Dialogue with academic partners
Dr. Karl Durst successfully earned his doctorate in the Lightweight Design Center at Audi in Neckarsulm in 2008. He maintains contact with current doctoral candidates through the Audi doctorate network. An interview.
Where have you worked so far at Audi?
I first became acquainted with Audi during an internship in engine development. I maintained contact with Audi during my studies as part of the SLP (Student Line Program). After completing my studies I then got the opportunity to prepare my dissertation at Audi’s Lightweight Design Center in Neckarsulm. Afterwards, I worked there in both pre-development and in technology development for CFRP materials. In late 2009, I switched to Ingolstadt where I started off as the main point of contact for the Neckarsulm Lightweight Design Center here at the headquarters. Since 2015 I have been assistant to the Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG for Technical Development.
How did you come to do your doctorate and what was the subject of your dissertation?
After I had applied I initially received a rejection because lightweight construction was not yet included in the doctoral projects. When I asked if I could nonetheless introduce myself, Dr. Tropschuh, Head of Research Partnerships, invited me at short notice for a meeting. So I packed the bicycle that I had constructed myself into my car and drove to Ingolstadt.
My lightweight 670-gram bicycle frame was apparently so persuasive that it created the basic conditions for a university partnership and thus the first HIN project was born. During my doctoral work I then developed algorithms to calculate the points in the car body where CFRPs, aluminum and steel each offered advantages.
You could say that I was searching for the right material in the right amount and the right place. This is the basis of Audi ultra lightweight technology.
How were you able to fulfill the needs and requirements of both the company and of your university during your doctoral work?
The most important thing here in my view is to have a presence in both places. For me, Monday and Fridays were always fixed days at Audi in Neckarsulm, the rest of the week I sat at my desk in Stuttgart. In this way I was able to develop a good network at both places, which resulted in lively interaction.
How did Audi’s network of doctorates contribute to that?
In my time, the doctorate network was still in the startup phase. Other doctorates were gradually added and in this way the interaction with each other could be intensified in all areas. The network has developed from this disciplinary and interdisciplinary networking to its current form, from which all participants can profit in a wide range of ways. Looking back, it is especially the view beyond one’s own discipline into other areas that represents something quite special. As a result, earning a doctorate at Audi is not only hands-on and efficient, but thanks to the doctorate network, it’s also of personal benefit to each doctoral candidate.
Can you think of ways you could continue to profit from the doctorate network in your current situation?
It’s good to know, of course, which doctoral candidates in the company are dealing with in-depth issues outside of your own area of specialization. In addition, this makes it possible to approach cutting-edge topics directly in the doctorate network and as a result to acquire new, motivated employees.
Does this mean that you support the further development of the alumni network?
Yes, absolutely. When it came to both simple issues in day-to-day work and to more complex problems with the dissertation: it helped me a lot back then to have experienced colleagues who could show the way. Exactly as I’d now like to pass on my experience to the current doctoral candidates. And not only professionally, but personally as well.
Looking back at your own time as a doctoral candidate, what would you like to tell the current postgraduates?
The most important thing is that you simply bring new, maybe even unconventional ideas into the company. You can be sure that there will always be someone who is just as excited about the ideas as you are and will support you in implementing them.
We thank you for such an enlightening interview.