Day 6: Carbon and Cars

Today started off with a visit to SGL Group: the Carbon Company. This is the company I’ve been assigned to analyze, and I had learned from my prior research that SGL has actually been operating at a loss for the past few years. They’ve been struggling ever since the collapse of the steel industry, so I was curious to see what steps they were taking to restructure the company.

Our presenter was once again an engineer, and you could tell he knew the company inside out. He balanced the chemical and technical aspects well with the business aspects, and he was kind enough to put up with the ridiculous amount of questions my group members and I had prepared. We learned that SGL is transforming to focus more on producing graphite for LED and lithium-ion battery companies, and that they’re looking to innovate their carbon fiber production process. We got a ton of useful information from him, and I’m confident we’ll be able to complete a very comprehensive company analysis.

We then went on a factory tour, which included the process line of how they turn polyacrylonitrile into carbon fiber. You could see along the machinery the fibers turning from white to yellow to red and then finally to black; the chemist told us she’s looking to dye her hair that same red color!

We also saw their Lightweight and Applications Center, where engineers are helping to develop individualized solutions to customers regarding the use of carbon fiber. All of their employees seemed passionate about their jobs, and two of them were prior Pitt alums! Definitely something to keep in mind, three years down the road.

We had a business-heavy day today, because after SGL we went to the university for a talk from a BMW representative. He had been with the company for years, and he is currently heading their effort to bring self-driving cars to the market within the next five years. I had no idea how much progress we had already made, and he made their design goals incredibly clear from the start.

Personally, I don’t like driving all that much, so I’m definitely on board for self-driving cars. Apparently, BMW is close to getting their autopilot for highway driving approved for release, and full hands-off, “driver-off” autopilot could be seen by 2024. I for one am definitely excited, and I’m curious to see how this may revolutionize the car industry. If driver-less Uber-type systems become more prevalent, I personally don’t think I’d ever buy a car.

But maybe I’d still buy a BMW. I mean, they are pretty nice.

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