“United we are strong”

A discussion with Professor Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Wehl

Professor Wehl, as director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technical Consulting at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, you now head up one of the longest standing and still most successful enterprises in the Steinbeis Network. In a strongly growing area like Heilbronn- Franken, it’s particularly important to bolster market knowledge and technology transfer through consulting and applied R&D. What do you see as the key areas of focus for the work of your Steinbeis transfer center?

The Steinbeis Transfer Center of Technical Consulting at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences thrives on skills excellence and the strong ties between its employees and industry. The transfer center currently has 16 project managers from all three technical departments at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, from both the Heilbronn and Künzelsau campuses. Most projects are acquired directly by project managers. Clients based in the region not only benefit from the geographical proximity of our center but also from our STC’s excellent laboratory equipment. Some of the project managers offer a variety of USPs, so they’ve been involved in several projects overseas. We’ve already had invoices go out to Argentina, England, Japan, Singapore and Spain. Topics we’ve been working on for many years include the testing of combustion engines, flow engineering, microdispensing technology and investigations into the haptic behaviour and design of automobile control elements.

In my role as head of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technical Consulting at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences, one of my first priorities is to work closely with my second in command, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Wild, to continue the outstanding work of my pre- decessor and the 2010 Löhn Award winner, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Klaus Boelke. The emphasis here lies in networking project managers, managing project budgets and managing the interface with Steinbeis head office in Stuttgart. We now also want to set up an appealing and comprehensive website for our transfer center.

The old technical consulting service, or TBD, was previously set up as a more focused “consulting center” at the universities of applied sciences in Baden-Württemberg, and this formed the basis of today’s Steinbeis model. There was a TBD in Heilbronn as early as 1971, and, over the years, it earned its laurels as a technology transfer services provider. You’ve been part of the Steinbeis Network since 1997 and took over this Steinbeis Transfer Center in 2011. What’s changed since you’ve been here? And what social, political and economic developments have influenced work in technical consulting?

Actually, it’s difficult to make comparisons with the distant past after just one month as head of a Steinbeis enterprise. But during my many years as a project manager, basically everything stayed the same. There’d be a client query, an offer was submitted, it generally gave rise to a project, and it was then seen through to fruition. It’s one of the nice things about pure project management – there’s almost no red tape. As director, I have the additional task of managing our Steinbeis enterprise. But the processes are much simpler than procedures at the university. Also, the feeling that always comes down from Steinbeis HQ is that “If you’re fine, we’re fine too!” I am now trying to pass this philosophy on to my project managers.

Your center offers services in the fields of electrical engineering, mechatronics, microsystems, mechanical engineering and production technology. Do you discern an emphasis in demand, especially among SMEs? Are there any trends?

In the past, many larger companies could afford to invest in in-house skills and resources for a variety of peripheral issues. Now, nearly all companies focus on core competences. Bigger companies tend to approach us if there’s a burning issue anywhere along the long path between product design and customer application, or if they know one of our project managers has the specialist knowledge they need. It’s still unusual for big companies to work with individuals, so project managers can offer them advice under the Steinbeis umbrella and thus as a company. Smaller and medium-sized companies often turn to us when they want to enter a new market.

This is a particularly pertinent driver in my specialist area, microsystems, as most SMEs have little in-house experience in the field. Once the project is live, we work in collaboration with professional microsystem manufacturers to develop the MEMS, test it, and implement it in our client’s mechatronic product.

Your center at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences has a rich and successful history. What do you see as the future goals and challenges for your center?

United we are strong. Few question the wisdom of this saying. Despite this, most of the professors working as project managers work individually on their projects. It would be good for the performance of our transfer center if we could pool the detailed specialist knowledge of several project managers when we’re working on larger projects. The fact that our clients like to see this happen, and the fact that it’s good for the projects, has been proven time and again. Exactly how I’m going to foster this type of collaboration more in the future, in my role as director, is something I’m still working on.

To do justice to our own ambition in the future – namely to be a professional business partner, which offers a broad technical portfolio – we intend to involve more people in project management at our transfer center, especially new colleagues. Ultimately, the system should run off its own steam, because everyone gains – the project managers, who get to contribute their specialist knowledge on live projects while learning in the process; companies, whom we help solve their problems; students involved in the projects, who can earn money in a live business context and forge contacts with industry.

It’s also one of our goals to improve the image we portray to the outside world. Even if lots of engineers sweep the issue under the rug, it all revolves around communication and promotion. These days, our potential clients google their way to key experts with a couple of mouse clicks. It’s such a shame – until now, the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Technical Consulting at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences has rarely come up.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Wehl

After studying mechanical engineering at the Technische Universität München, Prof. Dr.- Ing. Wolfgang Wehl specialized in ink printing technology. After completing his Ph.D. in 1984, he worked on developments in the field at Siemens for nearly ten years, originally focusing on precision engineering and later on MEMS technology. Wehl has been responsible for the field of MEMS and precision engineering production as part of the mechatronics and micro system study course at Heilbronn University of Applied Sciences since 1996. From the beginning, he has worked on a variety of projects in his specialist area. His experience within Germany is almost unique.

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