Today we had two sets of companies “visits.” The first came in the form of SGL: The Carbon Company. Seeing carbon fiber in its production state was unreal, especially since it is in all of my favorite supercars. I never knew that carbon fiber started off as white and then goes through a burning process until it achieves its iconic black color. The darker it gets, the stronger it gets in the process. I also never realized how fragile each individual strand of carbon is, yet how strong all of them together are. I guess there is a life lesson in their somewhere.
Picking up carbon fiber doors and seeing all of the applications of carbon fiber made me start hoping that SGL could figure out a way to lower the cost and make it more accessible. There were a lot of interesting questions that were asked, but what struck me the most was about the energy output needed to create carbon fiber. Since one of the benefits of using carbon fiber in cars is that it becomes lightweight, thereby making the car more eco-friendly, the effect would almost be nullified depending on how much energy it actually takes to make the fibers. The answer by one of the guides was very interesting: since Germany uses a lot of renewable energy, the emissions in actually making carbon fiber are much less than if they forged steel in a coal powered-plant. It was easy to see why it is so expensive to produce, with all the intricacies of the chemistry involved, but hopefully it will be viable for larger use in the near future. Fibers crossed.
For our second “visit,” we only had to go back to the University of Augsburg. Instead of a traditional visit like we have done in the days prior, we had someone that worked for BMW come in and present to us. The talk focused almost entirely on automation. We all learned about the 5 levels of automation, with level 5 being completely autonomous. Currently, the world is only at level 2 of automation, which basically amounts to cruise control and some hands-off parking.
Our conversation with the speaker gave some insight into how companies see the future and how they see themselves contributing to that future. This led to an interesting discussion about how the brand of BMW would be perceived after they roll out autonomous vehicles. When I was asking questions, I was actually fearful of his responses. Hopefully we will still be able to drive cars in the future, because according to the speaker he did not think that was necessary after level 5 technology is achieved. Even though BMW is considered “the ultimate driving machine” as its motto says, the speaker did not at all seem concerned with the fact that after a while autonomous vehicles literally cannot be driven. This will definitely be a topic my group will bring up during our final company presentations. Either way, this left me excited to actually go to Munich and the BMW headquarters and see the production site firsthand.