Prof. Dr.-Ing. Volker Deutsch

*13 December 1932    †13 January 2023

The company KARL DEUTSCH Prüf- und Messgerätebau grieves its long-time owner and boss. On 13 January 2023, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Volker Deutsch passed away at the ripe old age of 90.

The family of his father and company founder Karl Deutsch comes from Wittenberge on the river Elbe. Among other things, Ing. Karl Deutsch worked professionally in Aerzen, and so Volker Deutsch was born in the nearby town of Hameln on 13 December 1932.

In Posen (now Poznan, Poland), Karl Deutsch ran a mechanical engineering company until 1944. Posen had to be left in a hurry when the Russian army was just around the corner. Each family member was allowed to take one piece of luggage, and they managed to get seats on the last train. Volker Deutsch has only seen one of his schoolmates again. After many stages of flight, the family of six became stranded in Wuppertal. Being the eldest child, Volker Deutsch quickly had to learn to take responsibility. Refugees were not always warmly welcomed in Wuppertal – neither at school nor at the tennis club, where the “Wuppertal moneyed aristocracy” looked down on the non-natives. During this time, Volker Deutsch developed enormous ambition and the will to succeed.

Karl Deutsch started his own business in 1949 and non-destructive testing soon became the focus of the product range. In 1951, the first ultrasonic testing device was developed. Shortly afterwards, the young company presented the first magnetic particle crack detector. Thus, the KARL DEUTSCH company did pioneering work in NDT – in good company with the firms KRAUTKRÄMER, FOERSTER, SEIFERT and TIEDE.

From 1953, Volker Deutsch studied mechanical engineering at the RWTH Aachen. After graduating, he moved to Hanover, where he received his doctorate at the Institute for Materials Science under Prof. Alexander Matting in 1961. During this time, he concurrently worked for the Official Materials Testing Institute, and so he gathered a wide range of practical knowledge on all materials testing procedures during these years. He also helped to organize the first DGZfP courses outside Berlin.

After Volker Deutsch joined the company, it experienced high growth rates. Company founder Karl Deutsch was only still active in an advisory capacity, but he advised his son not to deal only with the successful magnetic particle crack detection and to turn away from ultrasonic testing. The reason he gave was “that it is better to stand on two pillars”. This proved to be a good decision – even if competing against the market leader KRAUTKRÄMER (also founded in 1949) was not always easy. In the mid-1960s, KARL DEUTSCH started building special machines – at that time still with external partners for mechanics. In 1967, 35 employees moved into the newly built Works 1 in Wuppertal, which already had to be extended by an annex in 1972.

There were also many changes in his private life: In 1964 he got engaged in Carinthia (Austria) and, in 1965, married his wife Heidi in Vienna, which also was her hometown. In 1967, 1969 and 1972 the children Wolfram, Elke and Olaf were born.

Karl Deutsch died unexpectedly in 1974 and did not live to see the new building of Works 2 in 1978, which now accommodated the company’s own special machine construction. Volker Deutsch travelled the world and met customers and trading partners. Many of them became friends, because Volker Deutsch could win people over. At Christmas parties, it was important for him to have spoken to really all the employees during the event. At every trade conference he was a valued discussion partner. In Wuppertal, (also) NDT courses were offered, which not infrequently ended in the cellar bar at home. At the University of Dortmund, he enthusiastically lectured on NDT and was appointed professor at the age of 50.

Foreign sales were and are an important pillar of the company. As early as the 1970s, Volker Deutsch, together with sales manager Helmut Cost, put out feelers in China – as the first entrepreneur from Wuppertal. Subsidiary offices were founded in Sweden and Italy. Unfortunately, other commitments, e.g. in the USA, were less successful. It takes luck to find the right partners. This was achieved perfectly in China with Mr. Zhengxin Zhang, who managed the extremely successful office in Beijing for 25 years. At that time, around 100 employees worked at the main factory in Wuppertal.

There are ups and downs in running a company. After the political changes in 1989, turnover in Eastern Europe collapsed. However, Volker Deutsch always focused on the well-being of the employees and the retention of skilled workers. Employee turnover was (and still is) a foreign word at KARL DEUTSCH. The healthy mix of portables, sensors, crack detection equipment and testing systems and many innovative products were a guarantee of success.

Volker Deutsch had impressive leadership qualities, but he was also (perhaps exactly for that reason) able to share responsibility and gave his staff room to develop. For example, he let his sales representative Hans-Jörgen Andersen negotiate even large contracts independently: In 1993, the most expensive KARL DEUTSCH ultrasonic testing system for railway rails to date was sold to Thyssen in the German town of Duisburg. The testing system developed by Dr. Peter Möller provided good service until the plant was shut down in 2013 (today the system continues to run in Iran). In the mid-1990s, he appointed the two authorised signatories Dr. Michael Platte and Hans-Willi Krümmel as co-managing directors in order to better share responsibility and “just to be prepared” to secure the transition to the next family generation.

In 1998, Dr. Wolfram Deutsch joined the company after studying in Hanover and obtaining his doctorate in Chicago. Volker Deutsch proudly presented his successor and said at the end of the year 2000: “40 years of VD are enough!”. He had often experienced that senior and junior bosses were at odds with each other. He wanted to prevent that at all costs! Even though no one thought he could do it, he consistently withdrew from the daily business in 2001 and transferred the company to his son Wolfram. He was also pleased when his son Olaf joined the family business: Olaf Deutsch has been living and working in Beijing since 1999 and has been strengthening the Chinese subsidiary office since 2005.

In the years that followed, he wrote many books: Technical books on non-destructive testing (including the 10-volume series “compact and comprehensible” on the individual NDT testing methods as well as standard works on ultrasonic and magnetic particle crack testing), funny books (“Zerstörungsfreies Schmunzeln” (non-destructive benignly smile), “Ein Prüfer…” (a tester) and two crime novels were written in the course of time. Due to a polyneuropathy, Volker Deutsch’s walking ability became increasingly difficult. In 2005 he attended a DGZfP conference in Rostock for the last time and gave his last lecture at an event in Wuppertal. In spring 2008, he celebrated his 75th birthday on a grand scale in the magnificent Wuppertal Stadthalle. Numerous friends, colleagues and employees of the company gladly accepted his invitation. The DGZfP, the umbrella organisation for non-destructive testing in Germany, honoured the jubilarian on this memorable evening. Prof. Dr.-Ing. Volker Deutsch had given countless lectures at DGZfP events, was a long-standing member of the advisory board and holder of the DGZfP badge of honour.

Volker Deutsch was a family man and happily married for over 50 years. Two of his three children live in his immediate vicinity in Wuppertal. His daughter Dr. iur. Elke Herbsthofer, in addition to her work in a law firm, runs the Wuppertal Castell publishing house, which published his many books. He was an enthusiastic grandfather to seven grandchildren. His last book with jokes from grandpa for his grandchildren remained unfinished. It got the working title “Kennze Den?” (d’ya know this one?). He lived to see his 90th birthday in December 2022, being cared for by his wife Heidi Deutsch. On 13 January 2023, Volker Deutsch peacefully passed away surrounded by his family.

We will not forget him and will continue his life’s work in his spirit!

Volker Deutsch as a test engineer (above) with an early ECHOGRAPH ultrasonic flaw detector during his time as a doctoral student in Hannover

Dr.-Ing. Volker Deutsch joining the KARL DEUTSCH company, pictured with his parents in 1961

Start with special machine construction in the 1960s: Ultrasonic testing system for billets (left) and magnetic particle crack testing system for steering knuckles (right)

Dr. (USA) Wolfram A. Karl Deutsch joined the company in 1998

Dr. Matthias Purschke, then Managing Director of the DGZfP, congratulates Prof. Volker Deutsch on his 75th birthday in the Wuppertal Stadthalle. On the left in the picture is Mrs Heidi Deutsch.