Topic of the Month, September 2013


Industry 4.0 – The Manufacturing Work Innovation Network

In 2013, the Fraunhofer IAO launched the “Manufacturing Work 4.0 Innovation Network,” in which industrial enterprises and research partners collaborate on finding answers and solutions for the future of manufacturing work in Germany.

Pictures courtesy of Fraunhofer IAO

A review of the study results

1. Automation is becoming viable for ever-smaller production runs – yet human labour continues to play a critical role in manufacturing.

2. Flexibility is still a key factor for manufacturing work in Germany – but in future it will be even more short-term than today.

3. Going forward, flexibility must be organised in a targeted and systematic way – “blanket flexibility” won’t suffice any longer.

4. Industry 4.0 is more than CPS networking. The future will bring intelligent data collection, storage and distribution by objects and human beings.

5. Decentralised control mechanisms will proliferate, but total autonomy of decentralised, self-controlling objects will not occur in the foreseeable future. Related safety aspects must be taken into account early on, during the design of intelligent manufacturing plants.

6. The tasks of traditional manufacturing workers and knowledge workers will continue to merge.

7. Manufacturing workers will take on an increasing number of product development tasks.

8. Employees will have to be qualified for shorter-term, less predictable work activities through on-the-job training.

The study shows that the Internet is moving into production facilities. From a technical standpoint, the upshot is that machines, workpieces, means of transportation and semi-finished goods contain embedded systems, sensors and actuators, connecting them with each other and partially also to the Internet. They’re now able to independently exchange information and interact with each other and with humans. That’s how cyber-physical systems (CPS) develop, linking real (physical) objects to the virtual (cyber) world.

Additional services increase the global competitiveness

Hence, when it comes to the business success of mechanical and plant engineering enterprises, e.g., the focus will shift to include product-supporting services surrounding the actual equipment. According to a study conducted by the Ifo Institute on behalf of the European Commission, such additional services increase the global competitiveness of the German mechanical and plant engineering industry. They deliver added value and thereby create new jobs for highly qualified employees.

Dr.-Ing. Olaf Sauer from the Automation business unit at the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation (IOSB) also stresses how important this is for Germany as a business location: “The German mechanical and plant engineering sector successfully equips production facilities and factories worldwide. For decades, ‘Made in Germany’ has stood for the quality of German engineering accomplishments. However, German mechanical engineering firms and their engineers are facing increased international competition – resulting in well-known cost/price, time and quality pressures.”

It will probably take a bit longer before conventional control cascades can be digitally networked everywhere, but experiences from the knowledge-based economy do show that real-time linkages between multiple objects can indeed spawn new business models and competitive market advantages. New technologies are coming, too. So which areas warrant commitment now in order not to miss the boat?

From the perspective of enterprises, the key is to purposefully select the right technologies and methods, scrutinise them in regard to their expected utility and deploy them efficiently. This pertains to technical design and automation, organisational structure, building and interior design, and integration of new technologies.

But also, and above all, questions must be asked concerning leadership and employee development: What specific features will characterize the manufacturing work of the future? How can employees and companies be supported on their path toward an Industry 4.0? How flexible will our work be? How will manufacturing work need to be designed in order to sustainably promote performance, motivation, active involvement and continuous improvement? How will business models and market entry barriers change?

The study results largely confirmed existing expectations held by academics and practitioners, and they will serve as the basis for the discussion over how to shape manufacturing work in Germany so it’ll be competitive in the long-term. Dr. Manfred Wittenstein, 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year, succinctly summarised the major challenge for the future: “Those who are able to respond to changes more flexibly have […] a strategic advantage. In future, we’ll be able to make decisions faster due to the availability of data.”

© Fraunhofer IAO

Actively shaping the future is possible

In summer of 2013, the Fraunhofer IAO launched the “Manufacturing Work 4.0 Innovation Network,” in which industrial enterprises and research partners collaborate on finding answers and solutions for the future of manufacturing work in Germany. The project is geared toward leaders, professionals and consultants from the manufacturing and other technology-oriented sectors.
In conjunction with participating partners from associations and companies providing and using technology, scientifically substantiated action guidelines are to be developed that integrate as well as reflect the expertise of all research partners.

A well-founded discussion within enterprises and among the public is to be achieved through the regular publication of interim results and the transfer of results to companies. Internally, plans call for visiting best-practices examples in select thematic focus areas, discussions with enterprise representatives and intense networking within the circle of experts. The Fraunhofer IAO is responsible for project management in this context, as well as for devising and managing research topics. All participants benefit from access to this exclusive in-network body of knowledge.

Lastly, Fraunhofer IAO‘s factory model called “Industry 4.0 Future Lab” offers an opportunity to research concrete manufacturing application scenarios based on the 4.0 principle, such as, e.g., the interface between a human being at work and an intelligently networked Industry 4.0.

More than 80 participants attended the kick-off event in early July, but interested technology users or providers can still join the “Innovation Network” and help shape the manufacturing work of the future.

Frank Lindner

more information under these links:

- Management Summary ››Manufacturing Work of the Future – Industry 4.0‹‹ as pdf
- Introduction ››Manufacturing Work of the Future – Industry 4.0‹‹ (in German)
- The 4th Industrial Revolution (VDMA-Video)
- Fraunhofer IAO - YouTube Channel
- SmartFactory | the future of industrial automation


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Production work in the future - Industry 4.0

The study "production work of the future - industrial 4.0", by Fraunhofer IAO provides a design basis for the "fourth industrial revolution." More than 600 production managers and more than 20 leading experts have drawn their vision of the future factory work.