Archive for Germany
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You are browsing the archives of Germany.
A story from the Guardian (UK) written by John Kampfer has some interesting thoughts about why Germany now seems less prone to cyclical economic crises. In particular, Kampfer looks at this phenomenon through the lens of how that nation (and other parts of northern Europe) approaches engineering, manufacturing and the sciences in contrast to his home country. But the descriptions and lessons could, in my opinion, easily apply to the US.
According to Kampfer, while Britain (and the US) have been obsessing for several decades about targeting benefit, pension and unit labor costs, and at the same time shifting the core business structure from manufacturing to finance, Germany has taken a different route:
Instead, the German – and broader northern European – approach emphasises vocational training and apprenticeships, particularly in engineering, manufacturing and the sciences. It invests in research and development, and in strong education. With all of the above the UK government would agree – even if its policies have for decades not followed the theory.
Where the Brits and the Germans spectacularly part company is over employment. “Works councils” have been the staple of German industry, with unions represented by statute. Both sides actively work towards consensus, and strikes and other disputes take place on the rare occasion where agreement is not reached. The first response to the banking crisis of 2008 was for the two sides to come together and work out a deal that included cuts in working hours, and cuts in pay – across the board. As a result unemployment rose only fractionally.
Stuart Nathan over at The Engineer goes deeper on the topic:
[…] Germany just seems to get it right more often than the UK. From the success of the Fraunhofer Institutes — which we’re only just starting to emulate, over forty years after they were set up — to the ingrained importance of career progress for engineers, Germany consistently sets the pace in industrial innovation.
[…] And yet it’s true that Britain has a science base that puts the rest of Europe to shame; more papers published, with higher impact, across more sectors, than any other nation. Government asks why this is not exploited — well, anyone might think that the tiny proportion of GDP invested in R&D compared with our competitor nations could well have something to do with it.
The German economy has been through tough times, like every other economy. It’s been stagnant and slow-moving at times when the UK has boomed. But it always comes back. It comes back through solid, albeit sometimes unspectacular, performance by a strong manufacturing sector based around chemicals, materials, and automotive. German industry sees opportunities, such as in renewables, forms a strategy to exploit them, and does it, with government support. And as Kampfner argues today, it does that because of a philosophy that is built into German political thought and that is completely absent from the UK.
Nathan correctly adds, “It would be wrong to portray Germany as a paradaisical haven for engineers and engineering.” As the graph shows above, Germany has had its periods of economic volatility, too. But, after attending quite a few recent international science and technology conferences and speaking with many German and non-German scientists and engineers, I can report that I hear a lot of admiration for Germany’s current direction and priorities. Thus, I find it’s hard not to agree with a lot of what both of Nathan and Kampfner have to say. There is more of a sense of a reasoned and logical continuum among the universities, labs (public and nonprofit) and corporations that have the divisions of labor and alignment of incentives well allocated across the entire span of research (including basic research), development, demonstration and deployment.
Changes in the US don’t necessarily require more spending. According to the OECD (pdf), as a share of GDP, the US already spends more (2.62%) than Germany (2.53%) or the UK (1.78). A big problem is there is a lack of respect for reasoned, long-term strategies in the US, a weakness that means that much of the spending is not as effective as it could be and short-term thinking leads to being obsessed with finding the next bubble instead effectively leveraging our existing workforce, resources, talent and expertise. Xenophobia and a cultural acceptance of the loss of manufacturing bases and skills as just “world-is-flat” unavoidable collateral damage are enormously destructive in the US. Germany doesn’t have all the answers, but it also isn’t organizing its citizens and institutions to chase get-rich-quick schemes either.
Here’s what we are hearing:
PPG Industries announced that it is increasing its global precipitated silica production capacity by more than 18,000 tons per year in response to growing global demand. The capacity expansion includes projects at PPG’s Lake Charles, La., and Delfzijl, Netherlands, manufacturing locations. PPG pioneered the development of synthetic precipitated silica, becoming one of the first manufacturers to bring them to market in the 1930s. Today, PPG’s silica products business is a global leader in the manufacture of precipitated silica for tire, battery separator, carrier, coatings, industrial rubber, footwear and silicone end-use applications. The business also makes TESLIN substrate, a microporous sheet material used for card, specialty print, in-mold graphic, tag and label use, as well as technology-focused applications such as e-Passports and RFID cards and labels.
Gibbard has more than 30 years of experience in battery and fuel cell businesses, having served as vice president for research, Development and advanced engineering at Duracell and as CEO of the fuel cell company H Power Corp. At H Power he led a $104 million IPO that resulted in a NASDAQ listing in 2000. He holds a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the MIT and is a frequent speaker at technical and business conferences on electrochemical energy storage. Huang is a seasoned financial executive with 18 years of experience with U.S. companies, ranging from controller to CFO. He is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and experienced in the financial management of joint US-Chinese companies. His experience in setting up and managing operations in China is particularly valuable for Altair’s expansion in global markets.
Mettler Toledo is pleased to issue a new white paper that provides points to consider when defining operating boundaries, and data objectives for transfer of weighing process data to PLC, MES or ERP systems. Efficient transfer of weighing process data to higher level PLC, MES or ERP systems makes manufacturing processes more efficient and more transparent. It can result in more accurate or faster filling and control processes. Increased transparency can improve asset use, reduce operating costs, and make complying with certification standards or industrial regulations easier. But identifying and implementing the most effective system for data transfer and integration can be challenging.
A critical challenge in the commercialization of solid oxide fuel cells is the selection and manufacture of components that will last for thousands of hours, but at an economical cost. NexTech Materials Ltd. has performed accelerated stability tests that predict a service life of over 40,000 hours at 750°C for low cost ferritic steel (AL 441 HP) interconnect components protected by its manganese-cobalt spinel. coatings. This achievement represents a critical milestone for intermediate temperature solid oxide fuel cells. To date, SOFC system lifetime has been limited by the metal component oxidation. As demonstrated by NexTech, MCO protective coatings reduce the oxidation rate of ferritic steels by a factor of twenty or more.
Momentive Performance Materials Inc.’s Quartz & Ceramics is expanding its specialty quartz production facility in Geesthacht, Germany. The $14 million expansion project t will enable Momentive to meet increasing global demand for its high-purity specialty fused quartz crucibles, used by the photovoltaic industry to produce solar wafers and the semiconductor industry in the production of computer chips. The company manufactures a variety of specialty products that are essential to the photovoltaic wafer and semiconductor microchip production, including fused quartz crucibles used to “grow” silicon ingots, large-diameter fused quartz tubing, rods, and solid ingot in which silicon wafers are processed to make microchips.
According to the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW), renewable energy grew—in the first half of 2011, alone—from 18.3 percent of total demand in 2010 to 20.8 percent. That’s a significant jump and achievement.
What makes it even more remarkable is that, for sheer timing reasons, it cannot be connected to Germany’s post-Fukushima policy decision to shut down its nuclear power facilities. Indeed, as Spiegel Online International reports, “[the increase] does give a boost to Germany’s to phase out nuclear power completely by 2022.” Spiegel speculates that trend will give Chancellor Angela Merkel new political capital to offset dissension about the elimination of in-country nuclear power sources.
I don’t have access to an English version of the BDEW report, but Spiegel says the group attributes most of the change to photovoltaic installations. PV power now ranks third in the list of renewable sources (in terms of kilowatt-hours consumed), knocking wind power to fourth place.
Why the surge in the recent months? BDEW, according to news reports, cites two major factors: 1) a big drop in PV equipment prices (50 percent since 2006) and 2) continuation of federal subsidies for private PV generation (which had been targeted for elimination).