28-04-2013 [• innovation
EXPERIMENTINGKarlheinz Langsdorf is a mechanical engineer. After his studies he worked for two years in an engineering office in Muenchen. Then he ran his own office for another two years. At age 27 he was employed at Wacker Chemie. For this company he worked in different functions during 33 years in Germany and abroad. His core areas were conceptual construction, building and testing machines and was responsible to establish technology and ingeneering for new site projekts, as well as the development of mechanical, chemical and physical procedures for the production of highpurity Silicon. Silicon is the basic material needed for the production of electronic devices. Since 2005 he is retired and travels the world with his wife.
"As your daughter I remember our numerous discussions around ‘real change’. As a teenager I was eager to criticize the 'damned system'. Again and again you would interrupt me with the question: ... what is the 'damned system'. You forced me to describe very concretely what exactly I was against and why. And then you asked me which alternative I would have. This alternative you would then criticize. So basically any attempt from me to complain about how the world runs was redirected by you towards talking about a very distinct thing that had to be advanced. Advancing from old systems to new ones would mean to experiment in a serious way. Seriously experimenting for you meant to define a question or problem, set a goal and prepare a test-situation. Only in such a systematic and structural approach would lie the hope for something new. Without thorough know-how you couldn’t really experiment and thus hope for the better. Only by practicing with discipline – discipline in the sense of holding on to the effort it takes to advance – problem finding and problem solving go hand in hand. Serious experiment would be only possible for those who stick to the practice. You often told me about the two competing developing groups within Wacker: the conservative and the advanced. You were part of this last group and often frustrated about the fact that things didn't move in the direction you supported, the direction you saw hope for the goals to be fullfilled.
"1. How did your practice look like as a freelance engineer and how did it change after you entered Wacker?Karlheinz
: The difference was huge. In the engineering office as a freelancer I mainly worked as a designer. I designed chemical apparatus, like technicai facilities to produce coffee, or machines for measuring instruments. Once we designed a huge concrete machine for the French government. It was as big as a house and was used to build nuclear weapon bunkers. The work was always clearly directed by the customer. There was a given frame and within this frame I had to succeed. I had to work with the knowledge I took from my studies and I picked up from my colleges I worked with. With this basic knowledge you can start a business. You can go into the design of engines, cars, planes, … of what ever you like to improve.
When I joined Wacker, I worked more and more as a developper. I developped machines and apparatus as well as processes. To produce highpurity silicone you need chemical, physical and mechanical processes. I started with mechanical processes like cutting, lapping, grinding and polishing needed for the production of silicon wafers and crystals. Later I also worked in the direction of chemical processes like cleaning, etching oxidation and apitaxial. When I started at Wacker, they explained me what the visions, missions and goals of the company were. After this, I had to find my own way to generate methods to produce products with higher quality, more reasonable costs and an lower negative environmental impact. I learned a lot by doing the job. For example: when we had the idea to use a single defined diamond to generate a polished wafersurface, we had to learn a lot about diamonds. To develop processes which were totally different from the ones that we already knew, I had to collaborate with people from other fields of knowledge all the time. 2. What were the main differences between the conservative and the advanced developers at Wacker?Karlheinz
: According to my opinion, a conservative developper is a person who is focussed more on continuous improvement, which is a process of many very small steps. He says ok, we have a nice machine but our costumer tells us that they need a more flat wafer. He will then try to make machines with lower vibrations and which are more temperature controlled. And he will be satisfied with this approach.Sébastien
: Excuse me, what is a wafer exactly?Karlheinz
: Lets put it simply. In this concern a wafer is a very thin slice of silicon. You melt polycrystalline silicon by ca. 1500 degrees C and then pull it out of an crucible. Because of the colder environment it directly becomes solid. When you do this under very controlled revolutions and pulling speed, you get a very controlled single crystal ingot. This ingot which you then have to grind, clean, etch, and polish. In some cases also an oxidation or epitaxial layer is needed. The result of this process is called a high pur silicon wafer, which is the basic material for electronic device manufacturer.Sébastien
: Oh, ok… And the advanced developper?Karlheinz
: He is quite different. Advanced people are always looking for innovative solutions. They have to create methods to work on something that is not known. Let me give you a small example. We developped one of our cutting systems, a so-called wire-saw (which unfortunately was not patented) which had to replace our existing ID cutting saws.
Silicon is very hard, but not as hard as diamond. Therefor we could use diamond to cut silicon by using a Diamond-ID-Saw. The disadvatage of this methode is, high kerfloss, micro damage layer (caused by high cutting force because of hard diamonds and cutting speed), as well as cutting costs.
We asked ourselves how can we make this cutting process more smooth? We had this idea of the wire-saw.
With a very thin wire conncted with a silicon carbid slurry and oszillation movement we could be able to cut silicon smoothly and much slower, but with this method we could maybe do 1000 wafers at once. For our application it was not existing at that time. We thought it could work and then we started the project. Sébastien
: So even for the advanced developpers the goal was clear? Karlheinz
: The goal was clear, but still very flexible. To deliver products for an innovative customer like Intel or Apple for example, you have to be innovative too. Otherwise you have no chance to survive in this business. We have to make programs to convince our customers that we have developped our product according to their five year programs and capability. We have to work according to short term goals, medium and long term ones. As further the goals are, as more unclear and flexible they are. Sébastien
: What happens when you don’t get there?Karlheinz
: When we notice we won’t reach the goals we set on beforehand, we start brainstorming in a team. This team consists of experts in a certain domain and people who don’t know so much about this specific process. In those sessions it’s never allowed to say an idea is ‘stupid’, or to say something is ‘impossible’. All the ideas that pop up are documented and investigated in other sessions. Sometimes there are universities, costomers and/or suppliers involved in these brainstorming processes. For many years I worked like this. You learn and you learn and you learn and you get a feeling of what could be possible and what isn’t. The point is to find a breakthrough approach to be able to make big steps. 3. What do you consider a conservative work of art? And an advanced one?Karlheinz
: An example of a conservative piece of art is the David from Michelangelo. There were a lot of people making good sculpture, but he just made it perfect. However, the influence of this beautiful sculpture on society is ridiculous, nothing. Much more advanced is the guy who after eating takes a piece of bone, puts a whole in it and starts to make music. This had a huge influence on the society at that time. This is the difference between the small step and the big step. Sébastien
: And within the contemporary arts field, what could be called ‘advanced’?Karlheinz
: Today an artpiece has the capability to be interpreted in many different ways. Take for example a sculpture by Henry Moore. You can see totally different things in it.
: So an artwork is ‘advanced’ when it is open for multiple interpretations?Karlheinz
: ‘Advanced’ for me means ‘innovative’. You have innovative artists, Formula 1 drivers, engineers, architects … and you as well have conservative ones.Karlheinz Langsdorf, Heike Langsdorf & Sébastien Hendrickx @ Heike’s place, Ixelles, Brussels, 02-04-2013 [>>> here you can find all OTÇOE-conversation >>>]