5 questions, 5 answers from the Bosch CEO
Dr. Volkmar Denner
“Education, innovation, and creativity are the safeguards of our future” Using ultrashort laser pulses in manufacturing is a prime example

  • Innovation is the answer to a stagnating economy
  • New techniques for new products in mature markets
  • Schools, universities, and businesses must encourage creativity
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  • December 04, 2013
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    1. Bosch can use short laser pulses to drill the tiniest of holes into solid metal. Why is this innovation so important?

    Denner: “Bosch uses ultrashort laser pulses to manufacture products in a way that just wasn't possible before. Gasoline direct injection is a good example: the holes in the nozzles are so minute that a human hair only just fits. Thanks to the use of laser pulses in manufacturing, the edge of the hole is precisely formed and the inside of each hole is exceedingly smooth. As a result, the fuel in the combustion chamber is extremely finely atomized – and the gasoline is delivered to precisely the desired location. This makes the combustion process particularly efficient, contributing to fuel savings and reductions in emissions. All this is to the advantage of automakers and car drivers, and the result of the highly precise manufacturing process that ultrashort laser pulses make possible.

    What I have just described constitutes a technological advance. The other side to it is that these innovative products help us to increase our market share in mature yet relatively wealthy markets such as Europe and the United States. By the end of 2013 Bosch will have supplied customers with around 30 million components manufactured using this laser technology. Aside from injection nozzles for gasoline direct injection, this also includes lambda sensors, diesel injectors, and injection valves for oil-fired central-heating boilers. What's more, this figure is set to rise significantly: it all goes to show that innovative products are the correct response, particularly in tough economic times.”

    2. How is Bosch reacting to the prospect of a protracted period of economic stagnation?

    Denner: “Many experts reckon that Asia's share of global economic output will grow to the detriment of Europe. Were this to be the case, job creation would naturally center predominantly on these growth regions. In Germany and in Europe as a whole we must prepare ourselves for a protracted period of stagnation that could last several years. These muted prospects must be brought out into the open and into constructive public debate, both in Germany and in Europe. Faced with such a situation, the question we must ask is: how can we offer attractive products – and so create jobs – in a stagnating marketplace? For me, one of the answers is to come up with creative product ideas for mature yet relatively wealthy markets such as Europe and the United States. That will be a challenge – for all companies. The good news is that we have all the tools we need at our disposal, whether it's highly trained associates or the numerous networks we maintain with research institutions and universities.”

    3. How fierce is the competition we have seen emerge in Asia?

    Denner: “For many years, countries such as China or India were merely extended production facilities for the West. These were the places where other engineers' ideas were made to order. This pattern is now undergoing a fundamental change. No longer do these countries compete on price alone, but increasingly in terms of innovation, too. China doesn't want to be the world's factory forever and is changing its focus dramatically – targeting innovation as well as research and development. In many areas, the era when China would simply imitate products is long gone. Wages and salaries in China have soared, and the country is reacting by placing more and more emphasis on research and development activities, thereby putting its faith in innovation.

    To give a few examples, China is already developing high-speed trains and airplanes. In 2002, in the region of 80,000 patent applications were submitted in China; by 2012, this had risen to some 650,000. In China alone, around six million people graduate from university each year – more than two million of them in an engineering discipline. In Germany, only around 50,000 first engineering degrees are currently awarded in a year. We can't compete with the sheer volume of graduates. That's why we have to be significantly better than they are.”

    4. How can Germany and Europe react to these trends?

    Denner: “Germany's key resources are the knowledge and creativity of its people. In Asia, on the other hand, the education system is often characterized by repetitive learning techniques. This is an area where Germany still has a competitive advantage. In Germany, the creativity of the individual and their individual skills lie at the heart of what we do. We ought to safeguard and encourage this creativity in schools, in training, and in our universities. After all, creativity helps when you are trying to think systematically and to understand complex systems. These are precisely the sorts of skills we need across all levels if we are to stand up to international competition. Accordingly, these strengths should be developed further.

    Yet instead of putting creativity at the center, we in Germany have introduced some measures that are clearly misdirected. This includes the way the switch to eight years of high school has been handled and the tendency to make university more and more like school. If you overload school pupils and students with an overfull syllabus, how are they meant to develop creativity and find their own approaches to solving problems? Instead, we need to encourage learning based on curiosity and research.”

    5. How can we encourage creativity within companies?

    Denner: “Above all, creativity calls for breathing space and the ability to link disparate things. It can be planned only to a certain degree. However, we can create the best possible working atmosphere to promote creativity, for instance by building our new research center in Renningen near Stuttgart. Here we are investing 310 million euros in some 1,300 jobs. We are investing these sums because we believe that there is still significant room for improvement in our research and advance engineering work. That's why Renningen is being established as a sort of campus with a university feel, where information can flow freely and associates can work together in new, cutting-edge ways.

    New ideas often emerge from connecting up the knowledge we already have. This is why it is so important that the right specialists come together and form new overlaps. What's more, we need an attitude, a spirit, that allows creative minds to engage with innovative topics – even at the risk that they might lead nowhere. Germany's prevalent culture of error avoidance stifles many creative ideas, and that is a competitive disadvantage.”
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The Bosch Group is a leading global supplier of technology and services. It employs roughly 375,000 associates worldwide (as of December 31, 2015). The company generated sales of 70.6 billion euros in 2015. Its operations are divided into four business sectors: Mobility Solutions, Industrial Technology, Consumer Goods, and Energy and Building Technology. The Bosch Group comprises Robert Bosch GmbH and its roughly 440 subsidiaries and regional companies in some 60 countries. Including sales and service partners, Bosch’s global manufacturing and sales network covers some 150 countries. The basis for the company’s future growth is its innovative strength. Bosch employs 55,800 associates in research and development at 118 locations across the globe. The Bosch Group’s strategic objective is to deliver innovations for a connected life. Bosch improves quality of life worldwide with products and services that are innovative and spark enthusiasm. In short, Bosch creates technology that is “Invented for life.”

The company was set up in Stuttgart in 1886 by Robert Bosch (1861-1942) as “Workshop for Precision Mechanics and Electrical Engineering.” The special ownership structure of Robert Bosch GmbH guarantees the entrepreneurial freedom of the Bosch Group, making it possible for the company to plan over the long term and to undertake significant up-front investments in the safeguarding of its future. Ninety-two percent of the share capital of Robert Bosch GmbH is held by Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, a charitable foundation. The majority of voting rights are held by Robert Bosch Industrietreuhand KG, an industrial trust. The entrepreneurial ownership functions are carried out by the trust. The remaining shares are held by the Bosch family and by Robert Bosch GmbH.

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PI8320 - December 04, 2013

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