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Dialogue with academic partners

Dr. Karl Durst earned his doctorate in the Lightweight Design Centre at Audi in Neckarsulm in 2008. He maintains contact with current doctoral candidates through the Audi doctorate network. An interview.

Dialogue with academic partners

Interview with Dr. Karl Durst

Where have you worked so far at Audi?
I first became acquainted with Audi during an internship in engine development. Im Rahmen des SLP (Student Line Programm) hielt ich während meines Studiums weiterhin Kontakt zu Audi. After completing my studies I then got the opportunity to prepare my dissertation in 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?
When I 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 Academic Cooperation, invited me at short notice for a meeting. So I packed the bicycle that I had designed myself into my car and drove to Ingolstadt.

My lightweight 670 g bicycle frame was evidently so impressive that it paved the way for a university partnership, and thus the first HIN project was born. During my doctoral work I then developed an algorithm to calculate the points in the car body where CFRPs, aluminium 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 fulfil the needs and requirements of both the company and of your university during your doctoral work?
I think the most important thing is to have a presence in both places. For me, Monday and Fridays were always fixed days at Audi in Neckarsulm, and I spent the rest of the week in my department in Stuttgart. That way, I was able to build up a good network at both places, which resulted in lively interaction.

How did Audi’s doctorate network contribute to that?
In my time, the doctorate network was still in the start-up phase. Other doctorates were gradually added and that paved the way for stepping up interaction with each other 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, particularly the opportunity to look beyond your own discipline into other areas represents something quite special. As a result, earning a doctorate at Audi is not only hands-on and efficient; thanks to the doctorate network, it’s also of personal benefit to each doctoral candidate.

Can you think of ways you could still profit from the doctorate network in your current situation?
Obviously it’s good to know which doctoral candidates in the company are dealing with in-depth issues outside of your own area of specialisation. That also makes it possible to approach cutting-edge topics directly in the doctorate network and attract new, motivated employees as a result.

Does this mean you advocate the further development of the alumni network?
Yes, absolutely. Sowohl bei einfachen Fragestellungen zum Arbeitsalltag als auch bei komplexeren Problemen mit der Dissertation: Mir hat es damals sehr geholfen, erfahrene Kollegen zu haben, die einem den Weg weisen. Just as I’d now like to pass on my experience to the current doctoral candidates. Not only professionally, but on a personal level too.

Looking back at your own time as a doctoral candidate, what would you like to say to the current doctoral students?
The most important thing is that you simply bring new, maybe 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.

Thank you for such an enlightening interview.