Companies & industrial research

Companies Industrial Research
Boehringer Ingelheim is one of the most research-intensive companies in Germany.

German companies are among the most innovative in Europe. Industry-based and -financed investments account for more than two thirds of all R&D funding in Germany.

Companies are especially involved in applied research and work closely with universities, universities of applied sciences and non-university research institutes. Examples of successful technology transfer can be found in the areas of environmental research, resource-efficient production and new materials.

Organisational details

German companies are affiliated to different, usually industry-specific associations to effectively represent their collective interests. The Federation of German Industries (BDI) is the umbrella organisation for 36 affiliated industrial associations that represent the interests of over 100,000 companies with more than 8 million employees. The BDI coordinates the views and recommendations of its members and provides business support, such as information covering all fields of economic policy.

Cooperation between industry and research

Industry and research cooperate in many areas. For example, there are numerous joint programmes and research projects involving companies as well as research and research-funding organisations. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) receive support here from the German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF), the leading national organisation for the promotion of applied research and development in the SME sector.

Companies cooperate especially closely in the field of applied research. There are many examples of this:

  • Many companies collaborate closely with the global network of Fraunhofer Institutes; as a result, Fraunhofer earns 682 million euros (2016) by carrying out contract research for industry.
  • The Helmholtz Association earned roughly 150 million euros in revenues through partnerships with industry in 2015.
  • The Max Planck Society runs Max Planck Innovation, a separate technology transfer company. It currently oversees roughly 1,200 inventions and has shareholdings in 16 companies.
  • The Leibniz Association especially supports small and medium-sized enterprises with a wide range of services that it offers on its Transfer website (in German).

The German Research Foundation (DFG) also supports knowledge transfer between research and industry. One example is a transfer project on OLED technology in which the University of Augsburg and lighting manufacturer Osram are jointly researching ways of increasing the energy-efficiency and operating life of this promising technology.

Facts and figures

Approx. 405,000 R&D personnel, among them 231,000 researchers

Distribution of the internal industrial research budget: 9% small enterprises (up to 249 employees), 5% medium-sized enterprises (250–499), 86% large enterprises (more than 499 employees). The largest share, amounting to almost 50 per cent of total industry R&D spending, is invested by companies with at least 10,000 employees

R&D expenditure by the private sector as a proportion of GDP: 2.0%
Annual budget for R&D: approx. 61 billion euros (2015)

Research activities

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Roughly 35 per cent of internal R&D spending in industry was invested in the automotive sector, 16 per cent in the electrical engineering sector, almost 13 per cent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries and about 9 per cent in mechanical engineering. Almost exactly as much ­– a good 8 per cent – was invested by professional, scientific and technical service providers.

The highest number of R&D employees in German industry – roughly 26 per cent – are employed by the automotive industry, while almost 20 per cent work in the electrical engineering sector and approx. 10 per cent in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry.

World leader

An international ranking puts German industry at the top of the league. The leading company for R&D investment worldwide is carmaker Volkswagen. It spends over 13.6 billion euros on R&D. In the same ranking, Daimler, Robert Bosch, BMW, Siemens and Bayer are all among the top 30 corporations worldwide.

Research Budget

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Sources of funds for industry R&D expenditure

German industry’s annual spending on research and development reached approx. 61 billion euros in 2015, more than ever before. Industry is responsible for carrying out and funding over two-thirds of R&D activities in Germany.