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8 May 2024 - Jann Raveling

“As a small company, being a member of ECOMAT opens new doors for us”

ECOMAT / lightweight construction

WeserCAD benefits from research transfer in materials science

Michel Petkovic
Michel Petkovic advocates for the interests of SMEs in the ECOMAT. © WFB/Raveling

Gaining a foothold in new sectors and new target groups is often difficult for small companies. Michel Petkovic was lucky enough to achieve this step with his start-up WeserCAD. To achieve this, the company that specializes in 3D printing has become a member of the ECOMAT.

WeserCAD supports its customers in areas such as design and development in mechanical engineering, process optimisation and validation in its own test laboratory as well as reverse engineering services for existing machines. The team also enjoys great technical expertise in reverse engineering and 3D printing: The team of eight scans damaged machine parts or components, reverse engineers them digitally, and then produces 3D-printed new parts. A real advantage in any situation where spare parts are no longer available.

Since 2022, WeserCAD has been a partner in the ECOMAT Center for Eco-efficient Materials and Technologies. Since late 2023, co-founder Michel Petkovic has also been actively involved as a member of the board of the innovation platform ECOMAT e. V., the umbrella association of the ECOMAT partner institutions. Everyone benefits from this, as he reveals in an interview:

Mr Petkovic, you have been a member of ECOMAT for two years now with your company, how do you benefit from it?

Petkovic: Here in the ECOMAT we get access to networks and the relevant people on a working level. How often does a small SME get the opportunity to sit around the table with large companies, such as Airbus, or research institutions, such as the Fraunhofer? Gaining access to the right places really isn’t that easy. If you write an email to the boardroom, for example, you're generally unlikely to be successful – it simply goes unnoticed. ECOMAT is ideal for that.

Large excavator
Thanks to WeserCAD's reverse engineering, even large construction machines are up and running again. © WeserCAD

Can you give an example to illustrate this?

Yes, we're currently working together with a Fraunhofer company. The contact ultimately came about through a recommendation within the ECOMAT network and gives us the opportunity to participate in an exciting research project where we work on 3D welding robots.

What is your role in the project?

We generally deal with design and construction tasks like technical construction or small calculations. Nothing earth-shattering, but many small cogs keep a large gearbox running and that is great for us because we gain new insights into many technologies as part of projects. This naturally give us an advantage in the market.

How much time does your work in the ECOMAT take up?

Of course, as a member of the Board of Directors, I now have to spend a bit more time working on it. But if you're asking about our work: We come to the ECOMAT maybe once a week. We don't have our own office or laboratory here, but benefit from the facilities of our partners that we collaborate with on research projects. And it brings us closer to our vision as a company.

To what extent?

We're currently undergoing an interesting change. Originally, we were a purely engineering and design office. We've now developed into a small system house where we work on the interfaces, deal with both software and hardware solutions as well as electrical engineering for the machines and can offer virtually everything all-round. We can be commissioned to deal with problems and we test and develop solutions. We continue to develop these skills in cooperation projects. We've therefore also made investments, for example, in a new test and inspection laboratory.

Test rig
WeserCAD expands its portfolio with specially developed test benches and opens up new customer groups. © WeserCAD

But as a small company, surely that also comes with risks?

Of course, it's not easy to make these investments. Needless to say, we've spoken to our customers, who increasingly rely on our expertise and over time, see what we're capable of. But it requires trust.

All young companies have to contend with these challenges.

Absolutely. And that is why I'm also involved in the board of the innovation platform ECOMAT. I would like to make members more aware of young companies and start-ups, because, in my opinion, industry in Germany is really quite conservative and could be more open to new approaches from outside.

It is of course also the case that many companies today are so large that they no longer understand the issues and challenges faced by small companies. Here, I would like to raise awareness. After all, not every start-up scales up at lightning speed and ends up at “Shark Tank”. Many SMEs are highly specialised, simply wanting to offer their services and, with their flexibility, they can do a lot to help the “big players” move forward.

You said earlier on that you are collaborating on research projects. How does this work for you? Would you like to lead such a project yourself, for example, to benefit from the funding?

In my opinion, it is usually easier for an SME to participate in a project rather than making such applications itself. This is easier to implement as a junior partner because the others have the main documentation effort and you only have to play a small role. Otherwise, the personnel costs quickly escalate, especially if you don't have much expertise in realising funding projects. But the numerous initiatives started in the ECOMAT always offer points of contact.

Is there anything missing in the ECOMAT?

I would like to see a meeting place where people could sit down with a coffee and talk together, outside of fixed meetings. That would make it even easier to make new contacts, to think outside the box. That would be something for my term in office as a board member. Oh, and also: maybe a few plants along the corridors (laughs).

And a final question: What advice would you like to give to other small, technology-orientated companies?

It is worth putting out feelers to industry communities such as the ECOMAT and investing time in this. There are many different points of contact. For us as WeserCAD, it's 3D printing and design/development, but there are many other areas covered at the ECOMAT, from hydrogen, digitalization and material development, to aerospace topics. It's always worth getting to know each other when you find overlaps. But of course, it is simply an illusion to think that you will immediately get orders and new customers as a small company. It is not like that. It is a lengthy process; the big players need to get used to you first. The more time you spend together, the closer you get.

Many thanks for the interview!

About the ECOMAT

ECOMAT is a beacon of cutting-edge technology for climate-neutral flight, for lightweight construction, and for innovative materials, surface technologies and the digitalization of development processes. Since 2019, 500 scientists have been working together in the Airport-City Bremen, researching new technologies for industrial applications. They work collaboratively on projects in an ever-growing network that not only connects partners from the region nationally but internationally as well. Their aim: to help shape the aerospace industry of tomorrow.

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