Interview with Dr. Christoph Briehn, Director R&D, Division SILICONES, WACKER Chemical Corporation
Please tell us about the company, yourself and your role within WACKER Chemical Corporation.
WACKER is a €5 billion global chemical company, offering innovative solutions for more than 105 years to the world's key industries ranging from automotive and transportation, electronics, healthcare, pharma, consumer care, textiles, construction, paints and coatings, food, agricultural, chemical, sustainable energy and multiple other industries. We are a pioneer in silicone and polymer technology and the leading provider of polysilicon for the semiconductor and solar energy industry. We value collaboration with our customers to develop customized solutions catered specifically to their needs as well as creating cutting-edge technical results for our partners. Through our 105 years as a company, we have advanced from a raw materials producer to a progressive, forward-thinking solutions provider.
I joined WACKER in 2003 after completing a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech as R&D manager at the group’s main corporate R&D laboratories in Munich, Germany. Founded in 1903, this facility was the birthplace of our company. Here many of the WACKER group’s key innovations such as the WACKER process to produce acetaldehyde, the enzymatic generation of cyclodextrins, and the biotech production platform ESETEC® originated.
Since the start of my career as a research scientist at WACKER, I have spent my entire career in R&D and marketing of silicones, a specialty polymer with an extremely versatile property and application profile. Since 2016 I am leading our new North American Silicones R&D center located in the technology hub, Ann Arbor, Michigan. One of my main roles in my current position is to identify and evaluate new technologies that are of relevance for our business growth. Engaging and networking with universities, research institutions, national labs, start-ups and our customers is key.
What are technology/solution areas that you have a primary interest in?
According to our corporate motto “Creating Tomorrow’s Solutions”, WACKER is focused upon technical product and process innovations that are aligned with our core technologies and the key industries we serve. Our primary interests include new technologies that are relevant for polymer chemistry, silicone chemistry, biotechnology, photovoltaics and digitization. Furthermore, WACKER is very passionate about sustainability which is among of our corporate values and currently drives numerous development programs and technology platforms.
What level of commercial maturity do you typically look for in technology partnerships
As a solution provider, we are constantly seeking opportunities to advance our existing technologies and to push their boundaries. When evaluating external technologies, while WACKER welcomes innovations on all levels of commercial maturity, innovations on advanced development stages and with a clear commercialization pathway may attract more interest and pass the internal evaluation process.
Tell us why innovation is important to your company and how this model supports your efforts to find new innovations. Could you describe 1-2 policies or programs your company has in place to support external innovation? e.g., website for folks to submit ideas, division within your company dedicated to new innovations etc.
Innovation, one of WACKER’s five company values is a crucial driving force for profitable growth at all business divisions. In 2018, WACKER invested 3.3% of the group’s sales into R&D which positions WACKER as one of the world’s most research-intensive chemical companies.
For us, innovation means to deliver solutions that meet or exceed customer needs and expectations. This can be accomplished by technology and market-driven innovation. As an example on how we engage with external partners for a technology-driven approach, we are sponsoring the WACKER Institute of Silicon Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich to anchor silicon chemistry in academic research and teaching. At the same time, it connects us to an external global research network, giving us direct access to academic experts, fresh research ideas and talent.
An example of our market-driven approach is the WACKER ACADEMY that had been launched more than 10 years ago. This platform offers customized training courses about our technologies and applications that are fit to our customers’ need and has helped us to build strong and interactive partnerships. During these meetings we often have ideation sessions that have proven to be an excellent source for new product ideas.
Why work with TechConnect and the National Innovation Summit as a technology prospector? Who are you looking to meet with?
This is WACKER’S first TechConnect event and we are honored to be a corporate partner. The National Innovation Summit with its Expo is an ideal platform for our scouting team to meet and network with innovators, and to evaluate various fields of technology in a well-structured and efficient way. We are looking forward to meeting passionate inventors and entrepreneurs that – if there is a good fit – we can support in the journey to successful commercialized solutions.
About TechConnect World Innovation Conference: For over 20 years the TechConnect World Innovation Conference and Expo has connected top applied research and early-stage innovations from universities, labs, and startups with industry end-users and prospectors. The 2019 TechConnect World Innovation event includes the annual SBIR/STTR Spring Innovation Conference, Spring AI TechConnect, the TechConnect Technical Program - more than 35 world-class technical symposium, and the Nanotech Conference Series – the world's largest and longest running nanotechnology event.
Click here for more information on the TechConnect World Innovation Conference, June 17-19, 2019.
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