Print-Logo Deutscher Zukunftspreis

Nominee 2018

Eine radikal neue Getriebegattung

A radical new gearbox type - quantum leaps in productive manufacturing

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Thomas Bayer (Spokersperson)
Dr.-Ing. E. h. Manfred Wittenstein

(f.l.t.r.) Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Thomas Bayer, Dr.-Ing. E. h. Manfred Wittenstein

Nothing would run in many machine tools and manufacturing systems without gearboxes. The mechanical components made of toothed wheels act as torque converters and thereby ensure the transmission of the right forces and movements. Despite the enormous importance of gearboxes to manufacturing, improvements have been very slow in coming. What is the best possible way to exploit the full potential of gearboxes in terms of efficiency and performance?

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Thomas Bayer and Dr.-Ing. E.h. Manfred Wittenstein have answered this question with a technical sensation. Both engineers were not satisfied with a modest correction or improvement. Instead of concentrating on the finer points of gearbox mechanics, they went to the very root of the challenge: the nominated innovators invented a completely new type of gearbox that is a radical departure from the conventional variants. They achieved a definite improvement in all performance characteristics, in some cases exponentially - and used much less energy and material. Thomas Bayer is head of the company's Innovation Lab, Manfred Wittenstein is Chairman of the Supervisory Board at Wittenstein SE in the city of Ingersheim in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.

Whether in machine tools, milling heads or welding robots: gearboxes are found in many technical devices. They are the veritable heart of the machines. Countless manufacturing steps in industrial production would be impossible without them. The result: because they are so commonly used, technical progress in gearbox design has a direct and global impact on production costs and energy consumption. Until recently, the further development of gearboxes has progressed at a snail's pace, taking the form of changes in individual technical parameters.

Yet there is much that could be improved. All conventional types of gearboxes, for example, suffer from one basic problem: only a very small percentage of the teeth engage while the others are at rest. The bearing teeth also only engage part of the surface or have linear contact. Most of the tooth surface literally is up in the air. This limits the productivity of machines, robots and production systems.

It is precisely this issue that the nominees addressed. They developed an entirely new gearbox concept that eliminates the previous shortcomings. The principle of the innovative "Galaxie" gearbox is based on several principles: force and torque are no longer transmitted by means of rigid gearwheels, but by individual dynamic teeth that move and engage independent of each other. Instead of rotating in opposite directions, they slide up and down - against a segmented outer race ring that is split at set intervals. Moreover, a large number of teeth engage at all times with full-surface contact. This is made possible by the teeth design as a logarithmic spiral: a mathematical model also found in nature. This shape is found wherever high efficiency is needed in the expenditure of energy or material - as in a snail's shell, in the arrangement of sunflower seeds and in spiral galaxies. It was also the inspiration for the name of the new gearbox type. From a technical standpoint, the gearboxes are highly efficient and improve productivity by up to 40%. They can be built in a much more compact design than conventional gearboxes, are unbeatable when it comes to precision and have excellent performance values: at maximum torque and rigidity they exceed previous gearbox types by several hundred percent. At the same time, the new and unusual drives need less energy and have a significantly higher efficiency.

With their revolutionary concept, the nominees have overcome technical obstacles that many experts had considered insurmountable. They took a completely novel approach - and were successful. Their invention is the first revolutionary innovation in gearbox technology in decades. The technology which was developed exclusively at the SMB in North Württemberg is now ready to go into series production and is already being used successfully by the first customers. Most applications are currently in manufacturing. The innovative gearboxes are helping to machine metal or wood or to laminate carbon fibers for aircraft. In future, they could also be used in wind turbines, exoskeletons and service robots - or as drive systems for electric cars. The demand for high-quality precision gearboxes worldwide is for almost 10 million units per year. In future, small and affordable gearboxes made of plastic are to be added to the product offerings. They are used in seat adjusters and electric parking brakes in motor vehicles. Annual demand for these products is over 500 million gearboxes.

The Wittenstein company holds about 120 patents on the innovative drive system. They are currently ramping up for series production and working on an improved production process. The firm has founded a start-up for further development and marketing of the drive systems. The business prospects are outstanding: Wittenstein anticipates annual sales figures to double. The full market potential is estimated at around € 280m per year.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent on leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations. The project " A radically new gearbox class – productivity leaps in the engineering industry" was submitted by “Chambers of Commerce and Industry, CCI”.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will award the 22st Deutscher Zukunftspreis for the year 2018 to one of the three nominated teams on November 28, 2018.

more details


Thomas BayerDipl.-Ing. (FH) Thomas Bayer

June 18, 1960
Born in Johannesberg
1975 - 1978
Apprenticeship as a toolmaker with Ultra Präzisionswerk, Aschaffenburg, Germany
Abitur (university entrance qualification) at Hanau Technical College, Germany
1980 - 1981
Compulsory military service
1981 - 1985
Degree course in Mechanical Engineering, majoring in Design, at Würzburg-Schweinfurt University of Applied Sciences
1985 - 1988
Design engineer at KUKA Systems GmbH, Augsburg, Germany
1989 - 1993
Development and computational engineer at KUKA Roboter GmbH, Augsburg, Germany
1993 - 1999
Head of Design and Development at WITTENSTEIN alpha getriebebau GmbH, Igersheim Germany
Management of the design department
1999 - 2009
Manager Business Platform Development at WITTENSTEIN, Igersheim, Germany
Management of an interdisciplinary development department, target, human resources and investment planning, responsibility for patents and patent procedures, establishment of innovation and project management
2009 - 2012
General Manager WITTENSTEIN alpha GmbH, Igersheim, Germany
Strategic realignment, development of business in Asia, further development of the product portfolio, reorganization and restructuring
2012 - 2016
Director Technology Research at WITTENSTEIN, Igersheim, Germany
Management of the international generating process comprised of Business Platform Development, Business Application Processes, Technology Research & Development Technical Standards
since 2016
Manager Innovation Lab WITTENSTEIN, Igersheim, Germany
Development of disruptive products, processes and business models

Other activities

since 1996
Member of the Scientific Advisory Council and longstanding Chairman of the Innovation Management think tank within the German Research Association for Power Transmission (FVA)
since 2007
Honorary lecturer at the University of Würzburg, the CDHK at Tongji University in Shanghai and Mosbach University of Cooperative Education, with seminars on innovation management and the theory of inventive problem solving (TRIZ)
since 2014
Business Coach (EMCC European Mentoring & Coaching Council)


Publications & Patents

221 patents in 71 patent families

Honors & Awards

Winner of the “HERMES AWARD”
Winner of the “Innovation Award of the German Economy”

Manfred WittensteinDr.-Ing. E. h. Manfred Wittenstein

Sep. 2, 1942
Born in Berlin; Germany
Abitur (school leaving examination) at Deutschorden-Gymnasium in Bad Mergentheim, Germany
1963 – 1970
Degree course in Business Engineering at TU Berlin (Berlin Institute of Technology), graduating as Bachelor of Engineering (Dipl.-Ing.)
1970 – 1972
Research assistant at TU Berlin
1972 – 1975
Temporary Head of DEWITTA (for family reasons)
1975 – 1983
Teforma GmbH (manufacturer of plastics thermoforming machines) established
Managing Director of DEWITTA Spezialmaschinenfabrik (now WITTENSTEIN SE) with 50 employees
alpha getriebebau GmbH (today: WITTENSTEIN alpha GmbH) established in cooperation with Manfred Bastian of Bastian oHG
Broadening of the component supplier strategy to become a system provider for electromechanical servo actuators
WITTENSTEIN GmbH & Co. KG turned into a non-listed public limited company

Other activities

since 1996
Founder and Director of the WITTENSTEIN Foundation for the promotion of upcoming generations of engineers at the Deutschorden-Gymnasium school in Bad Mergentheim
since 1998
Member of the General Assembly of the Heilbronn-Franconia Chamber of Industry and Commerce
1998 - 2016
Board Member of the Research Association for Power Transmission Engineering within the VDMA
since 1999
Member of the VDMA Main Board
1999 - 2012
Chairman of the VDMA Research and Innovation Committee
1999 - 2013
Member of the Presidential Board of the Heilbronn-Franconia Chamber of Industry and Commerce
2000 - 2012
Board Member of the BDI / BDA (Confederation of German Employers' Associations) Technology and Innovation Policy Department
since 2001
Deputy Chairman of the VDMA Impuls Foundation Managing Committee
since 2002
Chairman of the Advisory Board of Bad Mergentheim Campus, Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Mosbach
since 2002
Member of the University Council of the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Mosbach
since 2002
Initiator and principle sponsor of "DEBUT", the Classical Singing Competition
since 2003
Member of the Board of Trustees of Fraunhofer IPA
since 2003
Sponsor and initiator of the "Creative Young Minds" competition for schoolchildren
since 2005
Member of the Advisory Council for the “Deutsche Telekom Stiftung” foundation's Innovation Indicator for Germany
since 2005
Member of the Board of Trustees of Fraunhofer ISI
since 2006
Member of the Science-Industry
since 2006
Member of the Senate of acatech, the German Academy of Science and Engineering
2007 - 2010
President of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA)
since 2008
Member of the Advisory Council for Commerzbank's UnternehmerPerspektiven (EntrepreneurialPerspectives) initiative
2008 - 2011
Vice-President of the BDI (German Industry Association)
since 2009
Expert in the "Chancellor's Dialogue on Germany's Future", set up to debate how Germans want to live and work in the next decade
since 2009
Member of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft Senate
since 2010
Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Fraunhofer ISI
2010 - 2013
Past President of the German Engineering Federation (VDMA)
2010 - 2013
Member of the "Innovation Dialog" between the German government, industry and science
since 2011
Member of the Board of Trustees of the Society for the Promotion of Economic Research (Friends of the Ifo Institute)
2012 - 2016
Member of the Scientific Advisory Council of the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW)
2013 - 2015
Member of the Industry 4.0 Platform Board of Management
since 2013
Member of the Board of Trustees of the Max Planck Institute for Innovation and Competition
since 2013
Member of the Board of Trustees of Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg
since 2015
Spokesman and Chairman of the Alliance Industry 4.0 Baden-Württemberg Steering Committee
since 2015
Member of the Industry 4.0 Platform Steering Committee

Publications & Patents

since 2004
Initiator and Advisory Editor of the VDMA Publication "Intelligent Production"
Research and regional production networks – an essential symbiosis? in: J. Geißinger (Editor): Strengthening research, safeguarding
Powering the way to innovation success in: Gleich / Rauen / Russo / Wittenstein (Editors): Promoting innovation management in the capital goods industry
Intralogistics – energy efficient job machine
in: J. Grüneberg / I. G. Wenke (Editors): Labour market in electrical engineering and IT 2008 (16th Edition)
Strategy and management profile of WITTENSTEIN AG,
in: Knut Bleicher, Collected Writings – Vol. 3, Normative and strategic management in corporate development
(Editor: Christian Abegglen, Business School St. Gallen, 2009)
Germany as a business model – is it now obsolete?,
in: WiSt magazine for study and research, Vol. 39, Issue 8
Germany as a business model. Why globalization is good for us: Dr. Manfred Wittenstein (Editor), Murmann-Verlag, Hamburg

Honors & Awards

Winner of the state of Baden-Württemberg's Business Medal for outstanding services to industry
Winner of the Staufer Medal for special services to the state of Baden-Württemberg
"Pro Ehrenamt" award in the Business category for the promotion of honorary commitment to sports
Honorary Senator of the Baden-Württemberg Cooperative State University Mosbach
Honorary doctorate of engineering (Dr.-Ing. E.h.) from the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at TU Munich "in recognition of his outstanding achievements and ideas in the research and development of innovative drive systems as well as pioneering corporate governance"
Holder of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (Cross) for "business success and social responsibility"
"Entrepreneur of the Year 2011" in the "Industry" category
German representative in the "World Entrepreneur of the Year 2012" awards and admittance to the Hall of Fame as one of the world's top entrepreneurs
Winner of the "German Mechanical Engineering Prize 2015" for his life's work and the establishment of a culture of innovation throughout the WITTENSTEIN Group
Holder of the Grashof medal of the VDI (Association of German Engineers) for outstanding professional services in the field of science and technology
Member of the Conrad Matschoss Circle of the VDI (Association of German Engineers) as holder of the Grashof medal



Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Thomas Bayer
Leiter Innovation Lab
Walter-Wittenstein-Str. 1
97999 Igersheim
Phone: +49 (0) 7931 / 49 31 03 10


Sabine Maier
Walter-Wittenstein-Str. 1
97999 Igersheim
Phone: +49 (0) 7931 / 49 31 03 99
Fax: +49 (0) 7931 / 49 37 10 399

Status 2018

A description provided by the institutes and companies regarding their nominated projects

Gearboxes are an essential precondition of numerous industrial manufacturing operations; without them, it would be impossible to transmit high forces with the necessary high precision. The drawback: regardless of the gearbox type, only a few teeth at once of the gear wheel engage during power transmission – the majority remain unused. This places limitations on the productivity of machinery, robots and automation systems. The question was therefore “What kind of gearbox is needed to achieve next-generation performance?”.

Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, Thomas Bayer and their team came up with a groundbreaking solution: a radically new gearbox class was born. The innovative heart is the individual teeth which make full surface contact during power transmission.. This novel gearbox design enabled fundamentally better performance. Manfred Wittenstein is Supervisory Board Chairman at the Igersheim firm of WITTENSTEIN SE, where Thomas Bayer works as Manager Innovation Lab.

All gearbox types are traditionally based on gear wheels, yet irrespective of the concept they offer only restricted potential for further innovation. What’s more, enhancements of specific performance features are inevitably offset by compromises to one or more other features. To develop a gearbox that is clearly superior in all disciplines, it was necessary to overturn established thinking.

The engineers charged with this task hit on a truly revolutionary idea: to do away with the classic gear wheel as the central gearbox component. In the new gearbox class, the gear wheel is replaced by many individual teeth, an extremely large number of which now engage simultaneously. The inventors modeled these teeth on a logarithmic spiral – a geometric form which also occurs in nature whenever materials and energy are required to be utilized as efficiently as possible. In contrast to conventional gearboxes with gear wheels that make linear contact, power is transmitted by surface contact. The new gearbox has a tooth contact surface which is almost seven times larger than that of a normal planetary gearbox.

The revolutionary concept laid the foundation for improving performance several times over. The new gearbox class beats established gearbox principles hands down in all important technical disciplines. Extreme torque density, torsional rigidity, synchronization and positioning accuracy and absolute freedom from backlash are just a few examples. In short, the gearbox is an enabler for the next generation in mechanical engineering. It is now up to designers and engineers to completely rethink existing machine concepts and realize genuine developmental leaps. They are no longer forced to settle for compromises – for instance, when maximum precision and torque density are specified simultaneously.

Various launching customers have been using the new gearbox for the last few years. Their precision and productivity have been significantly boosted as a result. Machining operations on lathes are much faster, for example, and the service life of the tools is far longer. Unwanted vibration of spline rolling machines has been reduced to a minimum and the machining time is now appreciably shorter. A new five-axis milling machine has been developed with double the usual removal rate.

The potential waiting to be unlocked by the new gearbox class is enormous. For the general market launch, WITTENSTEIN will focus on precision gearboxes for the engineering industry. The demand for these equates to around 9.4 million units worldwide. Plans are already under way for other versions made from plastic. They will mainly be targeted at the consumer goods and automotive industries – for instance, for seat adjusters or electric parking brakes, of which more than 500 million are manufactured per year. Umpteen inquiries have also been received from customers in robotics, the navy, aerospace, renewable energy and e-mobility.

This disruptive innovation was developed entirely in Germany. The new gearbox was honored with the Hermes Award at the Hannover Messe 2015, and it also won the Innovation Award of the German Economy in 2016. A dedicated startup employing some 35 people is presently responsible for development, production and marketing. Yet the impacts on a variety of industrial sectors are infinitely greater. The innovation gives companies a technology lead with clear competitive advantages that protect existing jobs and create new ones.

WITTENSTEIN SE – one with the future
Mit weltweit rund 2.600 Mitarbeitern und einem Umsatz von 385 Mio. € im Geschäftsjahr 2017/18 steht die WITTENSTEIN SE national und international für Innovation, Präzision und Exzellenz in der Welt der mechatronischen Antriebstechnik. Die Unternehmensgruppe umfasst sechs innovative Geschäftsfelder mit jeweils eigenen Tochtergesellschaften: Servogetriebe, Servoantriebssysteme, Medizintechnik, Miniatur-Servoeinheiten, innovative Verzahnungstechnologie, rotative und lineare Aktuatorsysteme, Nanotechnologie sowie Elektronik- und Softwarekomponenten für die Antriebstechnik. Darüber hinaus ist die WITTENSTEIN SE ( mit rund 60 Tochtergesellschaften und Vertretungen in etwa 40 Ländern in allen wichtigen Technologie- und Absatzmärkten der Welt vertreten.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent on leading German institutions in science and industry as well as foundations.
The project " A radically new gearbox class – productivity leaps in the engineering industry" was submitted by “Chambers of Commerce and Industry, CCI”.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will award the 22st Deutscher Zukunftspreis for the year 2018 to one of the three nominated teams on November 28, 2018.