Interview Dr. Kampmann

Dr. Stefan Kampmann, CTO of OSRAM, talks about innovative technologies, future growth areas, and having the courage to try out new things.

Dr. Stefan Kampmann
The physicist who in July 2016 became Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of OSRAM LICHT AG.

Light is often talked of as a key technology of the future. What does that mean for a company like OSRAM?

Until recently, OSRAM saw itself as a components manufacturer that for decades had been producing, selling and optimizing traditional forms of lights such as the light bulb. It's a history to be proud of, but at some point with that kind of business model the only thing you can do is make small, incremental enhancements in quality and perhaps save 3% in costs now and then. We were essentially in the replacement business. In the new areas of activity, however, the focus is on much more complex matters such as lighting systems or light as a service, which give rise to entirely new business models.

For example?

In the automotive business, we sell not only light sources but also light modules and lighting systems. In the cars of tomorrow, there will be a much greater level of communication between the lights and the on-board electronics. However, that means making increasing use of software solutions, which is why we are moving our product range in this area away from individual components and light modules toward fully fledged systems. And then there are completely new application areas such as the sanitization of water using UV light. But we first of all need to gain a fundamental understanding of the process. This necessitates working with experts from other fields, such as biologists, who know what the ideal kind of light for sanitization is, and with the people who actually operate the water supply, so that we understand the conditions in which the technology will be used. Such an approach represents unfamiliar territory for a pure components developer like OSRAM.

“We have created an atmosphere of individual freedom in the company that allow us to drive forward ideas more quickly.”

Stefan Kampmann

So are you looking for strategic partners for new areas of business?

When you're working at a traditional components developer, you can't help but worry if not all of the process takes place within the company itself – the competition alone is reason enough to want to keep all the expertise in-house. But when you're branching out into different areas you need to see who has the know-how to develop a potential new application and bring it to market. When we want to discover and develop something new, we also need to change our perception of what constitutes professional success. And by that I mainly mean having the proverbial courage to fail.    People have to be allowed to fail, provided that they learn quickly from their mistakes.

Where is digitalization driving forward OSRAM's business model?

I would cite an example from the lighting systems business here: in theory any streetlight has the potential to generate additional business. Every city has streetlights. And all work in more or less the same way and are powered by electricity. So you could integrate electronic sensors that are able to detect when people are approaching or how many cars are parked in a particular area. The data obtained from these sensors might be used, for example, to indicate the location of vacant parking spaces. It's similar with buildings. If you look up at the ceilings of buildings, you'll see light sources everywhere. Let's imagine then that each of these LED lights was fitted with a simple proximity sensor. These could be used to gather data on where people spend the most time over the course of the day – data that could then be harnessed to optimize the layout of offices or the design of shopping centers.

How are you implementing these kinds of business model?

We have created an atmosphere of individual freedom in the company that allows us to drive forward ideas more quickly. Specifically we established the FluxUnit. This is a kind of incubator for in-house ideas, as well as external concepts, that we believe have relevance for OSRAM. We try to support these ideas so that they are given scope to develop in the initial phase.

This is a departure from your traditional business.

Precisely. The only question is how far we take it – whether we make it part of our own business or look for a joint solution with strategic partners. We don't know what further disruption the digital revolution will bring in the coming years. But we do know that there is a lot of potential in the market for us here. It's about trying things out and daring to venture into new terrain. It remains to be seen whether we will be earning our money in future from big data analysis or only from making the light sources and sensors that deliver this data. But what is important is that we have to start thinking about the possibilities of tomorrow now. And that is the big difference from the traditional world of light as we once knew it.

It is already clear that there is enormous potential for growth in the automotive sector, from driver assistance systems right through to autonomous driving. How are you capitalizing on this?

For us, the focus here is on electronics and software algorithms. Our state-of-the-art lighting systems that use semiconductor-based light sources are a first step in this direction. Among the functions offered by these is a camera system that analyses oncoming traffic and then directs the light from the headlamps around the cars that are driving past. These systems not only produce a brighter light than their traditional counterparts but also ensure that the oncoming traffic is not dazzled. Furthermore, we are offering laser light sources for the kind of sensor systems that are making self-driving cars a reality.

What role do other light waves such as infrared play for you?

Infrared is becoming increasingly important in consumer electronics. The focus here is on gesture identification, iris recognition and other technologies that open up new functionalities in smartphones and games consoles. It won't be long before most smartphones will be unlocked with an iris scan. As you can see this is a very exciting field – particularly as we're talking about products that sell in very high volumes. We also see huge potential in augmented reality – i.e. the combination of what you see on your smartphone display with what's going on in the real world. Our technology is well suited to optimizing the precision of such systems.

“We are still a lighting company. But we are now a high-tech lighting company.”

Stefan Kampmann

In a project with BMW you are testing, in manufacturing, how light can be used for communications. Are you able to say what future applications this might have?

Using light to communicate has an obvious advantage in that the basic infrastructure is already in place. Lights that are mounted onto the ceiling, for example, can be used to transmit information and thereby communicate. The fact that light travels in straight lines is also an advantage. This means that wherever a sender and a receiver are connected via an unobstructed line of sight, you can use light to transfer large volumes of data with extreme efficiency. This makes it very interesting for the futuristic production models of Industry 4.0, in which companies are testing out how machines can communicate with each other. It could also be used as a substitute for Wi-Fi communications. Our smartphones require ever higher data rates and, at some point, the conventional systems will no longer be able to cope.

How are you looking to implement these technologies?

At OSRAM we have to communicate more, communicate faster and make decisions more rapidly. And to do this we need something that I call a respectful lack of respect. We have to establish a level of trust that allows people to speak their mind without the fear of their words being taken as a personal attack or an attempt at defamation. If a team has a basic level of trust, it can bring different views to the table much more easily and arrive at the right solution quicker.

What kind of company will OSRAM be in the future?

By selling its lamps business OSRAM has taken a major step in its transformation to a technology company. I understand, of course, that there will be people asking what OSRAM stands for now? That was once very easy: I just had to hold up a light bulb and say, that's us. Nowadays OSRAM is a company that is clearly positioned with its three strategic pillars. We are still a lighting company. But we are now a lighting company that has much better growth potential than in the past as a one-stop shop for innovations in the field of LED components, light systems and light services.

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