Michael Bargende loves blues and rock, particularly when played live. The professor also uses the art of improvisation in his professional life at the University of Stuttgart. It is the only way in which simple formulas can be found to master complex engine technology.
The Alte Reithalle in Stuttgart, March 2013. Around 500 people, almost exclusively engineers and the majority of them male, gather for an evening event. The focus of such occasions is normally on the meal and conversations; it tends to be a rather low-key affair. This is not the case for the Stuttgart International Symposium, which has become one of the most important conferences for the world of vehicle and engine technology in recent years. Not this evening. That’s because after the main course Jack Bruce takes to the stage. The bassist and singer, one of the founding members of the legendary rock band Cream, in which the altogether more famous Eric Clapton played, gives it his all as he rocks the hall. Most of the audience, dressed in fine evening wear, are already on their feet after the first few bars of music. Michael Bargende has been waiting for this moment for a long time. Besides technology, music, particularly rock and blues from the 1960s and 1970s, is a real passion of the engine expert, who holds the Chair of Automotive Powertrains at the University of Stuttgart.
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Even though Bruce and many more of his idols are virtuosos, it is not perfection that Bargende appreciates most in his musicians. On the contrary, many of his favourite pieces of music are live recordings where the musicians improvise. ‘Music is about so much more than not making mistakes. The key moments are between the notes,’ says Bargende. The engineer sees a real parallel between music and his work in this respect. That’s because the combustion process persistently continues to defy any kind of complete mathematical calculability to this day. It is only possible to approach it with so-called physical models. If speed is of the essence, then simple formulas work best. According to Bargende, intuition and improvisation are very much required to ‘invent’ these.
In actual fact, Michael Bargende’s career is not so much about mathematics and machines as it is about people. His motto is: ‘We shouldn’t turn science into a science’. Another is: ‘Only a realised idea is a good idea – and we have to take people along in order to achieve this.’ Bargende learned while studying for his degree that other people are needed to realise ideas. He initially opted for aerospace engineering. At the same time, he and a friend were tinkering with a tuned Fiat 600 and one thing led to another: a main degree course with a specialist element in internal combustion engines, including a student research project at Porsche and another at Daimler, where he met Günter Hohenberg, who would later go on to lecture at the TU Darmstadt and become his doctoral supervisor. With the subject of wall heat transfer in petrol engines, he found a field of study from numerical development methodology that would remain an important area of focus for his work throughout his life. That’s because he wants to understand precisely what happens in the engine.
Yet Bargende is not driven by scientific curiosity alone. Rather, it is the work on ever better development methods, as also furthered by the FVV, which represents a key competitive advantage. ‘How can we hope to develop the best engines,’ Bargende asks rhetorically, ‘if we use the same tools as everybody else?’ He is convinced that the best tools do not necessarily have to be the most complex. Three-dimensional fluid dynamics calculation, for example, may provide a detailed insight into the processes in the cylinder, but it has to be used very carefully. ‘Ultimately, it will be decades before we will be able to fully calculate even one real combustion process using direct numerical simulation.’ Bargende also uses zero-and one-dimensional models to meet the ever growing need for simulation. New exhaust gas regulations such as RDE (Real Driving Emissions) will make it necessary to be able to perform very fast calculations on ever more engine operating types and ranges. Clearly there is plenty of work to do, which Bargende has mostly delegated to young employees in recent years. For a long time, he found this more difficult to do than many other people, until he took a six-month sabbatical in 2007 to lecture and research at Ohio State University and was only able to intervene in proceedings from afar.
People who wish to make complexity more manageable using simple means are in constant demand as consultants within the industry. It stands Bargende in good stead that he knows how to cultivate long-standing friendships across borders and even continents. However, if you ask him about the intercultural skills that mechanical engineers need to acquire nowadays in the course of their studies, he replies: ‘It is never about cultures alone, but also the individual person sitting in front of you, regardless of whether they happen to be American, Italian or Japanese.’
However much Bargende likes to talk about engines, he avoids the subject in his private life, also for the sake of his wife, a historian. Particularly in view of the fact that he has maintained a second love since the days of his youth: a love of music. For many years, Bargende was too busy with his career to devote time to his second passion, but a heart condition changed all of that. A friend brought an iPod to his sickbed, loaded with classic songs from days gone by. Bargende soon regained his health and began to set other priorities. Encouraged by his friend Werner Dannemann, one of Germany’s finest blues and rock guitarists, he took up guitar lessons and started to produce his CDs. ‘Technique is important, but it is not the be-all and end-all. Some moments never happen again,’ says Bargende. Jack Bruce’s appearance at the Stuttgart International Symposium is one such moment. It was his final concert performance as part of a trio – with the aforementioned Werner Dannemann on guitar. As such, the appearance was a truly historic event for him.
Photo Credit: FVV | Rui Camilo
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Michael Bargende comes from Crailsheim. He studied mechanical engineering at the University of Stuttgart and subsequently held various engine development positions at Daimler-Benz between 1982 and 1998. He was awarded a doctorate in 1991 on the subject of wall heat transfer in petrol engines as part of an FVV project at the universities of Darmstadt and Munich. In 1998 Bargende was appointed to the newly founded Chair of Internal Combustion Engines at the University of Stuttgart, which was renamed the ‘Chair of Automotive Powertrains’ in 2011. Linked to the move to the university was his appointment to the board of the Research Institute of Automotive Engineering and Vehicle Engines Stuttgart (FKFS), a public-law foundation that bridges the gap between science and industrial practice.
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