fast-paced ICT sector with your own Steinbeis Enterprise?
I knew at the time that I wanted to be my own boss, so I went to see Professor Löhn, who I’d already known for some time through my work as a consultant. I was interested to hear his thoughts about my business model. “Then start up your own Transfer Center,” was his advice, and we sealed it with a handshake. I’ve not regretted it for a single second since.
The name STASA and the topics we look at are based on the IIASA (International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis) in Laxenburg outside Vienna. I worked there for a number of years as a theoretical physicist in the field of “metropolitan studies” and “long waves in economy.” Lots of my international contacts go back to that time. I did a degree at Stuttgart University in theoretical physics and synergetics, and the interdisciplinary research projects I worked on laid the foundations for STASA. The scope of possible applications that the methods of systems analysis can be used in is extremely broad; it includes R&D areas such as economics, demographics, engineering, physics, geography and biology.
Your Steinbeis Enterprise offers its clients applied systems analysis – data analysis, modeling, simulation and the optimization of technical and socio-economic systems. What are the main areas your clients work in, that you connect with through your services?
Our goal is to make use of meaningful developments and research findings at the frontline of research – and thus safeguard competitive edge in terms of the know-how of our clients. To do this, we have to be actively involved in research ourselves, publish international papers and be part of a research network. To build the right know-how with the Steinbeis Enterprise and keep moving forward, you need a strong base of highly qualified, motivated and satisfied employees. Our clients value and trust us because we realize the stated objectives by carrying out their projects. This is primarily reflected in longstanding business contacts based on the systematic approach and standards of our work and the trust that’s invested in us.
One of STASA’s main areas of work is town and regional planning, strategic location auditing, and demographics and employment. In which direction do you think developments are headed in this area?
With the social sciences, macro-dynamic developments are actually a function of the decision-making processes (on the micro level) of individuals (agents). A multitude of individual decision-making processes – of different agents within the economic system – creates the microdynamics, even if the decisions of each individual are independent of one another and rational or irrational motivations play a role, as do external influences and people’s future expectations. Our emphasis on social science centers on the analysis, mathematical modeling and simulation of these kinds of decision-making processes, drawing on models we developed ourselves from the field of statistical physics. It doesn’t matter if it’s the analysis of population movements to predict population numbers, or the strategic analysis of a region, or traffic flows, or customer flows, it always revolves around the decision-making processes of people, households, working professionals, etc. Our work is about defining the right mathematical models for decision-making processes, in keeping with Einstein’s idea of making things as simple as possible, but not simpler – in other words, we try to reduce the information derived from data to the smallest possible number of significant but easy-to-interpret factors and graph this for our customers.
An important challenge in the future with the modeling of socio-economic processes will be that, in the long term, it will need a lot of support from information and communication technology (ICT). This will have an impact on the hyperbolic expansion of data (mass data) that comes with ICT in terms of timescales and locations. So we can assume that processes to compress data and graph essential facts will become more and more important in the future.
Another area of focus at your Steinbeis Enterprise is quality. You’ve developed a software package called STASA QC that helps improve the quality of finished parts, and, at the same time, reduce the number of faults. How does this software help small and medium-sized enterprises, especially with their projects?
Let me start with an example: to rig injection molding processes, work out the right machine set up, or optimize the quality of a component, SMEs typically still apply the standard method of trial and error. Systematic experimentation based on testing schedules is mostly considered too expensive and too complicated by the people doing the fitting, since the requirement is to ramp up production as soon as possible.
If the fitter finds a setting for the machine that generally fulfills quality guidelines, deviations in quality criteria are hurriedly adapted by adjusting tools. As a result, there are often quality problems later on in production because the production process is unstable. This unsystematic way of doing things has been overhauled for years, resulting in significant outlays since nobody can find a way to optimize the number of rejects (material efficiency), cycle times (energy efficiency) and quality, and bring everything into harmony. This was the background for STASA QC. The goal is to support experts in their work – they are under a lot of time and cost pressure. The mathematical processes that are introduced are fine-tuned to learn adaptively, making things a lot easier for the user. With fewer rounds of testing, which are suggested by the software, and a systematic and automatic evaluation of measurements, a connection is identified between the machine settings and different aspects of quality, i.e., product quality. As a result, the optimum machine setting can be worked out in terms of quality and cycle times, with indicators for process quality, and, in some cases, any necessary tool changes. We know from experience that STASA QC can reduce cycles times by between 5 and 20% versus previous processes, and the energy saving potential is as high as 15%, with significant reductions in time investments to optimize processes.
STASA QC is being used successfully in medical technology, the automotive supply industry, and production process with high throughput volumes, but small and medium-sized enterprises are not benefitting nearly as much as they could be from the software, especially when it comes to reacting to growing cost pressures. There are modules in the STASA QC software which of course can also be used in other areas, for example, in welding and adhesion processes, the production of hardboards, ceramic pressure casting, extrusion processes, painting processes – just to name a few.
Soon you’ll be looking back on 20 successful years. Looking forward, where do you think the challenges will lie?
Research, development and technology transfer will still be central to work and challenges at STASA. There’ll be more involvement in ICT applications and Web-based services, and this will move some of our work in a different direction. I have a good team so we’re geared well to future challenges.
Professor Dr. habil. Günter Haag is the director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center of Applied Systems Analysis (STASA) and managing director of Steinbeis Angewandte Systemanalyse GmbH (STASA GmbH). Both Steinbeis Enterprises work in the field of applied systems analysis and offer their clients services that include time series analysis, trend analysis, general statistical processes, network analysis and network optimization.
Professor Dr. habil. Günter Haag
Steinbeis Angewandte Systemanalyse GmbH (Stuttgart)