Silverstone Inspiration for Innovation Profile #5 – Tobias Knichel, Managing Director PUNCH Flybrid

Let us introduce you to Tobias Knichel, Managing Director at PUNCH Flybrid; one of our exceptional Silverstone Park business professionals who believes that engineers will be key to ensuring we resolve the global climate crisis and for that reason he has particularly focused his career on sustainability. PUNCH Flybrid develop flywheel based hybrid systems for automotive and off-highway customers, Tobias is responsible for creating the company strategy and for ensuring the business has the correct resources to attain its targets.

Tobias started working in engineering in 2003 at The University of Cooperative Education, Heidenheim where he studied Dipl. Ing. (BA), Mechanical Engineering. He was awarded the Prize of Heidenheim’s Industry for being the best student in all technical courses of study (Mechanical Engineering, Computer Sciences, Industrial Engineering) and then went on to complete his MSc in Motorsport Engineering and Management at Cranfield University.

After Cranfield, Tobias became a Design and Development Engineer. This role focused on analysing technical problems, designing solutions for those problems and then testing the design to ensure a solution was met. After 3 years in that role, he was appointed Lead Engineer for a project that developed the first ever hybrid car to race at Le Mans. This milestone will be etched in history forever and was achieved with a very small team of people against massively unfavourable odds and competition from multi-billion dollar organisations – definitely his biggest success so far! As Tobias says “ Motorsport is a great environment to develop new technologies as new ideas get tested and improved in quick succession”.

Tobias started transitioning from a purely technical role to a commercial orientated role as a Lead Engineer. He was responsible, not only for the technology used in motorsport but for the project management and also the customer relationship. After a few years as Lead Engineer, he then took the challenge to head up commercial activities which involved marketing, sales and project management. By this time he had less technical involvement with product and was more focused on understanding what the customer required and on winning projects to keep the company growing and was appointed MD at the beginning of 2018.

Being based at Silverstone Park is perfect for PUNCH Flybrid, allowing access to an advanced engineering talent pool as well as to local suppliers who are used to working on innovative technologies. This is what Tobias loves best about his job, being able to work with intelligent people and impressive organisations on very difficult problems that when solved have a significant, positive effect on society as a whole.

This really ties in nicely with the reasons that Tobias has continued to support the Inspiration for Innovation programme, by volunteering at Inspirational Events and also making classroom visits where he encourages students to study STEM subjects and points also to the brilliant careers that women can have in glamorous companies like Formula 1 teams as ways to attract more females into STEAM based industries. Tobias has met many smart and enthusiastic students. He says “one young girl in particular identified the materials of our energy storage flywheel correctly without being prompted. And the materials are not easy to identify by just looking at them. One young boy correctly explained why our flywheel is rotating in a vacuum. Seeing the principle understanding and adaptation to unusual challenges was very encouraging”. Tobias loves to be able to see the reaction of the students and to encourage other businesses to take part in the volunteering programme. When asked “What advice would you give to students who wish to progress to a company like yours?” Tobias comments “Study hard, get good results, train your common sense, always be open to learning, don’t fear failure, go the extra mile and believe in yourself”.

Tobias is convinced that his biggest achievement is yet to come, but recently he has been testing PUNCH Flybrid’s latest product for the power generation market,  which enables power generator sets to be downsized by a factor of 4. This significantly reduces emissions and resource usage in worldwide power generation. Quite an achievement.

I’ve seen first hand Tobias enthuse and motivate the students that have taken part in the Inspiration for Innovation programme, and can see how he is passing on his exceptional experience as well as the positive influences from his first boss who instilled a disciplined work ethic, and the importance of common sense and empathy.

Work colleagues would describe Tobias as “Shooting for the stars”, and I think we can certainly agree on that!