Five minutes with... Markus Köpfer, Managing Director of Actuator Solutions GmbH, Gunzenhausen
Bavaria's economy is full of life – and the people who live and work here make the biggest contribution to this. In our monthly “Five minutes with...” section, we introduce an interesting person from business and research. This month, we talked to Markus Köpfer, Managing Director of Actuator Solutions GmbH. The high-tech company is currently establishing actuators (converters or drive elements) on the basis of shape memory alloy and is seeking to gain the role as global leader in the area of SMA actuator technology.
Your actuators convert electrical signals into mechanical motion and have a shape memory – hence the name "shape memory alloy". On which technical principle are they based and what benefits do they offer?
The shape memory alloy consists of nickel and titanium metals. If they are melted at the right mixing ratio, the metal obtains a sort of memory: it adopts two different crystalline structures, one when it's cold (in technical jargon this is called martensitic phase). In this condition it is very robust and elastic. It adopts another form when exposed to a trainable transition temperature (in technical jargon: austenitic phase); in this phase it becomes rigid. This way, a precise change in form can be obtained through heating. We specifically use these "metallic" muscles to perform movements copied from nature, which are entirely soundless and can be performed by our actuators on very little space.
In which industries is this used?
Our technology is basically a substitute for motors and electromagnetic actuators. It is especially suited for industrial sectors which have a large volume with high quality requirements thanks to the system advantages it offers – as small, light, yet powerful drive source – and our competence in the implementation of fully automatic production. These are, for instance, consumer electronics (especially smartphones), the automotive industry and medical technology.
As an innovative company that develops entirely new applications, you need qualified specialists on the one hand, and on the other hand, excellent connections with potential customers. How important is Bavaria as a location?
Bavaria is very attractive for our international team. On the one hand, we have to build bridges to reach our Asian customers, but also to reach out to development engineers all around the globe, who like to come to Bavaria. On the other hand, as an internationally operating company, we are attractive for Bavarian and German engineers. There is no doubt that Asian companies favour working with German or Bavarian companies – we are received and welcomed very warmly.
How many employees do you have on site and which goals are you trying to achieve from the new headquarters?
At the moment, there are 45 employees and we are still continuing to grow considerably. Since 2013, our new headquarters is located in Gunzenhausen, where we are under one roof with our parent company, Alfmeier Gruppe, which produces precision components such as valves, actuators, pumps and control devices for the automotive industry. We are continuing to expand our global leadership in SMA actuator technology – especially in the smartphone and automotive sectors, but also in other interesting market segments.
Why did you choose to locate in Gunzenhausen? And did you benefit from funding when establishing the new headquarters?
The Gunzenhausen site has much to offer for ASG – not only due to the proximity and excellent connections to the Alfmeier sites Weißenburg, Treuchtlingen and Nuremberg. The active support from the city of Gunzenhausen and the district's business promotion made the decision fairly easy for us. Moreover, ASG received importing funding in the area of product development from the State of Bavaria.
What are your favourite recreational spots in Gunzenhausen and in the surrounding areas?
Gunzenhausen in the Franconian Lake Region has a beautiful countryside and is very attractive for families and young people. We also enjoy the proximity to the historic neighbouring towns Weißenburg and Dinkelsbühl, the Hesselberg region and the little, hidden attractions you can find in the Altmühltal and surrounding areas.
Bavaria is very attractive for our international team. On the one hand, we have to build bridges to reach our Asian customers, but also to reach out to development engineers all around the globe, who like to come to Bavaria. On the other hand, as an internationally operating company, we are attractive for Bavarian and German engineers.