A renowned engineer, Dr. Stefan Haas, CEO TÜV AUSTRIA Group, is the recipient of the Lower Austrian Innovation Prize and, among other things, the European Railroad Award for the development of a linear eddy current brake.
Prof. Wilhelm Exner was one of the founding fathers of the "Mutual Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company" in 1872 that has evolved into today's multi-national TÜV AUSTRIA Group. Click to play video about the history of TÜV AUSTRIA Group.
Dr. Stefan Haas, CEO TÜV AUSTRIA, talks to engineers at the TÜV AUSTRIA Testing Center in Vienna.
TÜV AUSTRIA CEO Dr. Stefan Haas (r) is shown a training laboratory at the TÜV AUSTRIA-OMV Academy Weinviertel in Lower Austria. Photo: Rainer Hackstock.
Developed by TÜV AUSTRIA Group subsidiary TÜV TRUST IT, the AppChecker validates mobile applications for corporate use.
TÜV AUSTRIA is redefining its image. By awarding its second science prize, TÜV AUSTRIA wants to set an example in the Austrian innovation landscape – not least to position itself on a broader basis than the inspection and certification body is commonly associated with.
Stefan Haas, CEO of TÜV AUSTRIA Holding since March 2013, explained in an interview with APA-Science why the company – despite offering around 300 services – is still mainly linked in the public mind to the certificate issued for mandatory inspections of motor vehicles, and how it intends to substitute its once “state-owned nature” with a more modern image.
By Mario Wasserfaller, APA-Science
Translated by Caroline Wellner
Even though the annual inspection of cars according to §57a of the Austrian Motor Vehicles Act, which is commonly referred to as “Pickerl” [sticker] in Austria, only accounts for less than one per cent of TÜV AUSTRIA’s turnover, the association “TÜV = Pickerl” remains fixed in people’s minds. “This comes from Germany, where the regularly recurring inspection of vehicles is done by the TÜVs and the Dekras (note: also certified inspection companies)”, Haas explained the different situation compared to Austria, where virtually every car repair shop is authorised to carry out the abovementioned inspection. The fact that TÜV AUSTRIA is an independent enterprise in terms of company law and shares only the name with the various German Technische Überwachungsvereine [Technical Inspection Associations], does not seem to have penetrated the minds of Austrian consumers either.
Some of the confusion is based on the common historical roots of the TÜVs, according to Haas. In the course of the 19th-century industrial revolution, devastating steam boiler explosions resulting in many casualties and collapsed buildings demonstrated the necessity of independent inspection institutes “in order to safely control the then still relatively new and dangerous technology”. In Austria, the “Dampfkesseluntersuchungs- und Versicherungsgesellschaft auf Gegenseitigkeit” [Mutual Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Company] was founded in 1872. At around the same time, relevant institutes were established in centres of industry in Germany, which gradually expanded their expertise from boilers to various other fields of technology, including cars.
After the “Anschluss” of Austria to Nazi Germany, the Austrian Inspection Company was integrated into the German one, and so there was only one German TÜV at that time. After the Second World War the organisation was restructured, but the brand name remained.
“Since that time, the German TÜVs only share the name with the Austrian TÜV”, Haas pointed out. The individual TÜVs have since been in “rather intense” competition with one another.
Generating an annual turnover of 120 million euros with a staff of over 1,100, TÜV AUSTRIA now pursues a dual strategy. “The first priority is to continue to strengthen and expand our position in the domestic market. The second key area is international expansion, where we plan to further exploit the opportunities for growth provided by the international market”, according to Haas. TÜV AUSTRIA is already active in 26 countries, “and the number keeps growing”. One aspect of the international subsidiaries is to offer comprehensive support to Austrian businesses in their expansion efforts abroad.
It is important for Haas to communicate TÜV AUSTRIA’s actual range of services and to dispel various myths about it. Before the EU liberalised the market, testing and inspection services were regulated “more or less monopolistically”, which appears to have manifested in the public mind to this day. “But this hasn’t been the case for a long time now”, Haas emphasised. He asserted that TÜV AUSTRIA has undergone a dramatic change from a state-owned monopolist body to a company competing in the free market.
Lifts and “AppChecker”
The company’s portfolio comprises around 300 services, with some 400,000 technical inspections being performed every year.
The main focus, which used to be on testing lifts, pressure equipment, lifting and conveyor units, is constantly expanded by new fields, such as biomedical engineering, for example.
Moreover, a broad range of services is now available on the subject of IT security, including so-called penetration analyses, i.e. the “planned and permitted” hacking of corporate networks or smartphones for the purpose of detecting weak points. A special service called “AppChecker” has been created for the testing of smartphone applications, for example.
Up to a certain point, Haas sympathises with the repeated criticism voiced by industry regarding the torrent of standards, mandatory certifications and inspections of their machinery. On the other hand, the situation has “significantly improved” as a result of EU-internal market liberalisation and the concomitantly increased competition, not least because of the associated drop in price levels: “The kinds of services we perform used to be regulated monopolistically, meaning that industrial companies had only one provider. There was a fees regulation and that was it, prices were correspondingly high.”
An additional factor is the consumers’ need for protection, their demand for safe products that work. “And it’s up to the legislative body, in Austria as well as in the EU, to draw up corresponding regulations in the interest of consumers. Because the interests of consumers are not the same as the interests of industry”, according to Haas.
Processes put to the test
But not only industry, TÜV AUSTRIA itself is obliged to continue developing further and to uphold the standards.
New test procedures are researched on a regular basis, e.g. regarding the non-destructive testing of vessels in a less time-consuming way.
“We have been extremely active in this area over the last couple of years, and we consider it our social mandate to support innovation as a whole and, most of all, to help create an innovation-friendly climate.”
Research and development are ever present in Haas’ personal biography: as an assistant at the (TU), and in his jobs with the (CDG) and Knorr-Bremse.
Dr. Stefan Haas received the Lower Austrian Innovation Prize and, among other things, the for the development of a linear eddy current brake.
As satisfying as the process of innovating and recognition for it may be, Haas is aware that a science prize like the one awarded by TÜV AUSTRIA will not “turn the research community upside down”. But it serves to demonstrate “that even an independent company considers it important to provide a platform for young researchers, young engineers, and wants to honour outstanding achievements so as to elevate the status of innovation in the public mind”.
While Austria has recently caught up somewhat concerning its research quota, the subject “should be even more important to us than in the past”. Haas considers non-academic research, especially in industry, an essential trigger, as it has a double benefit: “That kind of research is swiftly implemented in new products and services, which in turn contributes to the Austrian economy’s continued success in the global market. Tax incentives for companies to spend money accordingly are a very important topic, I believe.”
Personally, Haas would welcome closer cooperation between industry, private and university research facilities, as is the case in the USA, for example. “The closer the link between industry and universities, the better the results regarding the research quota, which in turn is highly important for the economy”, the expert remarked.
According to him, there are two sides to the current shortage of qualified employees in many industrial countries: “On the one hand, it’s a sign that job opportunities for qualified personnel exist, which could be taken as a positive sign. But in reality it’s a negative sign, because it means that supply and demand are not in balance.”
Haas locates one problem in the low appeal of technical education for youths, which may also be linked to the social status of such qualified employees – and for which science prizes could in turn serve as additional motivation.