2 minutes with...
OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co. KG is a private family owned company with 550 employees, headquartered in Ispringen, Germany. OBE has established itself as a key supplier for the optical industry since its founding in 1904 in particular due to its role in developing spectacle hinges. The company is active in the areas of research, development, production and sales of high precision metal components in large quantities. OBEs customers come from the spectacle industry luxury goods, automotive, telecommunications, medical and aerospace sectors for all stages in the production process, from development support right up to finishing and assembly of the components and subassemblies produced via MIM technology. The Optic division of OBE addresses spectacle manufacturers searching for high end metal parts for the frame articulation, while the MIMplus division offers high precision products produced by Metal Injection Moulding (MIM) with an added value in different industries.
OBE was the coordinator of REProMag and brought in extensive knowledge in the design, construction and processing of metal injection moulding parts in a variety of materials (low alloy steels, stainless steels, Titanium, Ni-based alloys and hard materials). Further OBE has wide experience of project management and know-how in production of hard magnets (HDDR and HD route).
We spoke with Prof. Dr. Carlo Burkhardt and Coordinator of the innovation & technology management at OBE and Head of the Institute for Material Development and Testing (STI) at the University of Pforzheim:
Is OBE actively seeking innovative developments?
Producing in Germany does not give you any choices: If you are not a technology leader, you don’t stand a chance against Asian and East European competition, therefore an absolute “Yes”. Our R&D department is the heart of our technological approach – and it has grown by 30% over the last five years. Nearly all our current products were developed in the last 10 years, either in close cooperation with our customers or by ourselves.
How did the idea of the project REProMag emerge? What are the advantages provided by the solutions proposed by REProMag?
I am originally a “magnet man” – I did my PhD on NdFeB (neodymium) magnets in the 1990s at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Its department of Metallurgy and Materials is one of the world-leading centers in research on hard magnets and I am happy to have them as a partner in the REProMag project as well. Bringing together that expertise with OBEs know-how of metal injection moulding process is a really neat idea. Net shape magnets can be produced by the REProMag process completely waste-free! No machining is required, which is unique because neodym iron bor magnet being a hard material which is very brittle. Therefore the SDS process is giving an enormous advantage and if you look at the current situation concerning the raw material supply of Rare Earth materials, that really is groundbreaking.
Do you think that the REProMag approach will be easily adopted by the manufacturing industry?
REProMag is a Horizon 2020 project in the “Factory of the Future” division, which asks specifically for high technology readiness levels, a classification used to assess the maturity of an evolving technology. High TRLmeans that the basic research phase must be closed and aiming already on demonstration, latest in the 2nd year of the project. There are still some technical challenges to overcome, but the first evaluation of the industrial applications gave promising results for further development and complete technology adoption.
Within the REProMag project you are the coordinator. What are your main non-technical tasks as a coordinator?
I would say my main non-technical task is holding the bunch together (laugh). I am responsible for the timetables, schedules, communication – the classical project management tasks and responsibilities. I like my role as coordinator a lot, but honestly I didn’t expect it to be like this. Luckily my colleagues and partner Steinbeis 2i help and support me a lot.
With 14 partners, the consortium is quite big. Where do you see advantages and challenges of such a high number of partners?
The REProMag consortium is covering the whole manufacturing chain – from recycling the powder to the final product. The mixture of large scale companies, highly specialized SMEs and leading European universities gives us hopefully the drive to be quick and successful on the market. This is definitely a big advantage of our consortium.
On the other hand I have to admit that having 14 partners in a consortium, the coordinative effort is quite high and you urgently need to have an real-time overview about all running and planned activities and its possible drawbacks.
However at this phase of the project everything is running smoothly and I see no real challenges at the moment because the whole consortium is fully on track and every partner knows exactly what to do and where to go.
Prof. Dr. Carlo Burkhardt made his Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham, School of Metallurgy and Materials in 1996, funded by the European Commission with a Marie-Curie fellowship. His diploma thesis was awarded with the European Powder Metallurgy Association Thesis Award in 1993. He is currently holder of 10 patents and has authored/co-authored more than twenty papers, which he published in refereed journals and/or presented on international conferences. He also wrote books on “Automobile Decoupling Element Technology” and “Metal Injection Moulding”.