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Rules of play for engineers - Gifhorn relies on research and development

Luftaufnahme des Familienunternehmens Butting in Knesebeck. (Copyright: BUTTING Gruppe GmbH & Co. KG)

They can do anything there. Even speak German without a regional accent. We’re talking about Gifhorn, one of Lower Saxony’s most economically powerful regions. Thanks to its proximity to Wolfsburg, research and development is at home in Gifhorn alongside countless suppliers and service providers in the automotive sector. No wonder, as new patents are constantly being registered here and more and more engineers are discovering the district. Stuttgart too expensive for you? Then come to the Gifhorn region!

Flashes of inspiration are part of day-to-day business for Ekkehard Pott from Gifhorn. And he always has a notebook with him when he leaves the house – even on holiday. His employer, VW – where Pott works in powertrain development for commercial vehicles and small diesels – benefits greatly from this: in 2012 and 2013 alone, the German Patent Office based in Munich considered 30 of his ideas so innovative that it protected them with patents. And so Pott was named the employee with the most patents granted in both of those years at ‘Inventors’ Night’ in 2014.

Other companies in the Gifhorn district also intensively promote research – we present the key companies and projects below:

IAV: automotive technology of the future

IAV: automotive technology of the futureThe town’s biggest employer is engineering company Ingenieurgesellschaft für cars and transport (IAV). Around 3,500 employees work at its headquarters in Gifhorn, which is among the world’s leading engineering service providers in the automotive industry. The company has been developing innovative concepts and technologies for future-oriented transport solutions for over 30 years. One of the site’s core areas of expertise is the development of solutions suitable for series production relating to electronics, powertrain and vehicle technology. IAV has thus been involved in countless pioneering projects, such as a 1-litre car from VW and engine management and transmission control for the 3-litre Lupo.

Despite focusing on the automotive sector, IAV in Gifhorn remains diverse: it conducts research on electric mobility in its laboratories for lithium-ion batteries and fuel cells, vehicle safety in its own crash facilities and, of course, automated driving in general as well. The question of how to supply energy in a sustainable manner is also a frequent area of research at IAV. The company is currently planning, among other things, a pilot system that will enable it to take an in-depth look at water electrolysis and the conversion of hydrogen into methane. By the way, one of the most well-known developments from the Gifhorn-based engineers is a micro CHP unit, which can supply heat and electricity to multi-family dwellings and small commercial enterprises.

Bertrandt: e-mobility and intelligent electricity grids

Bertrandt is among the leading engineering service providers for the international automotive and aviation industry. The Swabian company opened its site in Tappenbeck in 1995. Today, over 2,000 employees work in development here in a facility measuring 50,000 square metres. The topic of electric mobility is the top priority, as an electric car requires a wide range of electronics for its control system and drive. Numerous investments have already been made in the required testing and measuring technology as well as in the infrastructure, but the company also wants to expand its factory and manufacturing planning for electric vehicles. Bertrandt is also making forays into other areas that will be important in future. One hot topic is intelligent power grids that control the interplay between the supply and demand of energy.

Continental: much more than tyres

Another important employer in Gifhorn is Continental, the leading producer of tyres on the German market. The corporate group employs around 1,500 people on site and, since its founding in in 1871, has developed from a pure tyre manufacturer into one of the world’s most important suppliers to the automotive sector. Continental, too, places a strong focus on research and development, including, for example, its ‘Cruising Chauffeur’ in the automated driving sector or tests on the new fuel oxymethylene ether, OME for short, in the field of climate-neutral mobility. Did you know that Continental’s factory in Gifhorn is among the sites with the strongest sales in the entire corporate group and that the group’s management wants to invest 100 million euros in the factory in the next six years? The future is bright indeed!

Butting Group: it’s all in the pipeline

Eighty thousand tonnes: that’s how much steel BUTTING Group processes at its site in Knesebeck in the Gifhorn region alone. There’s no doubt that the company – which has over 1,300 employees, around 100 apprentices and a factory site that is almost as large as five football pitches – is one of the region’s biggest employers. The factory focuses on manufacturing pipes of all kinds. This includes longitudinally welded pipes, those produced from strip and sheet metal, and, of course, pipes that are ready for installation. In 2015, Butting received the largest contract so far in the company’s over 200-year history: 170 kilometres of rust-free pipes to develop an oil field in Kazakhstan. And the products are not only manufactured in Gifhorn.

‘We are working together with the customer to continually develop our products,’ says Herrmann Butting, who manages the family company in its seventh generation. Long-term site development is important to him, and he also wants employees to be able to identify with the company. For this reason, Butting offers a wide range of incentives, such as flexible working time models, holiday pay and Christmas bonuses that go beyond the collective agreement as well as schemes to promote health in the workplace. What more could you want?

VW test site: plenty of space for the best ideas

The Gifhorn region is also home to the test site for VW’s research and development department, which, according to Volkswagen, is the largest of its kind in the world. The approximately 1,000 employees really put the pedal to the metal at the 11-square-kilometre site in Ehra-Lessien. But speed is actually of secondary importance; the focus is rather the driving and safety properties of the automobiles, including those of electric cars and self-driving models.

‘The era of fully-autonomous vehicles will begin in some of the world’s cities in just a few years.’

Axel Heinrich, Head of Research

The company’s ideas incubator presented technologies and concepts for the mobility of the future on its ‘Future Mobility Day’ in June 2017. ‘Vision Zero’, for instance, aims to reduce the number of traffic fatalities to zero. How is that possible? With self-driving cars, which learn continually thanks to artificial intelligence. Axel Heinrich, Head of Research, is convinced: ‘The era of fully-autonomous vehicles will begin in some of the world’s cities in just a few years.’