Research

Pressure produces performance

Entrepreneur Christine Burkhardt learned how to work within networks quite early on. Being employed by a major automobile manufacturer gave her the opportunity. Women were still something of a rarity in the area of engine development at the time. That also had its advantages: a high profile was an essential requirement for her career and for a far-reaching decision that she made one day.

Thermodynamic analyses increase efficiency

‘More people simply have to find the courage.’ Christine Burkhardt found the courage 16 years ago and left her secure job at Daimler. She used her network and developed a piece of software with which engineers could evaluate thermodynamics in the combustion engine. Ultimately, she knew what she had to do: ‘I needed a product.’ She had been self-employed some years before that, conducting thermodynamic analyses for automobile manufacturers and suppliers. It was then that she noticed: ‘I could do something for which there was a demand, yet couldn’t be bought.’ This emboldened her to develop her business model and found a start-up – this time not with a service, but with a piece of software. ‘Only with a good product do I have the economies of scale I need to be successful on the market in the long term,’ says a convinced Burkhardt. ‘I am not selling my time, but rather a tool, and one which I can continue to develop.’

Today she is managing partner of the company EnginOS GmbH and counts almost all German automobile manufacturers, many foreign manufacturers, the major suppliers and a number of research establishments among her clientele. In an office in Ostfildern, near Stuttgart, she works with her company on the ‘Tiger’ software, an established system for evaluating combustion behaviour and gas exchange analyses. ‘We have always been in the black,’ reports Christine Burkhardt proudly. The success of her business model is also based on a new kind of software licencing. ‘People used to buy the software and then always had to pay for updates and support separately,’ she says. ‘For the Tiger software we chose a different model with annual licencing fees that already include free updates and support.’ In this way, with her comparatively small business, Burkhardt not only ensures that all users are working with the latest version and benefit from new features. It also means that time-consuming maintenance of old versions is no longer necessary, allowing her company to concentrate on development and support. And the support is also very much contentbased: ‘It’s not just about how to operate the software, but also how to approach the analysis of new combustion processes,’ explains Burkhardt. ‘We often also develop new algorithms for this.’

The main purpose of thermodynamic analyses is to increase the efficiency of the combustion engine, but they can also be used to improve the acoustic properties of an engine. To this end, pressure sensors are fitted within the combustion chamber and the intake and exhaust ports to record the internal combustion process and the gas exchange. ‘The pressure is the key factor in the analysis,’ explains Burkhardt. ‘By measuring the pressure, I can establish how efficiently the engine burns the fuel. I measure how much energy is released in the combustion process and how much energy emerges again at the crankshaft.’ This makes it possible to determine where the greatest losses occur. This may be in the form of heat loss on the cylinder walls, losses during the gas exchange process or quantities of unburned fuel.

When Christine Burkhardt started working as a test engineer at Mercedes-Benz in 1988 after graduating from the University of Stuttgart with a degree in process engineering, such development tools were still solely developed internally. She learned the tools of her trade at the company’s premises in Untertuerkheim and spent many hours at the engine test stand and analysing measurement data. After spending a while at AVL and then going self-employed, she succeeded Michael Bargende as team leader of combustion analysis at Daimler’s car development division at the end of the 1990s. ‘That was a fascinating job, because we had the entire process chain inhouse – from preparing the tests and taking measurements at the test bed to evaluating and analysing the data,’ says Burkhardt. Yet she didn’t let go of the idea of founding her own company. After three years as team leader, she jumped in at the deep end. Her network helped her to do this: ‘Besides commercial success, I have always been motivated by personal contacts and dialogue with international experts in my business projects,’ she says. ‘If nothing else, it has also led to many long-standing friendships which make the work enjoyable.’

Contact with international experts motivates the entrepreneur

This also applies to her work at the FVV. Shortly after starting at Mercedes-Benz she was taken along to a working group meeting by a colleague. When he then changed departments, she inherited his chairman’s post while still under the age of 30. A young chairwoman was still something of a rarity at the time and one or two professors no doubt had to get used to the idea, but this didn’t bother Burkhardt as she chaired projects in the 'thermodynamics' working group. Even with her own business she has also been a member of the FVV since the very start. ‘One major advantage for me is the professional dialogue, because the engine world is continuously evolving. And the member firms can use the research findings. As a result, for instance, we have been able to integrate into our software a new model for evaluating wall heat transfer.’ Christine Burkhardt found the courage. And she has never regretted it.

Photo Credit: FVV | Rui Camilo

The people behind modern research

This article is from our 60th anniversary book »PRIMEMOVERS«. Technology journalists Johannes Winterhagen and Laurin Paschek provide on 200 pages an insight into the work of 24 leading people from industry and research who are passionately pursuing their ideas for greater efficiency and fewer harmful emissions from combustion engines and turbomachinery. The book can be ordered at the price of 39,90 Euros from the VDMA-Verlag GmbH. It is available in English and German.

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Christine Burkhardt

Christine Burkhardt

Born in Stuttgart, Burkhardt grew up in Ostfildern, south-east of the city. After leaving school she studied process engineering at the University of Stuttgart and graduated in 1988. She spent the first seven years of her professional life at Mercedes-Benz working as a measurement engineer in the area of engine development. She returned there after spending a year at AVL and another year self-employed, occupying the role of team leader of combustion analysis in the car development division at Daimler between 1998 and 2000. In 2001 she founded EnginOS, of which she remains managing director and partner to this day. She enjoys devoting her spare time to architecture and landscape design and likes to travel to all four corners of the earth.

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