Key handover at the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics
On July 1, Prof. Patrick Bressler succeeded Dr. Joachim Pelka as head of the Berlin-based business office. In this interview, the two of them talked about the Group’s origins as well as the tasks and challenges that lie ahead.
Dr. Pelka, from the very beginning you were the head of the business office of the Fraunhofer Group for Microelectronics. A lot is bound to have changed in those 22 years?
Dr. Pelka: It all started in 1996 when I was assistant to the Chairman – what was planned as a part-time job soon became a full-time calling if you took the thinking behind the Group seriously. In 1999, the then-Chairman of the Group, Prof. Herbert Reichl, was able to convince headquarters of the need to establish a business office. Initially, the office’s duties were in coordination only. Nowadays, however, we support chairpersons and institutes in developing, formulating, and implementing joint strategies.
How were the first few months and years? How has the Group developed over time?
Dr. Pelka: The first few months were very challenging for me. I had already been at Fraunhofer for many years, but I wasn't aware of how the different institutes need to be addressed differently, that they each have their own specifications. In order to be able to mediate well, the first step was to establish a solid foundation of trust between the institutes in the Group. The institutes now act as partners. Our good coexistence has since grown to take up a lot more space.
What were the most important and exciting tasks you were entrusted with at the Group for Microelectronics?
Dr. Pelka: That was definitely the strategic process that led to the establishment of the Research Fab Microelectronics Germany (FMD). It took several attempts to get the Group institutes to agree to a joint strategy. A strict division between the operative business of the institutes and long-term strategic direction of the overall Group made it possible to develop a shared understanding of core skills and to draw up cross-institute road maps for the first time. These results were submitted as a concept to the roadmapping competition for research infrastructures held by the BMBF. The ministry was convinced and approved funding outside of the competition. The Fraunhofer share of that funding – almost €300 million – is the largest individual grant that the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft had so far been able to obtain.
Which projects are you planning for the future?
Dr. Pelka: I expect to go seamlessly into the next year and a half as a senior advisor. Together with my colleagues from imec and Leti, I am preparing a European technology initiative for the next generation of edge computing. The concepts need to have been drawn up by about the middle of next year. Maybe an FMD 2.0 will come of it. That would top even our success with today’s FMD. Within the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, however, we are also trying to establish a close collaboration with the ICT Group, because microelectronics alone only covers hardware.
In short, what advice would you like to pass on to Prof. Bressler?
Dr. Pelka: Patrick, the next thing on the agenda is the European dimension. That will be your task. We need to continue to expand our European activities and to strengthen the trust between the various actors.
Prof. Bressler, how did you come to choose to study physics, and would you select the same university path if you had to choose again?
Prof. Bressler: With hindsight, individual events and coincidences form a mosaic that you didn't know beforehand but that you later call your career. One significant but also improbable coincidence was that I had an outstanding physics teacher. He knew how to arouse my curiosity for the conceptual models of physics. If I had to choose again, I would certainly still study a science – but which one would depend on the coincidences that happened.
Tell us about the milestones of your professional history.
Prof. Bressler: Before going to university, I spent six months at a metalworking shop where I learned metalwork. Those were my first factory experiences.
While studying physics in Aachen I worked part-time as a student employee in an industrial laboratory, where I characterized fiber glass and operated vacuum evaporation systems. At TU Berlin, I got my doctorate with a thesis on surface physics and magnetic semiconductors. Then, I worked for over a decade as a scientist at the Berlin Electron Storage Ring (BESSY). As a native speaker of English, I was asked increasingly over the years, to look through Research applications, in particular the EU ones, and soon I was an in-demand specialist among the applicants.
Later, as Head of Unit for Physical and Engineering Sciences at the European Science Foundation, I was able to view and evaluate applications and launch new programs – in other words, to do research management. I started to work as a proposal reviewer at the European Community, as well.
During my time in Fraunhofer’s Brussels office the focus was increasingly on networking, coordination, and lobbying in the European Parliament for research and development. Finally, as Executive Vice President of Fraunhofer USA in the last 3 ½ years before taking this job, I worked to improve the U.S. business model, negotiated new contracts, and – in conjunction with headquarters in Munich – expanded the collaboration between Fraunhofer USA and the parent institutes. I learned a lot doing that. New areas of expertise, skills, and wider thematic areas were added all the time.
I am now here – in the business office – during an exciting time of change and reinvention for microelectronics. It is always a challenge to inherit the post from a very successful business office head. That is why I am very excited that we will both have a year and a half of overlap and continuity.
Where would you like to place particular emphasis?
Prof. Bressler: As Achim has already emphasized, particular effort will need to be placed on expanding our European and international activities. From my experience in Brussels, I know how important it is to build and maintain networks. Another aim is to promote the strategic development for the Group as a whole, as well as the integration with the FMD. The intention here is to create a coherent view of the future and an operational model that matches that. This needs to be accompanied by PR and communication duties for the business office, as well as studies and market analyses.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
The interview was conducted by Frida Depperschmidt.