Guest contribution from Alexander Knebel from the German industry research association Konrad Zuse e.V. Research that resonates: this is the motto under which the Berlin-based industry research association Konrad Zuse operates. This is appropriate for the transport sector, as many of the more than 70 member institutes have built up a lot of expertise in the areas of transport technology, communication technology, electric mobility or fuel cells.

Contrary to what the namesake Konrad Zuse suggests (Germany’s renowned computer pioneer), the research institutes of the association are quite diversified – from biotechnology, synthetics, and communication technology to metal research.

What these Zuse institutes have in common is a focus on strengthening practically-oriented research for application-oriented technology transfer. The example of mobility demonstrates that the institutes are not only well-rooted in the mid-sized sector, but also are highly proficient when it comes to working together with industry giants. This is the case for example with the Bayerische Laserzentrum (blz). The Erlangen-based laser specialists are in demand for their expertise in welding and soldering for the important joining technology in the electric engine, such as the latest 48-volt engine by Continental. Car manufacturers draw on the results of blz research for the mild hybrid engine available in the Audi Q5 and in the Renault Scenic. What is special about the Conti-48-V system is that, while conventional electric engines are wound, costing space and weight, blz researchers together with Continental developed a joining process for so-called hairpins, which at the ends of the stator, the stationary part of the engine, are bent and welded. This saves weight and space and increases the power density of the mild hybrid engines.

Equally important for on-board electronics, for many years the blz has been working on the joining of copper and aluminium, which is concerned with avoiding brittle intermetallic phases. The trick here is that because of their high solubility in aluminium and copper, the coatings from materials such as nickel or silver reduce the formation of intermetallic phases and through the modulation of the laser output, the mixing ratio in the welded seam can be influenced.

Developing synthetic bipolar plates for fuel cells

The Aachen Institut für Kunststoffverarbeitung (IKV) (Institute of Plastics Processing) is pursuing metal substitution rather than an alternative metal, so that customised materials for fuel cells can be used. The key component of fuel cells and redox flow batteries is the bipolar plate, which separates the reaction media from each other in both systems, while at the same time conducting electricity and heat. For the manufacture of fuel cell systems and redox flow batteries, stacked units from bipolar plates, or stacks, are required. They must be joined together in a gas-tight manner in order to guarantee high efficiency and process reliability in electricity generation. Bipolar plates have to date mostly consisted of metal materials. The disadvantages are however their high weight, high material and manufacturing costs as well as a low chemical resistance. Together with several partners, the IKV now wants to substitute metallic systems with newly-developed electric and thermally conductive synthetic-based materials. They will work optimally while displaying good mechanical properties. Concrete tests on the materials are scheduled for the researchers.

Networked mobility at sea and on land

Aside from raw materials, member institutes of the Zuse Association also specialise in communication technologies for future-oriented mobility. Networked mobility for increased safety and more efficient transportation with the aid of high-tech assistance systems are two important trends which will be shaped for example, in projects at the institutes of OFFIS – Institut für Informatik (Institute for Information Technology) from Oldenburg and ifak from Magdeburg. A consortium including OFFIS developed an intelligent assistance system which supports seafarers as well as their colleagues on land in navigation to avoid collisions. Radar data and material flow from automatic identification systems (AIS) into the MTCAS assistance system as do methods for more accurate position recognition, behaviour prediction and nautical charts. New artificial intelligence learning approaches for assistance systems in sea navigation will be used in MTCAS which support navigators at sea and on land. This can also serve as a basis for the future development of autonomous ships.

For safe road mobility OFFIS supports the testing of assistance systems such as emergency brake or lane-keeping assistants. Classical test methods require several hundred million kilometres to be driven. Together with leading automotive manufacturers, suppliers and research institutes, OFFIS works on developing new safety verification processes in various projects.

New assistance systems for the road

ifak is also working intensively on the development of new road assistance systems, as in the Fast Traffic project, in which networking vehicles with each other and with infrastructure is being researched and tested in real time. This is expected to result in a massive increase in safety in road traffic. The Sirene project pursues a similar goal, in which ifak is working with several partners towards solutions which would bring police and fire services quicker to their destination. This works using a combination of different instruments, including a navigation system specifically for emergency vehicles. The rollout of the new information technology for emergency responders will be achieved using so-called car to X technologies. These will enable vehicles to exchange data with each other. In the project this happens through a new WLAN standard and mobile communications. The ‘X’ in car to X refers to the fact that not only cars, but also other objects, e.g. traffic lights, participate in the information exchange.

A new two-wheeler for older people

The institutes of the Zuse Association are not just engaged in the automotive, air and maritime transport areas for new mobility, but also in research on two-wheeled vehicles. The Institute of Mechanical and Plant Engineering Chemnitz (ICM) demonstrates with the Innvelo Two electric scooter, brought to market by partners, how environmentally-friendly mobility can simultaneously provide greater quality of life in senior years. The electric scooter is particularly suited to older people who no longer wish to ride a bike but would also rather leave their car in the driveway. The two-wheeler, which was developed by ICM researchers in cooperation with their partners, is specifically conceived for use in city centres and surrounding districts.

Synthetics for comfort and design

Researchers from the Würzburg Kunststoff-Zentrum (SKZ) have created an innovation in cycling comfort. The SKZ, together with the Glenpro company provide the perfect bike seat, in which a bionic structure is transferred to the synthetic component. The result is a personalised bike saddle. The individual sitting surface and weight of the cyclist are factored in by means of a virtual data model. This results in an optimally-formed bike saddle. The first saddles have already been manufactured and successfully tested. The SKZ manufactured the bike saddle on a laser sinter installation, where the plastic powder polyamide is melted on in layers by laser. Subsequent dyeing enables colour coordination with the bike.

In terms of technology, the institutes of the Zuse Association have a green light for further projects with partners from the industrial and scientific sectors, making their contribution to innovative solutions for the mobility of tomorrow. However, the institutes are currently still constrained on the federal level. The core demand of the Zuse-Gemeinschaft in its fourth year of existence is: better support by the federal government for research institutes organised by private companies.

Specifically the research association wants its own budget title for the institutes, where there is a lack of institutional funding on a federal level. Mobility research in different sectors of the Zuse Association would also benefit from this, whether in materials engineering, production technology or information technology. “With around 6,000 staff, of which about 4,800 work in research and development, the institutes of the Zuse Association are a guarantor for innovation. The strength of the Zuse institutes lies in the efficient transfer of research into concrete new products, technologies and services”, says the President of the Zuse Association Dr, Ralf-Uwe Bauer, explaining the reason for the funding request. For the current legislative period, in which the transfer of research results is emphasised in the coalition agreement of the CDU and the SPD, the Zuse Association has therefore still a lot planned.