Strategic Focus Area launched

"Advanced Manufacturing" gathers speed

Nov 14, 2017 | RAINER KLOSE

Industry and science are searching for answers to the challenges of digitization – including in production. In order to supply Switzerland with the necessary expertise for the future, the ETH Domain initiated the Strategic Focus Area (SFA) Advanced Manufacturing. The launch took place in Bern on Monday 13 November 2017 in the presence of Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann.


The manufacturing industry is experiencing a revolution: Completely novel networks of computers, data and physical things are emerging – and changing the way we produce. The ETH Domain’s newly founded Strategic Focus Area Advanced Manufacturing (SFA-AM) aims to help use the potential of digitization in the manufacturing industry in a targeted manner and develop advanced manufacturing technologies. The launch event entitled “Industry – the Basis of Prosperity” took place in Bern on Monday, November 13. Besides the Head of the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research, Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann, President of the ETH Board Fritz Schiesser, President of ETH Zurich Lino Guzzella, EPFL President Martin Vetterli, Empa Director Gian-Luca Bona and several industrial representatives, including Swissmem President Hans Hess; Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of the plant construction firm Bobst; and Peter Pirklbauer, Innovation Manager at Airbus were in attendance.

Opening address by the Federal Councilor
Opening address by Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann

First of all, the topic of advanced manufacturing was outlined in several talks and presentations. In his opening address, Federal Councilor Schneider-Ammann lauded the strong position of Swiss industry on the international stage. At the same time, he urged the need to keep a close eye on industrial change. “Jobs that drift away never come back.” The government, he assured, is well aware that digitization will affect every aspect of people’s lives. That is a challenge, including for politics. “Every member of parliament will also need to be a minister of digitization in future,” said Schneider-Ammann.

President of the ETH Board Fritz Schiesser introduced the four strategic research areas to be funded under the umbrella of the ETH Domain: Advanced Manufacturing, Data Science, Energy Research and Personalized Medicine. Lars Sommerhäuser, SFA-AM Program Manager, presented the thematic focuses and funding possibilities for the SFA “Advanced Manufacturing”.

Time and room for innovations

In his talk Jean-Pascal Bobst, CEO of the eponymous industrial company, advocated leaving sufficient time for industrial companies to develop new technologies and business areas. “We’ve been through three crises in the last five years.” That’s nothing unusual, however – only the shareholders need to have a lot of staying power. “We need time for innovations, but also room for larger transformations in the company,” explained Bobst; you ultimately gain nothing with short-windedness. In his presentation, he revealed the elements necessary to industrialize Switzerland. With this in mind, he called upon politics to devise visions for the future. “We ought to know where we’ll be in 30 years’ time.”  

Brake flaps like lily pads

The closing speech was given by Peter Pirklbauer, Innovation Manager at Airbus. He is part of a small team which identifies potential in additive production in aircraft manufacturing and develops solutions. For instance, an increasing number of spare parts for aircraft will soon be produced on site at airports as and when needed, thus rendering spare-part warehouses superfluous. Only the file containing the printing information for the component will have to be stored. In the aircraft itself, 3D-printed, intelligently constructed metal components will save a considerable amount of weight. Pirklbauer used many examples to illustrate this. Airbus is looking to manufacture the reinforcement elements of the brake flaps based on a bionic model in future – mimicking the inner reinforcements in lily pads, which float on the water and boast a high load-bearing capacity. 

A panel discussion chaired by former BBC producer Gill Parker rounded off the launch event. The participants reiterated that the transfer of knowledge and technology from universities into industry and especially SMEs must continue to be promoted for Switzerland to retain its competitive edge as a science hub on the international stage. At the same time, we should not just look to universities, but already begin in primary schools. We need to promote fun ways to get children interested in technology even more strongly and hand them the tools to do so – why not a 3D printer that is easy to use, for instance?

Further information

Dr. Lars Sommerhäuser
Program Manager, SFA Advanced Manufacturing
Tel +41 58 765 4787

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