Serving the Future With Applied Research

Interview

Norbert Grasselli

The Zoltán Bay National Applied Research Institute Network was established on Sep. 20, 2021. The basic idea was conceived in 1993 by Ernő Pungor, a former Minister of Research and Development and the first head of the Zoltán Bay Research Institute. Industrial research institutes had been operating in Hungary since the 1950s, but after the fall of communism, they were closed down.

As there was much demand for government-funded applied research, work was restarted in several areas towards the end of the century. The Zoltán Bay National Applied Research Institute Network was modeled after the German Fraunhofer Network, which has approximately 30,000 researchers. Dr. Norbert Grasselli, head of the network, spoke with the Budapest Business Journal about the network’s aims and operation.

BBJ: What does the “applied research” in the network’s name mean?

Norbert Grasselli: To put it simply, basic research is a form of research that is also described as exploratory research. This could be, for example, the proof of mathematical formulae that are of great long-term importance to humankind, but where the results may not have an immediate market application. Applied research, also known as industrial research, leads to results that can be utilized in the markets relatively quickly. Innovation itself is also seen as a separate category. As someone once aptly described it, “Innovation is research and development that makes money.”

BBJ: What is the purpose of the network?

NG: The network’s primary objective is to provide industrial applied research services to companies in Hungary and neighboring countries. This means that network partners can help with research where a company is doing some kind of development, and their own engineers get stuck and can’t move forward, or where they are trying to make the prototype of a completely new product. Our network can offer solutions in these situations.

BBJ: Who are the founding members?

NG: The network is based at the Zoltán Bay Applied Research Nonprofit Kft., where, among other areas, research is carried out on topics such as material and technology development, material testing and biotechnology. Other founding members are the Automotive Test Track Zala Kft., which carries out testing and development related to the main trends of the automotive industry, the ÉMI Construction Quality Control Innovation Non-profit Kft., which specializes in construction industry-related R&D, and the KTI Transport Science Institute Non-profit Kft., which, in addition to providing training and examinations, is responsible for the organization and development of Hungarian land, air and sea transport.

BBJ: How does the network work in practice?

NG: The members signed the founding documents on Sep. 20, 2021, and the first year will be a so-called “founding year” in the life of the network, after which the four founding members will elect a chairperson for three years, and new members will also be able to join. The network will be governed by a members’ forum composed of the leaders of the four founding companies, and we will soon establish an innovation advisory board, which is expected to add eight consultative members to the members’ forum. The network also has a cabinet responsible for operational tasks, such as legal, financial, and PR/marketing.

BBJ: How does the funding of the network work?

NG: Funding will follow the Fraunhofer model, which means that government funding may cover up to one-third of the total budget, with the rest coming from the market and tenders. In the long term, this means strengthening research and development areas and services that companies will require for their future development.

BBJ: What research areas are supported?

NG: At the moment, there are two broad areas of research: transport/mobility, which includes everything from drones to automobiles to rail transport, and materials, which is everything from building materials to metals. The two strategic areas are linked horizontally by the theme of the circular economy. These are areas where the network members can carry out specific sub-tasks, and if we coordinate these sub-tasks, synergies will be created to establish more significant research hubs. Integrated network solutions can be a huge competitive advantage for many businesses, so I encourage all interested parties to contact the network members. In addition, we would like to launch our own research, which will mainly be applied research tailored around prototyping, small-scale production or manufacturing technology.

BBJ: What results do you expect in the short and long term?

NG: One of the short-term results will be if we can cover the whole surface of Hungary with applied R&D points, and anyone who goes to a network member’s site in, say, Miskolc, Debrecen or Győr will get information on how the network can help their business, and they will be connected to the right team. And in the long term, the aim is to transform Hungary from its current phase, which is classical manufacturing, low-cost and labor-intensive, into an innovative development country with lots of engineers and lots of R&D companies, with higher added-value. We can help in this process as a network so that if a business gets stuck, it has somewhere to turn to for solutions and help.

BBJ: How does the network support environmental protection?

NG: One of our key themes is the circular economy, where network members can help in several areas, from the development of new materials to the development and testing of environmentally friendly building materials, as well as various analytics on the recycling cycle and its logistics.

BBJ: How can network members help solve the food problem, for example?

NG: The biotechnology division of the Zoltán Bay Research Center deserves special mention: research is being carried out into soil testing, soil improvement, and animal nutrition, among other things, the results of which will be used to replace various environmentally damaging technologies.

BBJ: Are there any research projects underway that involve children?

NG: The members of the network are primarily guided by educational aspects, as each member has a strong objective to educate and inform young people. An excellent example of this is the Transport Science Institute, which organizes an annual mobility week, giving young people the opportunity to learn about environmentally friendly transport. The Zoltán Bay Research Competition is also aimed at young people.

BBJ: What research is being done in health protection and health promotion?

NG: There are a relatively large number of initiatives in this area, as one of the most topical challenges of our time is to combat the pandemic. One of these initiatives is the research on materials technology mentioned earlier, in other words, the development of materials with antiviral or antibacterial properties, their use in public transport, or, with the help of the ÉMI, in buildings on surfaces, railings, handrails and handles that many people touch. The Zoltán Bay Research Center also has a particular focus on the development and production of health protection devices.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of December 17, 2021.

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