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Scientific Ambassador Prof. Uwe Meinberg

Uwe Meinberg is the holder of the Academic Chair of Industrial Information Systems at the Brandenburg University of Technology Cottbus-Senftenberg. He comes from Dortmund’s Fraunhofer Institute for Material Flow and Logistics. For many years he was the Managing Director of a software company specialised in logistics, automotive suppliers and airports.


Audio Version

Prof. Uwe Meinberg interviewed by Thomas Prinzler | rbb Inforadio

How does one even become a scientific ambassador?

I had the impression that this title finds you, in a certain way, thanks to your activities in the field of science but also in Brandenburg’s business sector. And then you are asked, and if you are very brave, you say yes. Because in the beginning you don't know what to expect. The task – and it's not that I suffer as a result of it or that I have a great burden to carry – essentially consists of making this location more prominent especially in the framework of its international activities and of helping the state of Brandenburg to possibly convince some business leaders to move here.

And? Do you receive a lordly salary?

So far, I think, I have received many handshakes. (Laughs) No, this is honorary work.

As a scientific ambassador you also have to be a diplomat; what would you like to tell the world about the science and technology location Brandenburg?

To my personal small world I always profess only what I really believe in. In other words, I tell interested entrepreneurs, especially those abroad, in China or Russia, that they will find a really excellent infrastructure here in this state, a fantastic network, and if they go to the affluent suburbs or to the conurbations of the state of Brandenburg, they will find it again, namely the excellent transport infrastructure, which forms the basis for them to become successful after moving to and settling in this region. After all, it is one thing to manufacture products somewhere cheaply, but it is yet another thing to be able to then deliver them to the markets. The conditions to do so must be in place, and this is what the state of Brandenburg offers. Potential partners are interested in the hard facts, in other words: Where is my market and what does the state have to offer me as a business location? But of course they are also interested in the soft factors: What does the state have to offer in terms of leisure activities and interesting experiences? In this regard Brandenburg is already very well known – and that matters!

Everyone knows that modern production processes for cars or even toothpastes cannot be competitive without the appropriate computers, IT systems and logistics. You are a Professor of Industrial Information Systems and are therefore dealing with precisely that; for example, with the optimization of logistics processes.

Yes, our research and education focuses on the information systems that are used for product planning: CAD, computer-aided design systems, production planning systems and systems used for the planning of logistics processes. Let me give you an example of a small new project we are currently working on: A very large tyre retailer has to develop logistics software to be able to manage the entire tyre stock. To give you an idea about the scale of the project: There are almost 400,000 tyres in the retailer’s warehouse and the transshipment is very, very fast throughout the year. It's all about creating and installing software that provides, at all times, an overview of when which tyre is where, which customer order can be satisfied and which one can potentially not be fulfilled.

What challenges did you choose to face and which ones came up forcing you to face them?

I have been working here in Cottbus at the Brandenburg University of Technology for almost ten years now. I have spent a total of 30 years in the field of research – and I'm not always working on just one topic the whole time. Surely my main field is logistics. But due to the continuous development processes that we always have to face in the fields of technology and engineering, our main activities inevitably have to change as well. At the beginning of my life as a researcher and developer I focused on how to create optimal warehouse systems. And today we are working on how to use unmanned aeroplanes or aircraft to make logistical processes safer. As you can see, these topics are very, very far apart. And this process of – if you like – keeping up with the times, pinpointing current developments and determining the areas to which we could still make contributions as a team and with our research activities. That's what I would call a challenge.

Now I am amazed; what do airplanes and flying unmanned vehicles have to do with logistics?

If you think of logistics, then of course you usually think of transports carried out by truck, by rail, by ship, by airplane, and you think of what happens during the production process. But it is also interesting to consider the movements of people in a factory, the movements of people while they are using the public infrastructure – an airport terminal, a train station, or a concert venue – but also the movements of tourists in beautiful regions, such as our Spreewald. That’s a certain kind of logistical process that also needs to be analysed. And if you want to analyse a process taking place, for example, at a big concert or in a football stadium or more specifically the process of filling or emptying a football stadium, then you are faced with the task of having to somehow record the movement of the persons. How can this be done? Of course, we can put a lot of people there and they will observe the persons and count them. However, that's inefficient. Of course you can also use automatic monitoring systems. One way of doing this consists of using unmanned aerial vehicles, so-called drones; they can be equipped with cameras and determine the movement patterns of streams of people. This technology has evolved over time and we now have a large simulation tool at our disposal that can be used to display the behaviour of people, for example at a train station or an airport terminal. This certainly becomes very interesting when it comes to optimising these systems: How large must waiting areas be, how wide must escape doors be, how should stairways and corridors be designed? The whole issue becomes interesting and tense in the event of unexpected events causing damage, such as attacks at airport terminals or accidents at concert venues. These are some of the topics that we also have to address from a logistical point of view.

What makes you stay in Cottbus, what makes the city so interesting to you, the scientist Meinberg?

It is still an attractive location; we are very well equipped here in Cottbus. The university thus offers ideal opportunities. The university has a very nice campus and because the university is quite small it offers a very good environment for collaborations, which is something that is somewhat limited at large universities such as the one in Dortmund, where I come from.

How are the conditions for your work here and what framework conditions would you like to have as a researcher?

Well, you see, a researcher is always the happiest when he or she has a lot of money and a lot of co-workers in order to do a lot of research! That is a utopia; it will certainly not come to pass during my professional life or my next live. A very positive factor for a research location, such as the Brandenburg University of Technology in Cottbus, is stability. Stability in the sense that it is possible to plan future projects. This, of course, goes hand in hand with well-balanced funding.

However, this stability cannot be achieved simply by forcing me – on demand and at the call of others – to acquire new project partners from the field of industry that will then provide the money. There must be a stable level of basic funding provided from the state budget for such a research institution as ours. You have to know what you can expect in the near future. Then you know what you have to prepare yourself for and how much effort you will have to exert in order to find funding sources or donors from the business sector. At the moment this is a situation that needs to be improved.