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 35 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.  

Many different forms of cooperation are possible here:  

  • Contract research for industry carried out by universities and non-university research institutions 
  • Joint staffing and funding of research projects  
  • Industry-funded research groups 
  • Donations and sponsorship for specific R&D institutes 
  • Establishment of endowed professorships by companies 
  • Jointly funded research structures or institutes 
  • New collaborative models in networks, clusters or public-private partnerships/research campuses 

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. 451,000 R&D personnel (2018), including 236,000 researchers (2016)

R&D expenditure by the private sector as a proportion of GDP: 2.2%  
Annual budget for R&D: approx. 72.1 billion euros (2018) 

Research activities

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The largest investments are made by the automotive sector: carmakers and their suppliers spend 25.6 billion euros on research and development. That is over one third of the total R&D investment by German industry. Accordingly, this is also where the largest number of people are employed: 126,400 employees work in R&D for the automotive engineering sector. 

Electrical engineering companies also present a strong research effort. They spend almost 10.4 billion euros on R&D and employ nearly 78,000 people in the research sector.  

The German mechanical engineering sector is also strong in research: companies here invest almost 7.1 billion euros and employ 49,000 R&D personnel. 

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 roughly 13.1 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; source: OECD; deviation in the total amount is due to rounding

German industry’s annual spending on research and development reached approx. 68.8 billion euros in 2017, more than ever before. Industry is responsible for carrying out and funding over two-thirds of R&D activities in Germany.