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Automation Technologies 2/2015

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Automation Technologies 2/2015

NEWS AND MARKETS

NEWS AND MARKETS Bottom-up rather than top-down! Now it has been awarded, the so-called “4 th Industrial Revolution”. With the slogan “Industrie 4.0”, a broad alliance of federal government and leading associations are promoting the debate on the future of the industry. What lies ahead actually seems to be tremendous: an extraordinary opportunity for industry in Germany and Europe! The current hype may seem a bit surprising and some in the economy may start to feel disturbed by the communication campaign. Why the fuss? IT has established itself in all households over the past thirty years, and for sure in companies and factories, too. But what is so new about this phenomenon, that it deserves to be called the next “industrial revolution”, as many claim? The excitement is due to the fact that transfer rates and processor speeds are now performing on levels at which they can be usefully employed in interconnected industrial processes. Not long ago, industrial robots were considered „lone wolves“, for example, setting welding spots on cars. Today, they can communicate with one another and automate the entire value chain, without human intervention. Siemens recently introduced the first fully automated factory of the world in Germany. But production cannot be viewed as a closed circuit. Especially in Germany’s medium-sized industrial culture, production is not possible without a number of independent suppliers. Germany has benefitted from precisely this way of collaboration and has reached high levels of productivity. Having independent entrepreneurs as car seat- or mufflermanufacturers, for instance, they will by nature act economically. It is in these manufacturers’ own interest to optimize the (small) intermediate step in the production of a car, for which they are responsible. So, if many individual profit centers are bound together like beads on a string along the value chain of a complex product - optimal production is not the result of a „big umbrella strategy“, but rather of an optimal composite of many small and medium enterprises. Their interaction with the other parts of the system exists on the basis of supply and demand and is constantly re-balanced. For such actors, the new communication strategy „from Berlin“ – meant to convince them that „Industrie 4.0“ is a good thing – seems strange. Entrepreneurs know what is best for their companies, otherwise collaboration with major corporations would never have worked as well as it did. Hannover Region offers the best examples of this successful collaboration. Many companies are working in the automotive sector, for example, as suppliers to Volkswagen and others. But similar structures can prove to be beneficial in medical devices or renewable energy here. The region has AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGIES 2/2015

NEWS AND MARKETS recognized the trend in many areas and also offers its experience to individuals from outside who are interested. More information can be found at www.industry4you.de. Two risks At the same time, all parties from Hanover region who are involved are aware, that any kind of change also poses risks. But where are they in “Industrie 4.0” - instead everything seems to point to a dazzling future. Here, the history of IT development provides an illuminating insight. Konrad Zuse, a German, developed the very first computer. Thus, we cannot say that Germany missed a trend with regard to that revolutionary technology. But who dominates today in the B2C market? Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and eBay - all US firms. Formerly small, innovative entrepreneurs with a good idea and perseverance have created products and companies that dominate the world these days. And why? Because, an innovative process cannot be ordered „from the outside“. After all, inventions “simply happen”. State aid for research and innovation is a good thing, but it must not suppress the processes necessary for innovative creative chaos and spontaneity. Government programs can indeed provide an impetus, but they should not patronize entrepreneurs and innovators in small and medium-sized enterprises. SME’s for being reluctant until an industry standard has been established for their field? For the time being, it is too risky, for many suppliers, to focus on standards for a specific customer while another demands that completely different conditions be met. This is precisely the reason, why SMEs in particular stand hesitantly on the sidelines, though they have usually been the guarantor for innovative and effective solutions. “Industrie 4.0”, and the entire campaign, aims at resolving this balancing act. Large companies must rely on SMEs and the latter’s leading role, as Joe Kaeser, CEO of Siemens, recently explained. It is not about small and big players; all must act on equal footing. Small and medium-sized enterprises should not be annoyed by this. Instead, they should understand that it is not about forcing something on them against their will but, rather, about creating a new basis for partnership. The Economic Development Corporation hannoverimpuls is aware of its role as a mediator and actively accepts the tasks involved. With its large network, not only in the region but also internationally, it brings important players together, while always maintaining creative freedom. Photographs: teaser fotolia www.hannoverimpuls.com Bring players together! The IT sector, in particular, is full of these types of stories. Trendsetters of the past are now the standardsetters of today. And the term “standard” is a keyword for the second big risk. Each of us is familiar with the difficulty caused by differing software standards, for example between Microsoft and Apple. A highly networked process chain in the industry cannot tolerate inconsistencies, however, as we do when we are forced to use a graphically distorted presentation simply because it was created using a program not installed than the one on the presenting computer. Co-operation requires standardization. The days are over in which French cars had yellow headlights while the rest of Europe’s cars had white ones. Standardization is already so optimized, that identical engines are even installed by different car-manufacturers and in different models. This is effectiveness. Today’s automated process chain under “Industrie 4.0” is still far from being a standard. Who can blame Dr. Christian Brömer, hannoverimpuls GmbH AUTOMATION TECHNOLOGIES 2/2015

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