It has been two-and-a-half years since the various locations of KIT i.e., Campus South, Campus North, Campus West, and Campus East in Karlsruhe, Helmholtz Institute Ulm in Ulm, and the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, have been enhanced by KIT’s China Branch in Suzhou. The fan-shaped city of Karlsruhe is almost 9,000 km away from the “Venice of the East”, as 2,500-year-old Suzhou is often called due to its many gardens and canals. Except for the two latter features, Suzhou has nothing much in common with the Italian tourist attraction. Whereas more than ten million people live in the greater area of Suzhou, the city center counts four million people, which is almost as many as live altogether in Cologne, Munich, and Hamburg. The eastern part of Suzhou is home to Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP). This ultra-modern industrial and research area covering almost 290 square kilometers was established in 1994 as a pilot project by the Chinese and Singaporean governments. Approximately 38,500 (inter)national companies are sited now on the premises of SIP. The Science and Education Innovation District (SEID), which is located in the south, houses institutes of 26 top universities from Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia. The KIT is among them.
For two-and-a-half years, Stefan Ruhrmann has been General Manager of the KIT China Branch. He says that China meets with enormous interest on the part of German universities and enterprises. “China is an important strategic partner. Research and science develop at an extremely rapid pace. The German industry can no longer be imagined without the People’s Republic of China as one of its strongest sales and procurement markets.” China and Suzhou have long been appreciated by big German companies, such as Carl Zeiss or Bosch: “More and more products are being created in global networks, and a deep understanding of the respective regions is essential to success,” Ruhrmann explains.
The KIT China Branch has its roots in these ideas and facts. It was launched by the wbk Institute of Production Science: In 2008, Professor Gisela Lanza founded the Global Advanced Manufacturing Institute (GAMI) as a branch of her institute near the city of Hangzhou. In 2011, the branch moved to Suzhou. GAMI investigates production aspects of the Chinese market and closely cooperates with Chinese companies and research institutions to support international companies in establishing robust global production networks.
To make these structures accessible for further research areas at KIT, the KIT together with SEID and GAMI has established the China Branch: “The China Branch serves as a port of call for German and Chinese researchers who want to work in China or with Chinese partners,” Ruhrmann explains. Product development, mobility, energy, information, and environmental protection offer great potential for joint projects.
The China Branch offers research visits as well as training seminars for students, researchers, and industrial companies. “Primarily, we address the strategic field of innovation through practice-oriented ideas that allow us to react together with the firms and researchers to current challenges relating to production,” Ruhrmann says. The Industry 4.0 Demonstration and Innovation Center opened by the KIT China Branch in November 2015 is one such initiative for industry and science. Here, various institutions of KIT, such as the HECTOR School of Engineering & Management, offer training courses to prepare German companies in China for switching to intelligent production. By means of an intelligent hydraulic-valve assembly line equipped with different Industry 4.0 applications, German and Chinese researchers can investigate and test the requirements for plants of the future.
In addition, the China Branch contributes essentially to developing cooperation with the strategic partner universities in Nanjing, Suzhou, and Shanghai: For interested researchers and students at the KIT, the branch facilitates access to relevant research structures, projects, and third party funds in China. To strengthen existing or establish new collaborations with regional partners, the China Branch supports researchers who want to do research in China or with Chinese partners in establishing contacts and getting prepared for cultural challenges and political issues. The branch is taken care of by GAMI’s Chinese staff of approximately twenty. Many of the members of staff have studied in Germany and are well acquainted with both the Chinese and the German ways of life. Stefan Ruhrmann explains that, given the great cultural, political, and economic differences, having staff members who are familiar with both thinking patterns greatly helps in forging collaborations. For KIT, establishing the China Branch was a logical step towards consolidating its commitment in the People’s Republic of China: With approximately 100 projects and more than 40 partner institutions, China is one of the strongest partner countries. This is also evident from the number of students: 1,496 students, by far the largest group of students from abroad, have been studying at KIT during the current winter semester. “With the China Branch, we can strengthen and develop our cooperation with China,” Ruhrmann emphasizes. “By means of our specific structures and extensive network, we want to support researchers and students at the KIT in building further bridges into China.”
Content within the current edition of the science magazine LookKIT on mobility at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Edition 2/2016.
The text was written by Sarah Werner.
Fotos: Markus Breig