Innovation Labs

Innovation Labs are physical locations where scientific expertise is constantly combined to meet industry and customer needs. Long-term “enabling spaces” are set up here as places to try out ideas. The goal is to get corporate partners involved in joint development projects over the long term. This commercialization sets the “think and do tanks” of the Helmholtz Innovation Labs apart from regular research laboratories.

In April 2016, seven projects were chosen as contest winners from 27 submissions for the Helmholtz Innovation Labs. The projects are provisionally financed for three years and may receive an additional two years of funding if they pass an interim evaluation.

Over the next five years, the Helmholtz Association will provide around twelve million euros to develop and establish the Innovation Labs.

Cohort 2016

Infrastructure plays a key role in the economy and society of every country, and yet it is increasingly failing well before the end of its expected useful life. This negative development will be further accelerated by megatrends like climate change and resource scarcity. This leads to technically complex repairs associated with high costs and environmental burdens. The KIT HUB uses a globally unique approach to develop preventive measures in the form of innovative products, technologies, and services for the sustainable infrastructure of the future. The project involves all “stakeholders” from the raw material manufacturer to the builder.

Computer-aided modeling and simulations have become an integral part of product development. However, many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are still in the early stages of digitalization and virtual product development. That is why the Institute of System Dynamics and Control at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) founded the Systems and Control Innovation Lab (SCIL). This gives companies access to the latest design technologies, basic research, and software tools for modeling, controlling, and regulating complex mechatronic systems across the entire spectrum of their technical applications. Additionally, the SCIL innovation laboratory offers individual consulting to its partners on selecting and applying for suitable funding programs (EU, German federal government, federal states) in order to initiate joint SCIL projects.

DESY develops, builds, and operates accelerator facilities for photon research. The high-frequency electronics required for this are designed based on the MicroTCA standards. They are continuously developed in cooperation with industry partners and are made commercially available through licenses. MicroTCA offers advantages for applications that meet the following decisive criteria: high-performance analog and digital signal processing on the same rack, reliability through redundancy of critical components, continuous system monitoring, and remote maintenance. The MicroTCA Technology Lab is the contact for contract development (hardware, firmware, software) based on MTCA.4 standards. The lab provides electronics companies with access to high-quality testing and measurement services and advises users on the system integration of MicroTCA components from various manufacturers.

The MIRO Innovation Lab (MIL) evolved from the MiroSurge system, a modular robot for telemanipulated minimally invasive surgery. The lab is located at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen. It promotes innovation and technology transfer in the field of robotic-aided medicine. To accomplish this, the lab provides its partners with access to complex research infrastructures and expert knowledge spanning from mechatronic system design and system analysis and control to sensor-based information acquisition and autonomous control. The plan is to work together to devise, develop, and test innovative robotic assistance systems for medical diagnostics and intervention. The growing partner network consists of small and medium-sized companies, international corporations, and renowned (university) clinics.

What is currently picking up speed in machine production under the term Industry 4.0 is still in its infancy in biological production. The industrialization of biology and bioeconomics is at the center of the growing global demand for biological and chemical products to produce chemicals, pharmaceuticals, animal feed, and food. However, progress in the biotechnological industry is weighed down by the lengthy procedures in biological production processes. The MiBioLab innovation lab is researching and developing technologies with industry partners to use and modify properties of microorganisms that can accelerate these processes. The basis for this is a large parent library of different organisms combined with micro-photobioreactor technology. This enables rapid and precise strain phenotyping – the quantitative analysis of structural and functional properties of microorganisms – for the development of production processes. The MiBioLab and its industry partners ensure the technological development and strive to disseminate an understanding of biological processes on an industrial scale. The main focus is on aspects of automation and miniaturization.

MD-CEL (Max Delbrück Center Cell Engineering Lab, Berlin) develops innovative gene therapy technologies at the interface between academic research and industrial therapy and product development. In recent years, gene therapy approaches have helped to achieve enormous progress in therapy development in many areas, such as cancer immunotherapy. Companies now need innovative technologies to simplify manufacturing processes in order to advance the broad application of gene therapies. The MDCell offers a new, highly efficient system for genetically modifying cells using, among other things, its "Sleeping Beauty" transposon technology. For example, immune cells can be equipped with new tumor-specific receptors to independently detect and kill tumor cells in the body. The MDCell offers a framework (laboratory, expertise, trained staff) for large biotech companies as well as small start-ups to test the Sleeping Beauty technology for feasibility in specific areas of application. This will help develop new therapeutic approaches or products for the market. The project enables the MDCell itself to generate important expertise in therapy and product development. This knowledge is then used to implement new projects.

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The Helmholtz Innovation Labs HySPRINT (Hybrid Silicon Perovskite Research, Integration & Novel Technologies) at Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB) is working with industry partners to push forward the development of novel materials and energy-efficient process technologies for applications such as solar energy conversion and sensor technology. The current focus is on the perovskite/silicon hybrid technology, liquid phase silicon crystallization, nanoimprint lithography, and creating prototypes using 3D micro-contacting techniques. HySPRINT provides an excellent infrastructure for collaborating with its industry partners (a perovskite baseline/printing laboratory, a laser laboratory, a silicon laboratory, and a nanoimprint lithography laboratory). Several contracts have already been signed with various industry partners to boost and/or intensify technology transfer to industry.


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  • Photo of Barbara Diehl
    • Barbara Diehl
    • Director Department Transfer and Innovation
      Helmholtz Association
  • Photo of Christopher Kerth
    • Christopher Kerth
    • Program Manager Transfer and Innovation
      Helmholtz Association