German State Governments Promote an Industrie 4.0 Future
By Jim Lorincz
The usual way to get to Hannover, Germany, after landing in Frankfurt is to head north by rail. However, on a six-day tour sponsored by Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI; Berlin), five US journalists and I headed south to Mainz in the German Federal State of Rhineland-Pfalz. From there it was on to Karlsruhe and Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg and finally to Munich in Bavaria.
The occasion for the tour, the Hannover Messe 2016, was dominated by all things Industrie 4.0 and the impact of digitalization on industry. Also called the Internet of Things (IoT) or the Industrial Internet, Industrie 4.0 is regarded as a transformative step for the growth of the German manufacturing economy. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) and startup companies are both seen as beneficiaries of the new connectedness that digitalization promises.
The mix of companies in Rhineland-Pfalz, for example, ranges from active global players to traditional middle-sized companies (Mittelstand) which are regarded as the Hidden Champions of its economy. Globally active companies with headquarters in the state include BASF in plastics and pesticides, Boehringer Ingelheim for drugs, and Schott for glass in Mainz, as well as companies like Mercedes-Benz with its commercial vehicle plant in Wörth, Abbott Laboratories in Ludwigshafen, and IBM’s operation in Mainz.
Two companies we visited were unique by virtue of their technologies and markets served. The Human Solutions Group is a company that operates in two totally distinct markets: fashion and mobility. Fashion is self-evident from the names of its customers, including Adidas, Benetton, and Hugo Boss. Very simply, Human Solutions sizes people up through profiling of body shapes and sizes for clothing or to occupy spatial envelopes in the mobility sector, whifch includes automotive, aircraft, industrial and military vehicles. Their service is less obvious until you think about how small seats in economy class in airplanes are. It’s by design--based on body profiles. Human Solutions is currently measuring the bodies of a statistically significant number of US and Canadian people with its 3D body scanner to size North Americans up in a database.
Next up was a visit to Sensitec GmbH, a business unit in the Automation Group of Körber Solutions. Sensitec is a leading manufacturer of magneto-resistive (MR) sensor chips that are custom designed to its customer’s requirements, however challenging the environment. For example, Sensitec sensors are performing flawlessly on the Curiosity Rover on Mars, according to CEO Rolf Slatter. MR sensors employ a principle known for more than 150 years. With development of thin film technology some 30 years ago, however, MR became an important method of controlling movement or for where angle, linear motion, position, electrical or magnetic field strength are to be detected or measured. Sensitec was awarded the 2015 innovation prize by the Rhineland-Palatinate for its joint-venture Spintronic Technology Platform (STeP) developed in close cooperation with the Technical University Kaiserslautern, and the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz.
Traveling to Stuttgart in Baden-Württemberg brought us to an area dominated by automotive-related manufacturing with Daimler, Porsche, Robert Bosch, and leading companies their fields like Carl Zeiss and SAP. Stuttgart itself is a center for R&D and the company makeup is dominated by SMEs. The Allianz Industrie 4.0 Baden-Wurttemberg is a network that pools technological expertise in production as well as IT and communications to support medium-sized industrial companies (Mittelstand) in their adoption of the new Industrie 4.0 standard. The Allianz works together with network partners from companies, chambers of commerce, associations, and institutes of applied research to achieve its objectives.
We visited Alfred Kärcher GmbH, the family-owned cleaning equipment manufacturer of consumer and industrial cleaning equipment. Kärcher is famous for specializing in sensitive cleaning of historic monuments and edifices. Located near Stuttgart, Kärcher gave a face lift to the presidents’ heads on Mount Rushmore, has cleaned the Seattle Space Needle, the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the Colonnades of St. Peter’s Square in Rome, among many other projects. Our visit was to witness progress that the company, which prides itself on lean production, is making toward incorporating Industrie 4.0 functionality into its manufacturing processes from sourcing logistics to personnel flexibility and customer-specific production.
The next stop was Bavaria, Germany’s largest Federal State with a population of more than 12 million and GDP of more than a half trillion euro. Bavaria is well known for its tech start-ups, familiar global companies, including BMW, Siemens, and Adidas, as well as its Oktoberfest and the natural beauty of the Alps. IBM chose Munich as the global HQ for IBM Watson IoT platform and innovation lab because of its strong IT-centered research facilities. Bavaria’s commitment to supporting cutting edge research in the field of digitalization includes investments in the Center for Digitalization at the Technical University Munich’s (TUM) campus as well as statewide IT projects to focus on such areas as eHealth research, IT security, Big Data, Simulation Services, and Embedded Systems.
After negotiating the construction work being done on the Munich Hbf (main train station), next stop—six hours later--was Hannover in time for a press tour and opening of Hannover Messe 2016.
Published Date : 5/16/2016