“Research knows no boundaries - and this even applies to contract research,” explains Hans-Jörg Bullinger, President of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft at the opening of Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH in Vienna. “An important market for research and development services has developed in Europe in recent years. Those who want to profit from this market must take on the international competition, establish contacts and act on technological trends and market developments.” The institutes of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft were quick to recognize this: they generated 52 million euros in the European Economic Area in 2008 with contract research, and just under 7 million in Austria alone. This makes Austria the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft's most important partner in Europe. “By establishing Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH, we are responding to Austria's growing demand for technology transfer,” continues Fraunhofer senior vice president Prof. Ulrich Buller. “Here we have the optimal opportunity to apply our more than six decades of experience in turning new technical developments into real-world products.” “Founding Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH is an important step in intensifying the cooperation with Austria,” emphasizes Prof. Wilfried Sihn, who, together with Prof. Dieter Fellner, has taken over management of the new company, which covers two research groups, one in Graz and one in Vienna. They are working with the technical universities located in these cities to develop practical solutions for customers from industry. By the end of 2009, 17 employees will be working at Fraunhofer Austria. Cooperation produces win-win situation The project group in Graz has ties with the technical university. “We have an ongoing exchange with the Excellence Center for Visual Computing, which is one of Europe's leading facilities in this field. Here they are developing innovative ideas that are just waiting to be put into action,” explains Prof. Fellner. The native Austrian heads the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Darmstadt and the Fraunhofer project group at the Graz University of Technology. One new program that the Graz researchers have developed allows high-resolution computer graphics visualization of surfaces. “Traditionally, curved surfaces are represented by a network of triangles. At first glance, the surfaces appear to be flat, but uneven patches appear as the resolution is increased. When the details matter, however, as is the case in design drawings, these inaccuracies can be very distracting. By using the new algorithms, however, surfaces can now be represented precisely, without workarounds,” explains Dr. Eva Eggeling, director of the visual computing business unit at Fraunhofer Austria Research GmbH in Graz. Working with her team, she has adapted the algorithms to the requirements of industrial customers. This technique is meanwhile been being used by partners in the automotive industry to design fenders and wheel rims. Molecular biologists are also profiting from the cooperation between the Graz University of Technology and Fraunhofer researchers: The new visualization software allows proteins with complicated folds and consisting of thousands of amino acids to be represented, rotated and zoomed in three dimensions. It is even possible to make the connection between various molecules visible. “In examinations of molecular structure data, a gigantic flood of information results, and this is almost unmanageable. Our tool turns these data into clear images,” explains Eggeling. Cooperation expands the horizons The Fraunhofer Project Group for Production and Logistics has made its home in Vienna. A strategically ideal location, emphasizes Prof. Wilfried Sihn, Chairman of the Institute for Management Sciences at the Vienna University of Technology and the manager responsible for the production and logistics management business unit at Fraunhofer Austria. “Vienna traditionally has good ties to both Western and Eastern Europe, so that it is an ideal location for supporting the transfer of technology into the Eastern European area.” The Fraunhofer group in Vienna specializes in optimizing production and logistics networks of products or companies, taking both ecological and economic points of view into account. “Our goal is to find comprehensive, customized solutions for shaping the value creation network,” explains Daniel Palm, director of the production and logistics management business unit. “Optimal production depends on many factors. The product's properties, such as the size and weight of the components, are important. But the customer’s location also plays a role. Also crucial are the lot sizes that are to be produced, the level of automation, the location factors and the demanded quality. The general political conditions, the costs and the environmental impact resulting from the transport must also be considered.” It used to be that production would often blindly be relocated to low-cost locations, but it was often seen in retrospect that the actual results did not come up to the expectations. “With comprehensive approaches, we can optimize the production conditions. And it is often the case that manufacturing in Austria or Germany pays off.” Just recently, the Fraunhofer researchers, working with scientists from the Vienna University of Technology, examined the impact of the financial crisis on the automotive industry in Eastern Europe. The amazing result: The suppliers and producers in Eastern Europe will weather the crisis better than companies in the West. “The plants have a number of advantages,” explains Palm. “They have lower production costs, often new, efficient factories, and they manufacture small cars, which are currently in demand because more and more customers are choosing low fuel consumption cars, for both ecological and economic reasons. This is putting the locations in Western Europe into a tight spot and again changing the general conditions.” This example shows not only how complex the interactions are, but also that even a crisis can hold opportunities for individual production areas.
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