Fraunhofer USA History
In 1994, Fraunhofer had just experienced a long period of substantial growth and decided to establish the first Fraunhofer subsidiary in the United States, which had a very dynamic manufacturing sector. Fraunhofer wanted to become a global provider of quality solutions to technical problems.
While the initial steps were already prepared by late Fraunhofer President Professor Max Syrbe, the deal was closed by his successor Professor Hans-Jürgen Warnecke, an expert in industrial manufacturing and automation, who had just taken office as President of Fraunhofer in 1993. He was applauded by both U.S. and German industry leaders for his vision. Dr. Dirk Meints Polter, the first president of Fraunhofer USA, stated: “We wanted to contribute to the U.S. economy, and to benefit our partners and clients in the United States. We feel that our method of conducting research through creating partnerships translates into a win-win situation for our customers and sponsors on both sides of the Atlantic. From the start, we met U.S. universities that were highly interested in the Fraunhofer model of application-driven research, and open to the idea of close cooperation."
At the time, Dr. John Silber – a visionary and excellent leader - was president of Boston University. He was aware of the diversity and distinctiveness of the German research system, as he had been a Fulbright fellow in Germany in his early career. He was convinced that the Fraunhofer concept of having a university professor taking on the directorship of a Fraunhofer research unit would benefit both sides. The resulting partnership produced the Center for Manufacturing Innovation.
Later, other universities became our close partners, including the University of Maryland, Michigan State University, the University of Delaware, and the University of Connecticut. In the early years we developed a portfolio of market-relevant R&D services, and we began establishing brand recognition in the U.S. The most attractive market was the automotive industry with its widespread network of suppliers; but the other markets were quickly evolving. In our first decade, we expanded into the fields of information technology, software engineering, and biotechnology. Our two most recent centers specialize in alternative-energy materials, devices, and systems.
Today, we witness the renaissance of manufacturing, with the growing durable goods manufacturing sector contributing to long-awaited U.S. economic growth. The U.S. government is eager to reinforce this trend, and Germany’s innovative manufacturing landscape is seen as a role model. We have come back to an area of expertise that remains a stronghold in Fraunhofer’s research profile. We are well positioned – and recognized - in the U.S. research landscape to play an important role in the innovation system as a bridge between academia and industry.