Professor Köhler, in 1992, many challenges and issues brought on by German reunification were waiting to be tackled. But you didn’t beat about the bush. You founded the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Jointing Technology at today’s University of Jena. How did you know this was the road to take back then?
It was truly a time in which a lot of what we were facing was new to us. The University of Jena had reorganized its departmental structure, a change that also had an impact on the technical sciences department. I had just been named dean of this particular school, and this was right when Lothar Spath first visited Jena. There was a meeting in which Spath committed to keeping the technical sciences at the university; unfortunately, those efforts weren’t successful. Today, I often joke, “Spath showed up too late!” But it was this visit that introduced me to people at the Steinbeis Foundation. I was immediately won over by the idea of Steinbeis and I knew then and there that I would found a Transfer Center. The new institute, ifw – actually an outsourced version of my endowed chair at the University of Jena – was like nothing of its kind at the time. It’s an idea that has stood the test of time. Even today, we’re enjoying success.
After 15 years of success in working on projects at your STC, you decided in 2009 to found a German limited liability company within the Steinbeis Transfer Network. What prompted this decision?
Having Steinbeis as a partner member means closer ties between the ifw and the Transfer Center. My STC was responsible for most of the work in putting research results into practice within the industry – especially for real production assignments. In founding the company, we also wanted to promote Thur- ingia as a business region and give employees a greater sense of opportunity. But our company remains part of the trusted Steinbeis Transfer Network, and we’re delighted to showcase that brand and contribute to its success.
Today, you run both companies out of Jena. You also have sites in the Czech Republic and Estonia. What do you want to accomplish with these locations?
Both Centers have partners in multiple German states. And we’ve even launched some activities outside Germany – in the Czech Republic and Estonia. But we believe that there are even more opportunities in those two areas to support technology transfer in line with Steinbeis principles. I’d like to help my associates there get all the support they need.
Jointing, welding and laser technology is an essential part of today’s production technology. What are some of the technological challenges you’re working on right now?
Jointing technology is an interdisciplinary technology that shows up in all types of industries. Here in Jena, we have a saying about this: “from micro to macro.” We’re also confronted with all kinds of jointing issues for various materials, whether metal, glass or ceramic. We’re always looking for new solutions and ways to advance and apply them. Naturally, we don’t offer every service associated with jointing technology; the spectrum of welding, soldering and bonding is extremely broad. One thing we focus on is processing that uses a beam, such as lasers and water jet cutting.
Aside from your scientific endeavors, you hold several honorary positions and are involved with an organiza- tion that helps the mentally handicapped and their families. You also run a seminar on wrought ironwork – and you’ve even written a short series of books, Art & Technology, in the Steinbeis-Edition. What else do you have planned for your most un-retiring retirement?
Humans are such complex creatures. For me, working in areas that aren’t really connected to my profession is equally engaging and compelling – and I find that these activities actually do have an impact on my profession. And it’s fun to work together with other people to contribute to art and culture. I had all of my schooling in Weimar, and the city had a profound effect on me. Art and culture are part of the fabric of Weimar, and you can also see how science and technology are present. Part of Weimar is also Buchenwald, the concentration camp – it’s on the city’s outskirts. I feel I need to do something so something terrible like this can never happen again. But my goals? Well, I want to do something to stay in shape. There are some books I’ve been wanting to read. And I’d like to work together with the citizens of Kadaˇn, the city of my birth in the Czech Republic, to establish something and help the people of Europe make Europe just a little bit better.