German Process Engineers About Their Future

German Process Engineers About Their Future

Author: Vera Koester

What do German process engineers think about how they are prepared for the future?
A recent survey of members of the VDI-GVC (Society for Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering; VDI-Gesellschaft Verfahrenstechnik und Chemieingenieurwesen) documents the very positive atmosphere in the German chemical industry. In addition, the results highlight the strong innovation ability of process technology as well as its great innovation potential.

VDI-GVC Members Survey 2014
“Good training, interdisciplinarity, creative freedom, and lively exchange of expertise are our strengths and form the pillars for the innovation potential of the German chemical industry”, explains Dr.-Ing. Claas-Jürgen Klasen, Evonik Industries AG and Chairman of VDI-GVC. “The mood in our branch of industry is very positive and labor market is very strong. Only the displacement of individual areas abroad has resulted in uncertainty among the respondents of the survey.”

Innovation is among the most important factors for maintaining Germany’s research and business robustness. Germany has no significant natural resources. Only with innovative products can it maintain its position as the leading export nation. Jobs, economic growth, and prosperity are largely the result of innovation.
Therefore, the VDI-GVC survey focused on innovation and prospects for the future. Can the German chemical industry still assert itself among international competition in the future? Are we fast and innovative enough to keep pace the coming years?
These questions were answered by around 400 experts with a clear “yes”. To them it was clear that the chemical industry makes best use of its available capital. However, the survey responses also advised the industry not to rest on its laurels, but instead to keep striving for continued development of the industry.

Almost 75 % of the participants in this survey come from the industry sector (chemistry and engineering). About 85 % are curretnly employed and have an average of 18 years on-the-job experience.

Main Results

1) No innovations can be generated without well-trained staff, engineers, and researchers. Professionals must have excellent specialist knowledge, therefore, a good education is the basis of all innovation. The survey shows that about 90 % of the responfents assessed the German educational system to be good or even very good – despite all discussions about the Bologna Process.

2) Interdisciplinarity and diverse knowledge is required for the development of complex products. The German chemical industry has been aware of this for decades and has always pursued interdisciplinary collaborations. This is supported by the responses of the experts who anwered the survey.

3) The task structures of the employees in an innovative company should be challenging, sophisticated, and varied. In addition, they should provide freedom for development and room for action. The survey shows that over two-thirds of the respondents assessed their creative freedom to develop and implement innovations as good or even very good. Only one in three thought there was room for improvement or that the situation is unsatisfactory – and attributed this mainly to short-term financial constraints and time pressure.

4) Companies are not alone in the world. Important innovation processes often come from outsid: from other companies in the same field, or – in the most innovative cases – from companies in other industries. The exchange of experiences is used intensively by the German chemical industry – one example is the ProcessNet annual meeting. No fewer than 90 % of the experts indicated that in their company the opportunity exists to exchange experiences externally, half of them also are actively involved in this themselves.

Summary and Outlook

For any innovations to come about, one needs deep and diverse knowledge, tolerance, as well as structures and processes that promote cooperation between knowledge holders within the company and beyond. The survey showed that Germany has all of these at the moment. But, according to 30 % of the respondents, China is expected to be on par and North America is rapidly catching up owing to the shale gas boom.
Especially, a policy that promotes innovation or the availability of risk capital is considered to be inadequate and insufficient. Klasen promised that the VDI-GVC will try to increase its energy in this area in the future.

The majority of the VDI-GVC members are of the opinion that process engineering can provide important solutions to solve the challenges of a growing world population and that these cannot be solved without process technology.

The top fields of action are:

  • Resource and process efficiency (nearly 75 %)
  • Energy supply, securing raw materials and waste water technology (both about 45 %)
  • Food supply (about 35 %).

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