We speak with Prof. Heuberger, Director of Fraunhofer IIS, about Industry 4.0.
A revolution is coming to factories and assembly halls. It goes by the name of Industry 4.0. First fac- tories were mechanized and then electrified, and then IT systems were introduced to support business processes. Now the fourth generation of manufacturing has arrived in the form of Industry 4.0. In this interview, Prof. Albert Heuberger explains what the term means and what Fraunhofer IIS can achieve in this area.
Professor Heuberger, everywhere we turn at the moment we read and hear about Industry 4.0 and the industry of the future. How can we transform this abstract concept into an everyday reality? What does it mean for factory managers and for customers?
Albert Heuberger: The key aspect of Industry 4.0 is intel- ligence – indeed “smart factory” is another way of saying the same thing. If you look at factories today, many of the production facilities are still “dumb,” processing their tasks in a linear fashion. In the future, things will look completely different. The production machines will network and communicate with one another, share information, make their own decisions, and control themselves autonomously. Even the products will have built-in intelligence. They will always know where they are and know their history, their current status, and the route to their target condition. This has far-reaching implications. It allows production to be more flexible, all the way down to a batch of one. This could ultimately lead to customers designing their products according to their own individual preferences – using an app for instance.
What is Fraunhofer IIS’s position on Industry 4.0?
Albert Heuberger: As a concept, Industry 4.0 is still very young. It only emerged a few years ago. The approaches behind it, however, have been around for much longer. At Fraunhofer IIS, we’ve already been working on these issues for over fifteen years. This includes research into intelligent objects, particularly in logistics. This pioneering work was also supported by Bavarian state government projects. So Industry 4.0 has a long pedigree at Fraunhofer IIS, and cyber-physical systems are always at its core. Cyber-physical systems are the combination of software and IT with me- chanical and electronic parts that communicate with each other – for example, over the internet.
“FRAUNHOFER IIS IS ACTIVE ACROSS THE WHOLE CHAIN: HARDWARE, SENSORS, SOFTWARE, AND CONSULTING”.
Now things are shifting gear: As part of the Bayern Digital program put out for tender by the Bavarian state government, we’ve won a lighthouse project for digital manufacturing. Called “Technologies and Solutions for Digi- talized Value Creation”, the project will run for five years. In the project, we are working with our customers to further advance development of the basic technologies required for Industry 4.0, implementing new use cases, and rooting the topic even deeper in the Nürnberg Metropolitan Region. On top of that, there are also a large number of small and large projects carried out with businesses, exploring possibilities such as how to use positioning technologies in industrial applications.
Professor Heuberger, what are the aspects of this that most interest you and your employees?
Albert Heuberger: Industry 4.0 has two sides: the tech- nological and the commercial. Fraunhofer IIS covers bothand – what is more – the entire chain of Industry 4.0. We offer consultation on new vertical applications and business models as well as developing various core components for the required hardware and software.
For example, we’ve developed basic technologies for wire less identification (RFID), for wireless sensor systems, and for embedded and cyber-physical systems. After all, positioning, identification, navigation, and communication are our core technologies.
Lots of people talk about Industry 4.0 and some have grand ideas – here at Fraunhofer IIS, we have the know-how to implement our ideas. In other words, we’re working on the practical realization of Industry 4.0. In this undertaking, we are helped by our industrial network of suppliers, device manufacturers, and users. Which partners are needed to develop new cyber-physical systems along with the corresponding services? We have drawn up 20 different roles that we use as the basis for setting up our network. While one partner creates embedded systems, another looks after the data and service platform, and a third certifies the software. This platform allows us to be very swift and targeted in building up, implementing, and demonstrating new technologies and solutions and translating them into practice. However, cyber-physical systems alone cannot create added value for entrepreneurs. They have to be embedded in services. In other words, commercial considerations must also be taken into account.
Given that Fraunhofer IIS is primarily an engineer ing institute, how can you take into account the commercial issues involved in Industry 4.0?
Albert Heuberger: Together with the University of Bam- berg, we have founded a competence center for business models in the digital world. The university professors involved are all drawn from business disciplines. By working hand in hand with these specialists, we can help entrepre- neurs to transform their business models and design new services, while providing advice on the technical aspects of Industry 4.0: Which technologies exist in this sector? How can I use them? How do I apply them specifically to my product range?
“WE HAVE THE KNOW-HOW TO IMPLEMENT INDUSTRY 4.0.”