Happy Anniversary! Fraunhofer USA at 15

Press release (Nr. XV) / 14.10.2009

Diamonds, secure software, medications – at Fraunhofer USA, the research portfolio covers a vast array of topics. Exactly 15 years ago, Germany's Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe's largest institution for applied research, established the new subsidiary. Today six Centers are closely cooperating with top universities in the US to engineer solutions that industry can apply to their everyday business practices. On October 22 Fraunhofer USA celebrates its anniversary in Washington DC.

Fraunhofer Center for Laser Applications (CLA) in Plymouth, Michigan / USA
© Fraunhofer IWS Dresden
Fraunhofer Center for Laser Applications (CLA) in Plymouth, Michigan / USA

"Can a German organization for applied research be successful in the world's leading economic and scientific market? 15 years ago when Fraunhofer USA was founded we could not be sure. But now we know the answer: Yes, we can", states Fraunhofer-President Prof. Hans-Jörg Bulliger. Meanwhile Fraunhofer USA boasts six Centers that collectively generated 30 million dollars in sales last year alone. The Centers collaborate with numerous American research institutions, elite universities among them MIT and Johns Hopkins University. Also during this period, Fraunhofer USA blossomed into an institution with almost 200 employees. Together with their contractual partners from industry, they jointly engineer new production techniques, medications and software designs. And just like their Fraunhofer Institute counterparts in Germany, these Centers stand at the gateway between university-based research and commerce-based practices. "Our growth has been possible because our partnering Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany recognize the value of our insights into emerging high-tech markets and the quick-path to those markets that result from our collaborations," summarises Dr. William Hartman, Fraunhofer USAs Executive Vice President: "We are proud to be a partner in facilitating important international exchange in both applied research and education."

Diamonds: Transatlantic collaboration ensure Success

Since time immemorial, the diamond has been the symbol for fidelity and stability. The gem also plays a critical role in the long-standing collaboration between Fraunhofer researchers in Germany and in the USA. Admittedly, in this case the use of diamonds pertains less to symbolism, and more to practical matters. Diamonds are a coveted and precious commodity; therefore, scientists and engineers for years now have been seeking methods to produce them affordably. Prof. Jes Asmussen’s research group at Michigan State University has been developing diamond technology since the 1980ies. The group developed plasma machines and processes to efficiently make diamonds from methane and hydrogen gases using chemical vapour deposition. The success of the group caught the attention of the engineers at the Fraunhofer Center for Coatings and Laser Applications. Subsequently, both institutions joined together as teams and continued to advance this method. "It was often the technical details that determined success or failure," Thomas Schuelke of CCL attests. "During the synthesis process, the pressure and temperature conditions have to be set and adjusted with absolute precision. We studied these parameters and then started to automate the manufacturing process. Ultimately, a new kind of production machine that meets industry standards emerged. It can finish diamond monocrystals for the jewellery business and for the electronics industry." This machine technology has become commercially available since then: industry partner Lamda Technologies builds and distributes the diamond production machines in the US and world markets. "Our work indicates that the Fraunhofer model – the research at the interface between basic principles and industrial applications – has again proven its value in the USA," concludes Schuelke.

Together with his work group which includes a growing membership of German graduate students who come to the USA for six months to familiarize themselves with the country, people and work ethic, Schuelke is working assiduously on the next generation of machines and processes for diamond harvesting on a mass scale. They would like to enable industry to simultaneously produce several diamonds of more than one cubic centimeter in size. "We have to consider several technical details at this stage. We need to increase operating pressures and modify the synthesis process accordingly," explains the team leader. "The atmospheric pressure plasma technology also holds much promise. Here's where our colleagues' experience at the German parent institute comes into play and it is extremely useful to us. We are in constant contact with the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology IWS in Dresden."

Powerful Software Analysis Tool: Brainchild of an Excellent Cooperation

An example of successful cooperation has Prof. Rance Cleaveland, director of the Fraunhofer Center for Experimental Software Engineering CESE: "Defective software can become a costly matter. While testing NASA communications software, we determined that the transmission of image data from Mercury to the Control Center on Earth would need a third more time than expected, because data was unnecessarily re-transmitted under certain circumstances. Had this problem not been detected, then the costs of transmissions would have skyrocketed by thousands of dollars."

Error detection became possible through SAVE, the acronym for Software Architecture Visualization and Evaluation. SAVE was developed by a German-American research team: researchers at Fraunhofer USA are working together with experts from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, as well as with colleagues at the German parent entity, the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE. "SAVE also displays the software structure of complex programs in an easy-to-read way. That's important when you want to systematically analyze programs and track errors that could lead to unexpected and undesirable conditions," says Cleaveland.

CESE and IESE meanwhile submitted a joint application to patent the new analysis method of SAVE. The advantages of this software are already delivering profitable benefits to NASA, to the U.S.-based Food and Drug Administration FDA which analyzes the reliability of medical technology and to the industry partners of the German institute.

The History at a glance

In September of 1994, Fraunhofer USA began operations when two Fraunhofer Institutes in Aachen opened research centers in the U.S. The University of Michigan together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT created the Fraunhofer Center for Laser Technology in Plymouth, Michigan. Boston University partnered with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen and created the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing Innovation. The original objective was tool and die making but over the years the Center’s research has evolved into providing innovative manufacturing solutions in areas such as pharmaceuticals, medical instrumentation, and optoelectronics.

Also in 1994, the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology opened the Center for Surface and Laser Processing CSLP, today’s Center for Coatings and Laser Applications CCL. The Center is located at Michigan State University, and is one of the world’s leading applied research labs developing synthetic diamond technology. Five years later the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering created the Center for Experimental Software Engineering CESE at the University of Maryland. Some of their major projects have been with NASA's space shuttle missions.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology, along with support from the State of Delaware started the Fraunhofer Center for Molecular Biotechnology CMB in 2001. CMB develops technologies to produce vaccines in greenhouses, using host plants and engineered plant viruses.

The Fraunhofer Office for Digital Media Technologies opened in San Jose, California, in 2007. The goal is to promote the audio-coding technologies of the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits IIS, where mp3 was invented.

The Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy was opened in Boston in 2008. The Center is located near the Massachusetts Institute for Technology campus. Just like its parent Institute, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy, the Center specializes in solar energy and building energy efficiency.