A meeting of minds
Chief Engineer at the Group Division Voith Hydro, Dr. Jiri Koutnik, and his team of young, dynamic engineers, speak about technology, innovation and why pairing experience with new talent is a strategy for success.
It is an early Monday morning, the atmosphere is light and easy, but the air is charged with the spirit of innovation. One of Voith Hydro’s many Research and Development (R&D) constellations – multidisciplinary teams comprised of seasoned experts, young professionals and recent graduates – crowd around a table. The senior specialists use their extensive real-world experience to deliver quick assessments, while younger colleagues support with digital knowledge and fresh ideas. “Only the calibration of both directions can ensure an efficient and result-oriented approach,” says Dr. Jiri Koutnik, “That is the reason we diversify our teams in this manner.”
“It is both: an a priori and an a posteriori fit,” says Dr. Paul Weber, flashing a smile and a thumbs-up. The engineer, who has been part of Voith Hydro for the past 12 months, was drawn to the company’s R&D constellations by the promise of a dynamic working environment.
“I am an interface guy,” he says, “it fascinates me when different areas and disciplines are brought together to tackle unresolved problems. The Voith Hydro setup got my attention: world-class engineering enabled by in-house software tools that are continuously being improved? That is exactly what I was looking for.”
What Weber is describing is a key component of Voith Hydro’s R&D approach. Each constellation is carefully established to meet the multi-faceted needs and goals of specific R&D projects. Its diverse, and often international, team collaborates for a typical duration of two to three years until progress is made. “Of course, we are flexible enough to deviate from this timeframe if needed,” says Koutnik. What the seasoned Voithian won’t bend on, however, is his belief in the impact of this type of diversified collaboration. According to Koutnik, mixing experience and new talent is a strategy that not only maximizes individual potential, but also that of the entire constellation, the project and industry progress at large.
A fresh perspective
“Young professionals bring energy and new ways of seeing things. Even some naivety can be positive,” says Emilie Lavoie, who has spent the past seven years working for the Group Division Voith Hydro. Engineer, Jonas Steegmaier, who recently celebrated his first year at the company, nods in agreement. “We have a different point of view, with new ideas and strategies. We can add a lot to the team,” he says.
At a time when the industry is undergoing a transformation, fresh talent, familiar with the latest technological, digital and analytical developments, offers clear advantages. “In certain technology fields, like advanced flow simulation, it is essential to stay at the technological edge,” Koutnik explains. In order to do so, Voith actively observes the capabilities and focus of various universities, not only in Europe but also internationally, and strives for mutual collaboration. “We also regularly acquire fresh absolvents of prestigious universities, who bring new approaches and ways of thinking into our environment,” he adds.
The injection of fresh talent allows experienced Voith employees to increase and develop their knowledge of new and modern methods, like data analytics or probabilistic approaches to understanding phenomena observed at power plants. “This is key to finding improvement strategies and innovative approaches, and supporting the transformation into the digital era,” says Koutnik.
On a personal note, he adds that he enjoys the enthusiasm, engagement and pace that young scientists bring to the table. “It is, for sure, an opportunity to further my personal development and slow down my aging process,” he laughs.
The know-how and know-why
Where young professionals bring enthusiasm and digital awareness, seasoned specialists offer real-world project experience and a comprehensive understanding of the industry. In this way, the R&D constellations allow young engineers to calibrate their mainly-theoretical approaches to real-life situations, under expert guidance. For Lavoie, this is a major benefit. “The best way to understand the industry is not in books but with the people who actually know it, lived it and learned so much along the way,” she says. “I am always in orbit around the specialists to get their knowledge, opinion and approval. They are always happy to offer support.”
Steegmaier echoes the sentiment. “For me, this is the perfect workplace to gain the best know-how and know-why of the technologies used in hydropower,” he says. “Working together with experienced colleagues makes everything easier and more efficient.”
• Product development
• Electric and hydraulic application
• Hydraulic model tests and acceptance tests
• Power unit optimization
• Basic engineering for turbines and generators
• Expert support for commissioning, field tests, coating
But perhaps Voith engineer, Hannes Schmucker, captures it best: “We need the input of fresh talent to look beyond the horizon but, at the same time, the experience of the experts to know which ideas look promising.”
On a global scale
As an international company, with complex multinational projects, Voith never loses sight of the big – or, in this case, global – picture, which means international collaboration is another vital R&D component. To this end, Koutnik encourages multiple levels of technical exchange: between scientists and operating units, other R&D groups and even across Voith divisions. “The benefits are meaningful,” he says, “As an example, flow simulations – traditionally attributed to turbine technology – are increasingly being used in generator design, with respect to its cooling or hydrodynamic bearings. Thus, young scientists can better and more rapidly familiarize themselves with our products.”
“Teamwork means working together on problems and challenges,” Steegmaier summarizes, “Specialized teams are continuously developing new technologies. Based on these improvements, every Voith Hydro engineer all over the world can apply the best solution for our customers.”