May 18, 2021

Prof. Dr. Burak Dikici

Interview about Turkish Aluminium Sector with Prof. Dr. Burak Dikici

Prof. Dr. Burak Dikici

Could you please give information about Prof. Dr. Burak Dikici, your academic background, and your ongoing projects?

Sure, I am working as a Professor at Atatürk University, Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering. I completed my master's and doctoral studies in the field of Mechanical Engineering on the production of aluminum-based composite materials reinforced with micro and nanostructures. In 2013, I worked as a Visiting Professor at Tohoku University for a short time in Japan. I have studied in many projects on improving the physical, mechanical, and tribological properties of aluminum alloys throughout my academic career. I have focused on biomaterials for the last 10 years. However, I am not giving up on aluminum. For example, I have focused on the surface modification of some aluminum alloys, recently. The aim of the project is the investigation of the potential usability of aluminum alloys in short-time implant applications.

Can you elaborate on the linkage between the Turkish Industry and Turkish Academia?

I observe that there has been an intense effort, especially in the last 15 years, to increase the cooperation between fields of industry and academia in Turkey. It is certain that the human resources participating in this cooperation have grown, although there are some obstacles and mutual criticisms in both academia and industry. Firstly, various institutions such as the Industry and Technology Ministry or the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM) in our country being want to increase our competitiveness in the international arena. Secondly, the reform of academicians’ thoughts in the last years is the driving force in this cooperation. For example; the opening of Technocities in each University by the incentives of the Ministry of Industry and Technology has caused academicians to establish good relations with the industry. Another one, the fact that the exporters' associations are opened up to discuss the problems of firms by establishing specialized committees under a specific theme and being found to ideas exchange, significantly removed the obstacles of establishing this cooperation. In the last 10 years, companies' understanding of knowledge and know-how importance to increase their competitiveness and their desire to develop human resources to respond to the demands in the sector has also led to the formation of this cooperation. Companies to start establishing R&D or Design Centers, the introduction of mentor programs such as InovaTIM by the exporters' assembly, the widespread use of Technology Transfer Units (TTO) in Universities shows that meticulous works have been done in both Universities and Industry to increase this cooperation. The Academy-Industry cooperation should go beyond being just a symbolic word. Currently, the stages of "sharing firm's problems" and "investigation of these problems by academicians" have already been initiated in Turkey. Companies now are no longer through "trial and error, examination" way, they are at the stage of "creating a new model" with the support they receive from the academicians. Because this cooperation is inevitable in the information society and nowadays the main source of industrial competition is undoubtedly the knowledge. In parallel with the advancement of firms' technology, firms adopt cooperation that supports product development and the use of patents owned by universities, this situation shows that the communication will continue. Meanwhile, the development of regional incentive mechanisms by the government and adopting the contribution mission to the society by academicians form a new perspective on Industry-Academia cooperation. Thus, the Academy-Industry cooperation started to take to a different level. I think that Industry-Academy cooperation will turn into a multi-dimensional model such as economic revival, education, research, and contribution to society, apart from the joint projects, soon. To increase this cooperation, it is a necessity to develop new policies and reforms that encourage the resources of both fields of academia and industry to cooperate.

What is added value means for an academician? How do you practice this with the industry?

"Add value"; a keyword that distinguishes an academician from other academicians who undertake similar tasks nowadays. "Add value" for an academician should be which value to whom, how I add it in the industry. In other words, the academicians should treat their research and development activities and innovation with the logic of a marketer, and present their scientific knowledge to the service of the industry. This concept is very important not only for an academician but also for the industry. For example, companies should add value to them to make their products different and unique. In this meaning, "added value" provides a numerical value and increases the productivity and value of the firm. In other words, it plays a major role in the economic development of the firm. Every actor working in the academia must be aware of what to focus on for forming this culture. This can be called a "collective effort" in industry. We can say that the industry and the academia are developing each other. Here, turning this process into a joint project, original products, or technology with the industry is an "added value". A company that adds value to its product or technology will begin to develop strategies that will differentiate itself from other companies. Of course, in order for all of these to be successful, the firm should ask itself "do I want to do this?" and must answer it clearly. We can only see the effect of the "added value" in this way.

Why do you think the Turkish Aluminum Industry preferable? How does it create more area for academicians to do projects?

When we look at the changes in aluminum production in this century, we can see that it has grown enormously. China, in particular, produces more than 50% of the world total, greatly reducing the competitiveness of other countries. The aluminum industry in Turkey is generally comprised of the casting, extrusion, and rolling industry. Due to the investments made by the private sector in recent years, our country has reached a competitive scale in the world markets and started to make great contributions to the country's exports. It is seen that it also imports large quantities of the aluminum ingot from abroad to meet the needs. Turkey is now among the top 10 in aluminum import and export in the world. However, I think that our work has just started because we have to do and take steps to produce quality aluminum that will meet the needs of industries such as automotive, aircraft, or defense applications. With this aspect, the aluminum industry is a growing and developing sector. I think that improving the mechanical and physical properties of aluminum-based products and increasing their quality are among the priorities on which companies should work. Developing aluminum-based functional and composite materials and improving the deformability of aluminum may be the priority topics to meet the needs of electric vehicle technologies that have become important in our country with the TOGG. In academic terms; we can develop projects together to overcome problems such as weldability or fatigue of aluminum.

Do you think the Turkish Aluminum Sector could create a difference in Turkey’s role in the international arena by both academic research and trade means?

Of course, the Turkish Aluminum sector can make a huge impact on Turkey's role in the international arena. However, I think that a SWOT analysis should be done by determining the strengths and weaknesses of our country in the aluminum field. Because this job is a matter of supply and demand. The first questions that come to my mind are; Which aluminum machining techniques are we good at? What type of product is needed in the world? How many companies and employees do we have in the sector? After determining the answers to these, the firms should be supported and their production volumes should be increased. Also, trade routes must be facilitated by the government in terms of importing aluminum raw materials and exporting manufactured products, facilitating transport to customers, and recycling should be treated as a government policy. I believe that the Istanbul Ferrous and Non Ferrous Metals Exporters Association (IDDMIB) has already established a bridge between local producers and international customers. - Forecasting the demand in the coming years and determining price policies will enable our country to become a much bigger player in the aluminum sector. Academically, bringing international conferences and fairs on aluminum to the country will contribute to the gathering and growth of the sector and the academy. Here I want to open a special paragraph for the IDDMIB. The IDDMIB is an important actor working on the promotion of Turkey's local and regional metal industry in the international arena. The main purpose of IDDMIB is to facilitate the commercial exchange and dialogue between the local sector and international customers. Briefly, IDMMIB aims to open the metal manufacturing and production solutions owned by Turkish firms to the world and scientific area. For this purpose, IDDMIB is organizing fairs, conferences, and R&D competitions every year to bring academicians and sector firms together. For example, I know that some important projects are supported financially under the Metallic Ideas R&D project market competitions. By the way, I realized that IDMMIB does not even stop in the COVID-19 pandemic period and continue its activities via various webinars or online platforms. Thus, I admire the efforts of IDDMIB on this issue. We see that many firms working in the aluminum sector in our country benefit from capacity-building programs and incentives provided by the government. This greatly increased their import and export potential, paving the way for them to make long-term contracts in the international arena.

Why the world should choose Turkish Aluminum Products?

I think that the world should benefit from safe and high-quality Turkish aluminum products. However, we can easily say that exports are still not at the desired level when compared with the manufacturing sectors. While drink cans or the construction industry were popular for the aluminum industry in the past, nowadays, we see companies gain large financial turnovers if the demands of the automotive, defense, or aerospace industry are satisfied. The main demand of these industries is aluminum which is light but strong. This requires improving the material properties of our manufactured products. For example, there is a dramatic decline in die-cast aluminum products used in the automotive industry, and we are seeing that they are being replaced by forged and extruded aluminum products. This situation tells us that firms should take action on these issues. Another issue that comes to the fore in the international market is the price, so considering some cost-saving techniques and methods will increase our preference. I believe Turkey will shine more when the demands of trend sectors like automotive, defense, or aircraft industries match their needs in time. - Firms must invest in R&D for global growth. In this way, new aluminum product lines can be set up. However, I observe that the investments in R&D Turkey will increase day by day. Internationally, in the coming days we need to improve their alloy design capabilities, adopt new simulation techniques to production lines and improve process operations and mass production lines. It doesn't matter China, the United States, Europe, or Asia, we have to start seeing the countries that we see as competitors as markets at the same time. In the current situation, our differences may be our high quality, our price advantage, our development of environmentally friendly materials. We need to differentiate ourselves from import materials and develop products that we can patent.

Prof. Dr. Burak Dikici interview concluded on May 18, 2021.