A direct Lufthansa flight from Orlando to Frankfurt, Germany was scheduled several years ago, but not because Germans were visiting Disney World in droves. The targeted passengers were the growing number of Siemens Energy, Inc., engineers and scientists who travel regularly between the company’s Orlando headquarters for North and South America and the international headquarters in Germany.
Orlando is becoming a larger force in global business and Siemens is one of Central Florida’s most important links to the global marketplace. The international energy giant is the second largest of the 150 international technology companies in Orlando. Founded in 1847, it now employs approximately 4,400 in Central Florida with over 3,500 in the energy sector.
“We chose the Central Florida region and our location in East Orlando because of its business-friendly environment, with easy transportation access through Orlando International Airport, its outstanding quality of life and its proximity to what was then a promising and growing institution, the University of Central Florida,” Siemens Vice President of North American Communications Melanie Forbrick said.
Westinghouse Power Generation moved to Orlando in the early 1980s, setting the stage for Siemens presence after they bought Westinghouse in 1998 and the operation became part of Siemens Energy. The focus remained similar and some former Westinghouse employees still work for Siemens, including Randy Zwirn, the CEO for Siemens Energy. Today, Siemens’ main facility is adjacent to the University of Central Florida.
“They are right across the street from UCF on purpose,” said Jenny Wakefield, vice president of marketing and communications for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. With 405,000 employees worldwide, Siemens is in constant need of engineers and scientists and UCF helps to provide those employees.
“They’re interested in the availability of talent in the future,” said Wakefield, whose organization works to support UCF’s engineering programs. “We need to make sure Orlando continues to provide the workers they need and to make sure we’re an attractive place for those engineering grads.”
In addition to the research work Siemens does with UCF, the company’s research projects are spread throughout the region, with scientific work based at Kennedy Space Center, Florida Institute of Technology, and with a Brevard County firm that designs high-performance armature windings for wind turbine generators.
Siemens Energy is the primary sector within the global engineering company, Siemens AG, which is represented in Orlando, although Siemens Healthcare and Industry sectors also are represented here. Siemens Energy provides designs and engineering for all aspects of the electric power grid. With more than 95,000 employees globally, Siemens Energy reported worldwide revenue of over $37 billion in 2011. The U.S. energy section of the business employs more than 15,000, whose work is managed from Orlando. Divisions in the energy sector include fossil fuel power generation, wind, solar hydro-electric power, oil and gas, energy service and power transmission.
Despite the size of the Siemens workforce in Orlando, the company does not have manufacturing facilities here, Forbrick said. Only design, engineering and administrative work is performed in Central Florida, including accounting, finance, human resources and supply chain management support.
Siemens’ Orlando offices include seven facilities that total nearly a million square feet of office and lab space. And an eighth facility is under construction in a business park near the airport, where the company already has a warehouse.
Earlier this year, a 40,000-square-foot wind training facility was announced. Orlando beat Houston in bidding to house the center where 50 employees will train up to 100 wind turbine workers each week. Worldwide, the company has nearly 8,000 employees in its wind power sector, which was formed in 2004. Orlando was chosen to become the training center due to the size of the airport and the proximity of the company offices to UCF. In 2011, Siemens reportedly had 6.3 percent of the world wind turbine market.
Working with UCF
UCF was initially opened to educate engineers for the space program, but has lured a number of technology companies like Siemens. “Our company recognized the potential technology collaborations with a growing university,” said Forbrick. During the last decade, Siemens has donated more than $3 million to UCF for research and development projects.
Benefits to Siemens from the relationship with UCF include the creation of research teams, access to UCF’s intellectual resources and research, and access to the best graduates. About 40 UCF interns and co-op students are hired by Siemens each year, Forbrick said. Jayanta Kapat, UCF professor and director of the Center for Advanced Turbomachinery & Energy Research, said, “Students get training they cannot get in any classroom. Some of them get jobs a year before they graduate.”
Since 2008, research at the Siemens Energy Center, a partnership project with UCF’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, has focused on increasing the efficiency of power generation equipment to conserve energy and reduce costs. The wind turbine research helps position Central Florida as a leader in power generation and energy conversion, particularly in the fields of advanced materials development, cooling concepts, heat transfer and combustion, explained Forbrick.
Wind turbines designed by Siemens likely will play an important role in energy independence for the U.S. And while those wind turbines won’t be popping up around Orlando, the engineering and technology for those giant windmills will come from Central Florida by way of Siemens