What Exactly Are You Developing?

Interview with Dr. Günter Bachlechner, Head of Technology Development

There is a recurring need for innovative technological solutions – whether in product development or production processes. This is where Technology Development at Bayer Technology Services can help. The head of this division, Dr. Günter Bachlechner, explains how this works.

One thing is certain for Günter Bachlechner: there can be no new products without innovative technology.

solutions: Bayer considers itself to be an inventor company, and each subgroup has its own research department. So why is there still a need for a development department at Bayer Technology Services? 

Bachlechner: To support the subgroups – in all interdisciplinary technological areas, from research right up to production. We’re a melting pot of ideas, if you like, extending beyond the boundaries of the subgroups and devoted to those future concerns that appear promising for the further technological development of the entire Bayer group.

Working with our subgroups HealthCare, Crop- Science, and Material- Science we have defined five strategic topics: process technology, biotechnology, formulations, screening technologies, and the modelling of complex systems. All with the same goal of turning ideas into solutions that can be implemented in practice.

solutions: 2,300 employees who’re paid just to think? 

Bachlechner: To think and implement. This figure includes all the staff at Bayer Technology Services working in every division – from the development of technical processes, via designing and constructing plants, right up to methods and instrumentation for the safe and efficient operation of facilities.

So you see implementation is just as important as thinking. After all, our job is to create reliable and efficient solutions for the industry from excellent, new ideas. And this means we need people as well as technology. 

solutions: New ideas – the first thing you think of is young people coming straight from university ...

Bachlechner: Of course a new generation of firstclass employees is crucial. Which is why we network very closely with the best universities around the world. After all, we’re also the Bayer entry and personnel development portal for engineers and natural scientists. It is only this interaction between promising talents and experienced experts that can lead to great innovations. I believe it’s here that the value of diversity becomes unmistakably clear.

solutions: Do you have any concrete examples?

Bachlechner: Loads of them. With our expertise in the field of process technology we’re continuously discovering possible optimizations – even with tried-and-tested methods – allowing for more products of a higher quality while reducing the amount of resources and energy needed. In this way we’re supporting the subgroups in their striving for market leadership. This also involves developing innovative methods to replace fossil fuels with renewable ones.

Furthermore, we make good use of our mathematical natural scientific expertise gained from the simulation of chemical reactions in complex facilities. For example, nowadays we can simulate the metabolic process in cells and organisms, such that one day it’ll be possible to better understand diseases and so develop the appropriate medicines more quickly. 

Dr. Günter Bachlechner
“Open innovation is a sensible path.”

solutions: Would you say that people and their ideas are the real added value offered by Bayer Technology Services?

Bachlechner: Yes, that’s right. The key to success is the timely identification and correct development of our expertise. In my opinion it actually makes little sense to buy in expertise or seemingly profitable innovations without examining them first. They have to be evaluated and developed. Which is exactly what we’re doing. In life science research in particular it can take up to ten years to develop a new product and successfully launch it on the market. This requires enthusiasm, dedication and patience, alongside expertise and discipline. That’s why we’ve also introduced the project manager and expert career path in addition to the traditional manager path, which rewards responsibility for staff and budgeting. This allows talented employees to devote themselves to their areas of expertise to the extent necessary that they become leaders in the field with a worldwide reputation, which is then rewarded like a managerial qualification.

solutions: And how many people at BTS take this opportunity?

Bachlechner: Over 200 of our employees have decided on this career path …

solutions: … which they are then committed to permanently?

Bachlechner: No, not necessarily. You can also switch between the two. The decisive factor is that each employee is empowered to make an entirely individual contribution to our mission of “Science For A Better Life” in the best possible way. Because this is, after all, our task – and one we take very seriously: creating added value for Bayer by way of dedicated experts and technology.

solutions: But can’t you simply buy everything you need on the market these days?

Bachlechner: No, especially not in those important new areas where we want to make life better, as per our mission. You cannot buy our solutions for screening or bio-imaging, for example, on the market. Which is exactly what gives Bayer a competitive edge. And, to be honest, we’re happy with this state of affairs.

solutions: You originally worked at Bayer CropScience, a customer of Bayer Technology Services. Did the switch to the other side change your own personal point of view?

Bachlechner: Not change so much, but certainly widen. Because BTS demands of itself that it always views the projects from the customer’s perspective on the path to success. To this must be added the fact that we always develop solutions together with the customer, too. This means cooperation is a substantial part of our work. Which is why there is no alternative: It is really all about furthering Bayer as a whole. And if you take me as an example, I can say that I’m now working with my colleagues for all three subgroups at Bayer.

solutions: Does that mean this attitude only applies to customers within the group?

Bachlechner: No, even if we’re mainly carrying out research and development for Bayer. But it goes without saying that we know our expertise and experience are valuable and of interest to other companies. Which is why we very much enjoy working with external customers, if their requirements correspond to our range of services and the Bayer strategy. This was the case with the manufacture of tire rubber, for example. For 80 years this was a very energy-intensive process. Then with our customer Lanxess we integrated a technology taken from the polymer industry that allows butyl rubber to be made using fewer resources than is possible with conventional methods, increasing both energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. 

“In many areas, open innovation is an efficient and useful way of dealing with the complexities of the task in question.”

The career path

Born in 1956 in Villach, Austria, Günter Bachlechner has been head of the Technology Development division since June 2011. With his doctorate in chemistry, he began his career at Bayer Crop Protection in 1987, starting with Environmental Research in Monheim. Seven years later he was appointed project manager in portfolio management, and in 2000 took over as head of the development division at Nihon Bayer Agrochem in Tokyo. Following this he joined Industrial Operations at Bayer CropScience, before returning to research. Between 2004 and 2011 he was responsible for the area of Research Product Technology at Bayer CropScience. The Technology Development division has a total of around 400 employees, working at various sites around the world.

solutions: Are the resources available to Technology Development sufficient to meet all the demands you’ve stipulated?

Bachlechner (laughs): I’ve yet to meet the head of research who considers his or her resources adequate. No, but seriously: In research it is above all quality that determines success. And fortunately we have an excellent team at our disposal ...

solutions: ... made up how?

Bachlechner: We’re a team made up of laboratory technicians, technologists, natural scientists, engineers, computer scientists, and pharmacists. Experts from 22 nations, incidentally. And all put together they form an important part of innovation at Bayer. 

solutions: That sounds like you already have all the experts you need.

Bachlechner: There’s no doubt that we have a great team, one that I’m very proud of. But, no, to cover every aspect of every conceivable innovation we would really have to acquire very wide-ranging expertise – in subjects outside our area of core competence. So we prefer to cooperate with our trusted partners from among the world’s best. And it is they who contribute the expertise we need.

solutions: In other words: open innovation?

Bachlechner: That’s right. And it must be said that in many areas this is an efficient and useful way of dealing with the complexities of the task in question.

solutions: What have your experiences been like so far in this field?

Bachlechner: Outstanding. And I make no secret of the fact that we’re proud when our expertise is regarded so highly that internationally renowned partners want to collaborate with us.

solutions: For example?

Bachlechner: Only recently we founded the Joint Research Center for Computational Biomedicine with the RWTH Aachen. This is concerned with examining how diseases develop and treating them with novel active ingredients using computer models. The new research center will become a leading European institute for system biology. Or take our INVITE research center, for example. We’re working together with the Technical University Dortmund on the “Factory of the Future” and are testing the production of fine chemicals on a pilot-project scale. Here, too, we are pioneers – and not only from a technological point of view, but also in terms of the type of cooperation.

solutions: How do you mean?

Bachlechner: Who would’ve thought ten years ago that European competitors would sit down at one table to work on new production standards? Or that the energy and chemicals sectors would collaborate on the sustainable use of CO2? We’re all working together on this under one roof in Leverkusen right now.

solutions: And are there any tangible results yet?

Bachlechner: Oh, yes. Very good ones even. Together with international partners we have paved the way for manufacturing using a minimum of resources. And the beauty of it is that we can already prove the resulting huge benefits using standardized and modular production plants.

“As far as I know, Bayer is the only global company researching on such a broad scale all three biological systems: humans, plants, and animals.”

solutions: Is this also a part of “Science For A Better Life”?

Bachlechner: But of course. Saving resources and thus working towards sustainability is one of the main priorities for Bayer. After all, we have to think in terms of cycles now more than ever.

Dr. Günter Bachlechner
Technological innovation improves the world.

solutions: For example?

Bachlechner: As I said before, in the use of environmentally-harmful carbon dioxide as a raw material in the manufacture of chemical products, for example. And we don’t only intend to demonstrate that this is possible, but also that it makes economic sense. So we’re naturally a little proud when Klaus Töpfer, founding director of the Institute of Advanced Sustainability Studies and for many years executive director of UNEP, at the official opening of our pilot plant described closing the carbon cycle as a solution to one of mankind’s major problems.

solutions: A drop in the ocean?

Bachlechner: I’d prefer to say a step in the right direction. And, what’s more, one of many that have to follow.

solutions: But, in the public’s view, the chemical industry is not usually considered a pioneer when it comes to ecology.

Bachlechner: That is unfortunately how it appears. Which is why it’s all the more important that we repeatedly point out how much people benefit from our work and to what extent we really do contribute to improving the quality of life.

solutions: Yet this improvement to the quality of life refers to the most varied areas. From developing active ingredients for medicines right up to using CO2 as a raw material in the production of plastics. Why are you concerned with so many different issues?

Bachlechner: They’re not that different. If you take a closer look at these fields, you’ll see that they all have a common basis. As far as I know, Bayer is the only global company researching on such a broad scale all three biological systems: humans, plants, and animals. Because all three share one thing in common: the biochemical metabolism in cells. If we can understand these interconnections, then we can manufacture complex molecules using bacteria, develop active ingredients and biologics or, put simply, protect and treat humans, animals, and plants.

In other words, as I put it earlier on: “Science For A Better Life.”

solutions: Is this also a part of “Science For A Better Life”?

Bachlechner: But of course. Saving resources and thus working towards sustainability is one of the main priorities for Bayer. After all, we have to think in terms of cycles now more than ever.

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