Fusion for Energy’s (F4E) Director Johannes Schwemmer settles down at the end of a busy week. Just a few days ago he was attending the ITER Industry Day at the European Commission’s headquarters, the Berlaymont building, in Brussels. The event held by the European Commission was just one of two major events to celebrate the 10th anniversary of F4E. The organisation manages the European industrial involvement in the world’s largest tokamak to come. Ten years of ups and downs in the history of ITER have resulted in numerous lessons learned.

Mr Schwemmer, F4E is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. To what extend has the industrial engagement for ITER changed throughout that period?

“We have been collaborating with at least 400 European companies and 60 research entities in more than 20 countries at a cost in excess of four billion Euros. It surely is a successful development for the European industry, although we also need to restore our reputation due to ITER’s management crisis in 2013. At the ITER Industry Day, we heard many industrial partners saying that they are proud to undertake this endeavour with us. They feel they are a part of delivering this new energy.”

You became F4E Director in 2016. How have you improved efficiency and business optimisation since then?

“Of course, the public tendering processes are still considered ‘an adventure’ for some of the smaller industrial partners, as one speaker at the ITER Industry Day has put it. F4E began as a start-up dealing with contracts worth billions. We clearly needed to improve the speed and efficiency of processes, for example, recruitment and procurement. You cannot define projects by only following the rules without even tracking the time it takes until you deliver the result. We applied a new methodology thanks to which we have managed to become faster and more efficient.”

Many critics argue that it is hard for a small or mid-sized company to overcome the barriers in order to bid on a complex international project like ITER. What does F4E do to support applications?

“We are indeed relying on small and highly specialised companies to contribute to ITER’s components. It is therefore important to cut down the large subsystems into smaller contracts to encourage the participation of all business partners.”

To what extend are you taking advantage of experiences made in other multinational projects, such as the European Space Agency?

“We have staff members from the Joint European Torus (JET), CERN or the European Space Agency and we are, without a doubt, making good use if their expertise. This year, in fact, we have also held an international engineering best practice workshop in which we focused on benchmarking of processes and the results of those projects.”

What separates ITER from those projects?

“There is one very important and very special condition for ITER and that is the fact that ITER is a nuclear facility. Design, assembly, commissioning, construction, operation and decommissioning must comply with French laws and regulations for licensing. Every part, every design and any change must be authorised by France’s Nuclear Safety Authority.”

How would you define EUROfusion’s future role in realising fusion projects?

“European fusion science is very attractive to partners outside Europe, be it China or Japan. They would like to cooperate. But with whom could they possibly talk when they want to talk to Europe?
It is crucial that F4E, EUROfusion and the respective departments in the European Commission act as one towards those future partners, otherwise we won’t be able to take full advantage of our rich expertise. We are taking steps, with EUROfusion, to develop a closer cooperation. We have played a vital part in developing the European Fusion Roadmap and we have also succeeded in discussing diagnostic aspects. I am really looking forward to realising the joint project on the Test Blanket Modules.”

How would you define the special tasks for EUROfusion and F4E?

“To me, this is relatively clear. F4E is building the machines, we are neither responsible for operation nor research. EUROfusion is carrying out the research and engaging in the preliminary design studies; subsequently it joins the commissioning of the machines in order to take the lead in running them to conduct research. As a result, we need a close collaboration between both organisations.”

You say that EUROfusion does research and inital design studies in order to develop machines. What is it that science can learn from industry?

“I believe it is important that a professional engineering process should be also respected throughout the period of design. We are developing a complete and highly complex machine and the manufacturing process needs to be taken into account from the outset. In the end, this will save time and money.”

How do you sell the ITER project to a company?

Innovation, reputation and motivation: first of all, the company has the opportunity to learn new techniques in new dimensions and to apply those skills to upcoming projects. The reputation gained from working on a project like ITER and the motivation for the staff members are also benefits. Project management has been one of the main challenges of the project. Due to constant changes in design, we had difficulties in launching the necessary calls for tender. Since Bernard Bigot took office and remarkably changed the project management culture at ITER, we are much better at realising the contracts and we can continuously report on our progress in a positive way.”

ITER is not the only project F4E is building with the help of European companies. What is a project that you are really looking forward to in terms of realisation?

“We are really happy that the Japan Torus 60 Super Advanced (JT-60SA) is scheduled to deliver its first plasma in 2020. It is the most modern JET-sized tokamak. It is located in Japan and we are eagerly looking forward to hand it over to Japanese and EUROfusion scientists.”

VidalJohannes Schwemmer, Director of Fusion for Energy, since 2016. Picture: F4E

Johannes Schwemmer has been working in the fields of information, telecommunications and business technology for more than 25 years. He has a proven track record in international collaboration, project management and business strategy. In 2016, he took duties as Director of Fusion for Energy, the EU organisation managing Europe’s contribution to ITER. Prior to his appointment, he was a partner at Antevorte, a German consultancy specialising in performance management. Previously he worked for eight years at Unify GmbH & Co. KG, a global market leader in unified communication solutions present in 100 countries, where he held different positions as Vice-President for Global Project Management and Service Optimisation, and Vice-President for Global Training. Earlier in his career he worked at Siemens Business Services, as Vice-President for Risk Management and Strategic Alliances Management. He holds a European Joint Degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Karlsruhe (KIT), Germany, in collaboration with the University of Essex, UK and ESIEE Paris, France.