This year, the Löhn Award jury chose Eberhard Kallenbach, head of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Mechatronics in Ilmenau, to receive the 2008 Award of Honor from the Steinbeis Foundation. The jury honored his outstanding achievements, as well as his dedication to practical technology transfer from science to business. TRANSFER talked to Professor Kallenbach about locations, magnets in mechatronics, and what the future holds.
Professor Kallenbach, we’d like to start by congratulating you on winning the 2008 Löhn Award. Back in 1991, your Steinbeis Transfer Center was one of the first Steinbeis institutions to be founded in former East Germany. What motivated you to take this historic step?
Scientists from the Instrument Engineering department at Ilmenau University of Technology were running research projects in mechatronics more than twenty years ago – developing fast-acting solenoid actuators, automatic die bonders and alignment devices, just to name a few. These involved mechanical, electrical and control systems working closely with one another, creating innovative new products with unique selling points. After reading about us, leading companies such as Bosch, Bürkert and Mahle began working together with us in Ilmenau in the early 1990s.
Professor Löhn established the Steinbeis model for Transfer Centers – and Lothar Späth brought it to the state of Thuringia. Steinbeis gave me the chance to set up a business, in addition to my teaching and research activities as a university professor. Now we could develop products based on our research, sell them to industry, and use the money to fund new jobs – desperately needed at the time, because of the industrial restructuring of former East Germany. It was an excellent way of helping people to help themselves, which I and many of my colleagues were all too glad to make the most of. The Steinbeis Transfer Center for Mechatronics in Ilmenau now has 17 full-time employees dedicated to the development of innovative mechatronic products.
Location is a key issue currently on everyone’s lips. This isn’t something that seems to have worried you and your colleagues in Ilmenau: you’re firmly rooted in the region. What makes the Ilmenau area so special?
Ilmenau was definitely the right choice. We work closely with Ilmenau University of Technology, as well as the SMEs which have sprung up around the university campus. The advantages more than compensate for any negative factors. The support we receive from Steinbeis headquarters in Stuttgart is crucial, and has helped us avoid mistakes. The Steinbeis name alone has opened a lot of doors to companies throughout former West Germany, not just in the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Magnets are central to your work – in areas as diverse as drive technology and materials technology. What makes magnets so useful in mechatronics?
Electromagnets and solenoid actuators continue to form the backbone of our business. We have years of experience in this area – and are gaining more all the time. Drive engineering is being decentralized – meaning cars and machinery require more and more solenoid actuators. For us, this is good news. Another focus of our work is characterizing magnetic materials and actuators.
When it comes to supporting young people setting up their own business, your center sets a wonderful example. In 2001, you helped to found Innomas Innovative Magnetsysteme GmbH. How has the company fared since then?
Innomas, of which I am a partner, has moved on in leaps and bounds. The company took off rapidly and has become highly active, independent, and successful with little in the way of government subsidies. All of our projects are in the field of industrial predevelopment – everything from compiling task breakdowns to delivering test versions of products. So far, our customers have been very satisfied, and all of our projects have been within schedule.
As well as your work at Ilmenau University of Technology and running the Steinbeis Transfer Center, you’re also head of VERDIAN, a collaborative enterprise sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. What are its aims?
VERDIAN is a network for growth, a longterm partnership to ensure new companies receive the research and development support they need for the next 15 years. By bundling expertise, we put things in place for companies from the Rennsteig region to become leading global providers of linked magnetic direct drives. We unite top regional graduates from Ilmenau University of Technology. The network now includes 8 cutting-edge companies and 2 research institutes, and had above-average growth of 11% in its first two years.
A good 30 employees now work in the Steinbeis building in Ilmenau. Now you plan to defy current economic trends and create more jobs. What exactly are your next plans?
The Steinbeis building is getting crowded. We have 30 full-time employees, not counting the many part-time students and doctorate students. Four firms now share the building – STC Mechatronics, STC Quality Assurance and Image Processing, STC Spring Technology, and Innomas GmbH. My staff and I are convinced that there will still be high demand for high-performance solenoid actuators, especially ones that offer high dynamics and low energy consumption for quick integration into a wide range of applications. So we’re planning a new building with support from the state of Thuringia. This will allow us to take on more highly qualified staff, and ensure our solenoid actuators continue to live up to our motto – "Motion by innovation".
Eberhard Kallenbach is the director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center Mechatronics at Ilmenau University of Technology, which he founded in 1991. The center works primarily on electrical actuators, special electromechanical actuators, and electronic and magnetic technology. In the words of the Löhn Award jury, Eberhard Kallenbach “[…] has not only built bridges between science and business, but between east and west – stimulating the regional economy via transfer projects and his research and teaching work […]”. He has created tremendous opportunity for qualified young people in the region – not to be taken for granted these days. In addition to his work at the Steinbeis Transfer Center, Eberhard Kallenbach is also a university professor, doctoral supervisor, the author of several textbooks, a consultant for the German Research Foundation, and a member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering and its branch for the state of Saxony. He first won the Löhn Award in 2004 for a transfer project his center carried out with the firm MAHLE International GmbH.