Industry is being transformed


We speak with Prof. Heuberger, Director of Fraunhofer IIS, about Industry 4.0.

© Fraunhofer IIS/Karoline Glasow
© Fraunhofer IIS/Karoline Glasow
© Fraunhofer IIS/Karoline Glasow

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.


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?



The issue is genuinely pressing: Only four percent of entrepreneurs have already addressed the topic of Industry 4.0 at a closer level. If companies do not wake up and smell the coffee, their products and their businesses could be at serious risk. As a result of digitalization, brand new technologies and services are emerging, which have the potential to significantly change industry boundaries and competition and to render current products and business models obsolete. So it’s not just a matter of thinking ahead and trying to anticipate how your own technology will change, but of carefully scrutinizing the alternatives. We’re more than happy to help entrepreneurs with our expertise here. However, electronics laboratories are ill suited to the task of demonstrating the benefits businesses can get from our developments. For this reason, we set up the L.I.N.K. Test and Application Center at our site in Nürnberg (Nord- ostpark). For those who do not know, L.I.N.K. stands for positioning, identification, navigation, and communication. Covering an area of 1,400 square meters, the center allows us to simulate industrial scenarios. The hall is equipped with loading gates, warehouse technology, a lowered outdoor area – we’ve even bought our own truck that can dock with the hall. In a word, here we can demonstrate our developments to users in a realistic environment.

Which applications can entrepreneurs test there? And which Industry 4.0 applications are conceiv­ able in general?
Albert Heuberger:
One broad field I would mention is the Internet of Things. In the IoT, intelligent sensors capture and pre-process information from machines, systems, infrastruc- ture, and products, by means of which they can recognize various statuses and situations. This data is forwarded through cables or wirelessly to a computer or a cloud, where it is analyzed for deviations using special algorithms. In the factory building, the sensors transmit their information via radio up to a distance of some ten meters; in the outdoors area, we achieve considerably greater distances. Our goal is around 30 to 40 kilometers, so that we can cover an entire city and its surroundings.
Non-industrial applications are also conceivable; the pos- sibilities are endless. Although Industry 4.0 is undoubtedly exciting and interesting in its own right, the technologies developed for it can also be used for completely different purposes – such as for navigation systems that guide drivers efficiently to their destinations by avoiding traffic jams, for street lamps that report problems all by themselves, or for home automation technology that does things like control the heating or the blinds. In the field of logistics, there are also all kinds of potential applications.

Through the lighthouse project that has recently got underway, you want to root the topic of Industry 4.0 even more deeply in the region. What role does Industry 4.0 already play for the Nürnberg region today?
Albert Heuberger:
The Nürnberg Metropolitan Region
is a priority focus for automation technology in Bavaria and in Germany as a whole. Here, Industry 4.0 is already playing an important role. This is facilitated in no small part by the high-performance research environment provided by – among others – the Friedrich­Alexander University Erlangen­Nürnberg (FAU), the Georg Simon Ohm University of Applied Sciences in Nürnberg, and non-academic insti- tutions such as Fraunhofer. Fraunhofer IIS is engaged with this environment through a series of projects. One example is the Embedded Systems Initiative (ESI) Application Center, which we founded jointly with FAU Erlangen-Nürnberg and where we develop basic technologies for cyber-physical sys- tems, which of course are at the core of Industry 4.0. In this context, Fraunhofer IIS is establishing a new academic chair together with the university. It will conduct research into the technological information systems that cyber-physical systems create – from technological, commercial, and IT perspectives.

Thank you very much for your time.
You can find further information about Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things online at