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Making industry 4.0 more than just a utopia

Making industry 4.0 more than just a utopia

Medium-sized businesses play a key role in the automotive value chain – the Chemnitz Automotive Institute recommends ‘small-step strategies’ and special qualification measures for the supply industry

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Following the mechanisation, electrification and digitisation of industry, we are now seeing the arrival of the ‘Internet of Things’ in factories as we begin a new industrial revolution. In light of increasing competition worldwide and global trends such as scarcity of resources, demographic change and urbanisation, the development known as ‘industry 4.0’ now determines a business location’s future sustainability. In the factory of the future, everything is networked together, for example using intelligent chips to enable machinery and components to communicate with each other wirelessly. This full automation means that production almost entirely organises itself. This brings about changes to production and business processes and to corporate culture, but employee qualification will also be facing entirely new challenges.

This holds true for the automotive industry: ‘without the supply industry which is currently responsible for 70% of a car’s value creation, the vision of industry 4.0 will remain a shining utopia’, according to Prof. Werner Olle, member of the Board of Directors of the Chemnitz Automotive Institute (CATI), in a current institute study. This publication, entitled ‘Industrie 4.0 braucht den Mittelstand’ (‘Industry 4.0 needs Medium-Sized Companies’) and produced in collaboration with the Chemnitz IT company CARNET GmbH, is available for download here.

The study examines current surveys undertaken by the market research and consultancy company Techconsult, demonstrating across more than 1,000 medium-sized companies in the German-speaking world that the topic of industry 4.0 has still not arrived. There are significant obstacles due to the fact that the content of industry 4.0 is often too vague and the potential economic benefits are not transparent, preventing medium-sized companies from being interested in or ready for the development.

What can be done? The Chemnitz Automotive Institute, a TU Chemnitz education (TUCed) business unit at TU Chemnitz, has formulated three starting points and is pursuing them in practice. Experts have named the first key aspect as being the necessary training for medium-sized companies to ensure an overall understanding of industry 4.0 as a paradigm change to intelligently networked business and production processes. ‘We also recommend developing a small-step strategy for medium-sized companies in the form of digital partial projects which the company can use to introduce elements of industry 4.0 to their factories – with measurable economic benefits’, says Prof. Christoph Igel, Director of TUCed and a member of CATI’s Board of Directors. Thirdly, CATI favours qualification measures for medium-sized companies on the topic of industry 4.0, first of all for technical and managerial staff to enable them to operate as initiators and promoters of this future issue in their operations.

One way of raising awareness among medium-sized companies is through events such as the ‘Offensive Mittelstand Sachsen’ state convention, held at TU Chemnitz in late January 2015. The Chemnitz Automotive Institute has also been initiating digital partial projects with local medium-sized partners since early March, focusing on the core element of industry 4.0 (and in particular availability of information in real time) and detailing this requirement for production and order control in medium-sized companies. TUCed and CATI have also launched an initiative to create and actively shape a ‘Qualification and Further Training Competence Cluster’ as part of the Automotive Cluster of East Germany (ACOD). This focuses on the future topic of industry 4.0 and its implementation along the entire automotive value chain as far as the supplier. ‘Industry 4.0 needs more than just medium-sized companies, it also needs human digital skills’, according to Prof. Igel.