Even before the coronavirus pandemic, industry was facing a massive upheaval. “Industry 4.0”, “advanced manufacturing” and “on-demand production” are some of the buzzwords accompanying this upheaval and ushering in a new industrial age. The automotive industry, in particular, is experiencing a complete system change. New fleets with alternative drive technologies must be developed and brought to market. It can be safely assumed that the new production processes required will go beyond anything now offered by “Industry 4.0”.
As one of Germany’s strongest automotive regions and a key production location for other industries, the companies, the research and the politics of the Saarland have a significant impact on the development of “Industry 4.0”, across nearly all areas of production and process management.
The German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) has its headquarters in Saarland. It is regarded as one of the birthplaces of “Industry 4.0”, so it is no wonder that Saarland companies recognised its potential early on and have been exploiting it across multiple sectors.
Bosch Rexroth set up the world’s first “Industry 4.0” assembly, at its Saarland plant, and received the 2014 ‘Industry 4.0 Award’ for this technological step. Two hundred different hydraulic valves from two thousand different individual parts are now produced on one production line, where six different lines were previously required. Line workers are supported by help texts, videos, and light signals. This technological step forward has enabled the company to boost productivity, reduce inventory stock and save half a million euros a year.
Logistics specialists are also repositioning their services and creating intelligent interfaces with their customers.
Marco Eglseder, CEO of the Saarland company Rein Spedition, forecasts important development in the logistics sector. “As a service provider to major industry partners, we do not just wait for our customers’ specifications. Instead, we actively develop solutions that combine Industry 4.0 production principles and “Big Data” with our services. In Saarland, this is also easy to implement for medium-sized companies. Good networks and collaborative cooperation with local research institutes are a clear competitive advantage for us.” Rein Spedition is particularly interested in the benefits offered by AI. “We participate and contribute our resources and research interests in relevant local research projects. We are convinced that AI applications will be a basic requirement for future collaborations with our customers.’
One of the most crucial aspects and deciding factors for the success of the data-oriented industry is cybersecurity.
“Industry 4.0 can only be achieved with IT security X.0 that is consistently several steps ahead of new industrial applications’, explains Prof. Dr. Mana Mojadadr. To ensure that the increasing digital networking of machines and infrastructure has any chance of being sustainable, we use machine learning technology. We work with companies from a wide variety of sectors to develop forward-looking software solutions.’ She emphasises the vital role that cybersecurity plays for technological advances in industry. “A cybersecurity problem in critical infrastructure can quickly become a safety problem. Anticipatory use of cybersecurity software therefore ensures trust in Industry 4.0.” Germany’s Saarland has shown itself to be ideally equipped for the challenges that companies are facing. Mana Mojadadr adding: ‘In Saarland, we have access to highly trained people and an exceptional research landscape, particularly in the IT and cybersecurity sector.’
To ensure that companies enjoy ideal conditions in Saarland, the state’s economic development agency, gwSaar, is developing tailor-made industrial sites.
Thomas Schuck, CEO of gwSaar, explains what is being offered: ‘The development of new industrial sites is the responsibility of Saarland’s Economic Promotion Corporation. Thanks to decades of collaboration with investors from every sector, we have a good overview of what companies require. These requirements are the maxim when we develop our industrial sites. The quick, goal-oriented and caring support we provide to relocation projects is well known. The package offered is a comprehensive service, from project-specific site information through to fully developed sites or optimum real estate. A package that can provide companies with decisive timeline and budgetary advantages when implementing their projects.”
Companies receive full support from the state government.
Anke Rehlinger, Prime Minister of Saarland, emphasises: “The Saarland is a state that gained its economic success from coal and steel. What are the coal deposits of the 21st century? Digital infrastructure and networking are without a doubt a key part of future industry. Innovation and digital networking are not at odds with industrial tradition – they are the key to ensuring that our economic success continues in the future. We in the state government are supporting the economy via a major expansion of speedy Internet services and investment in technological advances such as hydrogen. Industry will continue to offer well-paid jobs in the future, if we are able to actively engage with this future!’
Saarland is promoting innovation in local SMEs via the Zentrale Technologieprogramm Saar. However, applied entrepreneurial research and development takes more than just funding: It also requires a goal-oriented interconnection between industry and science. In Germany’s Saarland, therefore, companies can rely on an effective research infrastructure.
The Centre for Mechatronics and Automation Technology (ZeMA) in the Saarland serves as a key partner for regional and national companies when it comes to introducing new technologies to industrial floors.
Local companies, in particular in the fields of mechanical engineering, consumer goods and the automotive sector, benefit from the active transfer of technology from the Centre’s applied research.
Projects, such as the Saarbrücken SMEs 4.0 Centre of Excellence, conducted by ZeMA and other Saarland partners, particularly give small and medium-sized enterprises an opportunity to work with the Centre’s experts to develop specific solutions for Industry 4.0 advancements. This ensures that SMEs can rapidly incorporate research findings into their everyday production and processes.
The use of new technologies in industry and the continuous improvement of production and business processes secures existing jobs and ensures that our region will continue to play a pioneering economic role in the future’, explains Prof. Rainer Müller, Scientific CEO of ZeMA.
In the future, production will involve networking all available data streams. Data streams from customers, suppliers and logistics providers will be incorporated into internal processes. As a result, companies that make efficient and secure use of big and mega data will have a clear competitive advantage. In addition, this treasury of data can lead to new business and revenue models.
DFKI, headquartered in Saarbrücken, is considered as the largest centre for research into artificial intelligence and one of the most important centres of excellence worldwide Applications of tomorrow are being developed in numerous industrial projects The institute’s scientific expertise covers a wide range of areas, from agents and simulated reality to algorithmic business and production, cognitive assistance systems, language technology and multilingualism as well as smart service engineering.
“In Saarbrücken, DFKI and its around 400 employees are closely networked with all university and independent research institutes as well as – and this is particularly important to us – with medium-sized companies in Saarland”, emphasises Antonio Krüger, Professor of Computer Science and CEO of the German Research Centre for Artificial intelligence (DFKI). “We see many tangible results have been achieved from these yearlong, intensive and constructive dialogues. The successful development of the non-profit DFKI GmbH shows that trust-based cooperation and a state that keeps red tape to a minimum can sustainably support and accelerate structural change towards a knowledge-based society. The DFKI makes a significant contribution to the continuing development of the Saarland as a production and industry hub.”
ZeMA and DFKI have pooled their skills to create the industry Power4Production (P4P) platform. P4P focuses on intelligent production technologies that enable the intelligent networking of products and the production environment along the entire value chain. The aim is to tackle specific tasks in industry and ensure that the resulting solutions are quickly transferred to an industrial environment.
Communication between workpiece and machine, human-robot communication (HRC) and cyber-physical production systems are focus areas for the platform’s researchers and companies. P4P also supports companies with other challenges, including robust networks, cloud computing and energy efficiency in production.
The work focuses on transferring the results of applied research into industry, and on collaboration in research projects to solve specific industry problems.
The example of Germany‘s Saarland shows that industrial change and development in the sense of Industry 4.0 requires the cooperation of all actors. One obvious prerequisite is cooperation along the entire value chain, including research. Optimal siting and expansion conditions ensure entrepreneurial investment in the future.
Informed and creative political decisions can improve the framework of conditions for resident companies. Germany has established a stimulus package of 130 billion euros in response to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. These funded projects will assure that the industry and production processes of the future will remain a key focus on both a state and federal level.
gwSaar Saarland Economic Promotion Corporation