KARL MAYER starts “Integrated Product Development” project with IPEK


Innovations are one of the most important factors behind the success of the KARL MAYER GROUP and lay the foundations for its reputation: for decades, the company has been considered an influential technological leader in the textile industry. To develop its pioneering solutions, the industry leader pursues various avenues – including completely new ones – as illustrated by the collaboration between the Business Unit Warp Knitting and IPEK – the Institute for Product Development at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).

The joint project combines practice and research, and was launched with a kick-off meeting at the KARL MAYER GROUP’s headquarters in Obertshausen on 12 October 2023. The main participants are 42 IPEK students, working separately in seven teams to develop exclusive solutions for a standardised innovation task set by the company in a compact creative phase. The results – one prototype per working group – are due to be presented as early as February 2024. Moreover, a variety of positive impulses for in-house development activities are expected, since innovations also need effective methods alongside good ideas.

Prototypes, methodical expertise and much more

The object of KARL MAYER’s focus is warp knitting machines. It must be optimised in a specific manner so that it meets the needs of tomorrow’s customers. When contemplating the future, we need to consider up to 2030.

Knut Wantzen, the project’s internal client, also seeks to draw inspiration from an external perspective and learning effects. “We can learn more about the procedure behind a perfect innovation process and about the latest product development methods, as well as gather ideas about what is possible with them,” says the head of KARL MAYER’s Advanced Features department. In solving the task at hand, the youngsters use the company’s latest expertise and modern development methods from IPEK – the institute’s main research areas – as well as tried-and-tested tools from similar projects. The project has existed for 25 years. It runs once a year with a new partner that has been carefully chosen each time, including major companies such as BMW, Bosch, TRUMPF and Hilti. KARL MAYER is delighted to be a part of it in 2023.

Furthermore, Knut Wantzen and Project Manager Alexandra Bahnmann anticipate positive effects in brand building and acquiring skilled workers. “Only selected, high-achieving, highly trained students take part in the IPEK’s coveted practical project – it is a good opportunity for us to present ourselves to them as an innovative employer,” explains the Innovation Manager at KARL MAYER.

Knut Wantzen, the project’s internal client

A proven approach to a challenging task

All the work required to achieve the ambitious goal lies in the students’ hands. Everything from market analysis to constructing the prototype is done independently by budding mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, mechatronics engineers and electronics engineers, and according to a tight schedule.

The future specialists found out for the first time who their employer is at the kick-off event at the KARL MAYER GROUP in October. They got to know the company and its machinery as part of a factory tour, then made important contacts at an evening event. Straight after that, they headed back to IPEK to got going with their real work. Over the course of several phases, research is carried out, potentials are estimated, scenarios are developed and trends are analysed. Ideas and concepts are developed, then subsequently prioritised and substantiated step by step, following regular milestone meetings with the KARL MAYER GROUP. In each case, a client committee decides which next step should be taken. “We ultimately end up with seven prototypes for seven different ideas, but also countless other approaches at varying degrees of maturity that could be of interest for us in the long term,” explains Knut Wantzen.

Alexandra Bahnmann, Project Manager

Along the way, project teams are supported by IPEK scientists in terms of methodology and management. If there are any questions about the subject of the assignment – the warp knitting machine – mentors from the KARL MAYER GROUP will be on hand to help. Staff from various innovation-related areas and with broad networks already have many ideas for working with the students. “We are particularly keen to provide support through colleagues who are enthusiastic about new things. This is how we are able to live up to our responsibility for the outcome,” says Alexandra Bahnmann.

The results – seven prototypes – will be presented in February 2024 at a concluding event featuring an in-house exhibition at IPEK in Karlsruhe. Knut Wantzen is already looking forward to the new developments. “I’m really curious to see how today’s generation of students approaches our topic,” says the mechanical engineer with a doctorate, who himself took part in a similar IPEK project several years ago, as a student.