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Research and Development

Preparation of trace analysis of the dissolved raw materials with an atomic emmission spectrometer. Even at the molecular level, detecting impurities is key to manufacturing products of the highest quality.
Photo: SCHOTT/A. Stephan
Thilo Horvatitsch

Networks for the Future

Modern researchers do more than just laboratory work. They are both global networkers and project managers. This is how research at SCHOTT cultivates promising future business fields to secure its competitiveness.

Dr. Yvonne Menke worked in Japan for the team of a recognized expert in the field of opto-ceramics for six months. At Dr. Akio Ikesue’s laboratory in Nagoya, this SCHOTT ­researcher became much more familiar with the process of manufacturing this promising future material. Opto-ceramics are transparent. They offer important advantages over previously used glasses or crystals as an optical material for generating laser light (see also page 36). ”We were mainly interested in finding out to what extent opto-ceramics can be industrially manufactured and where the limitations lie with respect to the properties of this material,” Yvonne Menke explains.

This sends two messages: For one, research at SCHOTT ultimately always focuses on an application. Secondly, tapping into external expertise is of great benefit to the Group. As Yvonne Menke puts it, ”Today, it is important to identify the right experts and get them involved. We simply can’t do it all on our own.” In this case, the Group entered into a relationship in the area of research with the scientist Dr. Ikesue, who now contributes his know-how and infrastructure. The results help to strengthen manufacturing on the laboratory scale at SCHOTT and further develop it together with research partners.

And, as one would expect, the daily life of the some 180 ­experts in centralized research and technology development at SCHOTT support this direction: orientation towards applications, networking and project work that crosses national ­borders. This means that some 600 SCHOTT employees from Business Units all over the world pursue a single goal: inno­vation. After all, for a technology Group that competes, it is vital that the investments in research pay off later. Here, SCHOTT demands a great deal. The company is striving to achieve 30 percent of its total sales with products that have been on the market for less than five years.
Picture on top: Test melting helps ensure the best possible composition of raw materials for a specific ­application. Photo: SCHOTT/D. Fonda
Picture below: The Technical Center at the Otto SCHOTT Research Center in Mainz, Germany, has a sputter coating system ready for series production that offers a variety of different ways to process glass and glass ceramic. Photo: SCHOTT/A.Stephan
Tradition of material development

With this in mind, the example of opto-ceramics clearly makes one important point: Material development is an area of ­expertise at SCHOTT with a tradition that goes back to the 19th century and remains the foundation from which future innovations will sprout.

What was once characterized solely by empirical procedures with observations and experiments now bares the digital signature of the computer age. ”Today, we use computer-aided mathematic simulations and models. This allows for the characteristics of materials to be determined precisely in advance. It also saves precious research time and expensive laboratory attempts,” says Dr. Rüdiger Sprengard, Director of Materials & Components for Centralized Research. This is also true for new manufacturing processes. Insights obtained while working in front of the computer make the transition to industrial manufacturing much easier. ”The material remains our source of success, however. We maximize its value creation with the help of our ­detailed understanding of our customers’ and development partner’s current and future technological requirements,” Sprengard says.
Solar: sights set on efficiency and reliability

In order to serve future markets, SCHOTT researchers are ­increasingly looking beyond traditional core capabilities in the area of specialized glass and glass ceramics to focus on components and system solutions. To develop these, the researchers with our technology Group are supporting the Group subsidiary SCHOTT Solar with its segments Photovol­taics and Concentrated Solar Power, for example. The main goals of this collaboration are to increase the reliability and efficiency of this technology. ”We develop computer-based models and test procedures in order to characterize and improve solar products with respect to their life expectancy. After all, modules are often expected to perform for more than 20 years. Here, the various materials, such as glass, silicon, metal and plastics, need to be able to work together in a productive manner,” explains Dr. Stefan Bauer, who manages this area. The initial results have already flowed into the development of a new solar module from SCHOTT Solar that has larger solar cells.
Based at the site of the German headquarters in Mainz, the Otto SCHOTT Research Center is one of the world’s leading institutions in the field of glass research. More than 180 researchers, engineers and application experts are employed here. The center offers comprehensive analytical services based on more than 300 methods of measurement and techniques for solving problems.
To increase the efficiency of solar modules, efforts to come up with an ”intelligent” light guide are underway. This would ensure that as much sunlight as possible reaches the solar cell, remains there and is converted into electricity. Laboratory tests focus on modifying the front glasses of the PV modules, for example, through improved glasses, but also by applying coatings. SCHOTT Solar views the development of completely new micromorphous solar cells to be a key technology for increasing the efficiency of thin-film cells to over ten percent. This involves the advantageous combination of amorphous and crystalline cells. ”Here, we contribute our know-how when it comes to designing and characterizing these thin layers,” says Stefan Bauer. Research at SCHOTT also offers expert assistance in the area of coatings by helping to set up new manufacturing of ­receivers for solar thermal power plants in Spain and the U.S. Here, they assist with selecting and implementing the measurement and sputtering technologies that make it possible to apply special absorptive layers to the receivers to make the best ­possible use of solar energy.
PICVD technology offers many different ways to increase the shelf-life of sensitive biotech medications by coating the inside surfaces of pharmaceutical packaging.

Manifold areas of expertise

Today, improving products with the help of coating techniques is a core competence of SCHOTT. And, this is of great significance to research. For instance, investigating how coatings on cooktop panels behave when temperatures fluctuate considerably has always been and still is the subject of research. The ­insights have resulted in the development of thermally resistant color coatings for the new generation of Ceran Cleartrans® cooktop panels on the basis of transparent glass ceramics. Researchers also have their sights set on infrared reflective coatings for fireplace viewing panels that result in the most environ­mentally friendly and efficient combustion in heating systems.
Picture on top: Testing of the chemical resistance of pharmaceutical vials in an autoclave, a gas-tight pressure tank. Photo: SCHOTT/A. Stephan
Picture below: Dr. Yvonne Menke worked in Japan for six months as a member of the team of a world-renowned expert on unique new types of transparent optoceramics. Photo: A. Sell
The growing trend towards the use of biopharmaceuticals clearly also offers revolutionary possibilities. Here, SCHOTT has developed pharmaceutical packaging that contains entirely unique coatings in order to protect the sensitive ingredients based on proteins. “We’ve clearly developed advanced expertise in this area. In order to come up with the right solution for each individual customer request, we rely on our global network that includes leading coating institutes, our own broad coating know-how based on our patented PICVD (Plasma Impulse Chemical Vapor Deposition) technique, for instance, as well as the scientific skills of our U.S. research site in Duryea,” says Dr. Tobias Kälber, Director of Technology and Product Development on Coatings, Centralized Research. Here, the interaction between biomolecules and surfaces are the main focus of research. Those who work in the pharmaceutical industry are also allowed to use the respective techniques and expertise.

Technical support centers in Asia

Nevertheless, this is not the only area where SCHOTT seeks to take the shortest route to customers, whether internal or external. Technical support centers offer support where research and application cross paths: in Asia, where the business continues to grow for the Group. The facilities in Suzhou, China, and Minakuchi, Japan, are developing networks and contacts to universities, executing local development projects, providing local units with technical applications support and acting as problem solvers very close to customers.

”Japan is an innovation leader in many of our fields and China is also catching up. Because we are present here, we see the direction that things are moving in rather early. Therefore, our contribution towards research topics will continue to grow,” José Zimmer, head of the Application Centers, is convinced. This also applies to scouting around for interesting new technologies, cooperating with science and development partners, as well as recruiting young researchers. Today, SCHOTT already cooperates with more than 150 partners from research institutes, universities and corporations mainly in Europe and the United States. Extending this network to include Asia is now becoming even more important.
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