Series: Industry 4.0 for SMEs Practical solutions from a technological, organizational and management perspective

The “Industry 4.0 for SMEs” series in the Fraunhofer IIS magazine

As we transition toward Industry 4.0, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in particular often lack the expertise required to assess and harness the potential that digitalization holds for their operations. The hurdle for the introduction of new technological solutions seems to be particularly high in this group – although even a modest investment can achieve a lot when applied in the right places.

That was precisely the remit and the aim for our Technologies and solutions for digital value creation research project: to develop practical applications in the production and logistics environment that can provide straightforward support for SMEs and their employees on the road to Industry 4.0. To this end, Fraunhofer IIS adopted a holistic approach: we combined the economics and analytics expertise of our Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services SCS with the technological know-how of our Positioning and Networks business unit.

In our ten-part magazine series, we present the results of this five-year research project. We will introduce to you our easy-to-integrate, flexible and easily expandable technological solutions. And you will learn about the accompanying concepts from an organizational, management and technological perspective that SMEs need to consider to make their digital transformation a success.

We hope that reading this series provides you with valuable insights. If you have any further questions or need advice, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

The human factor in Industry 4.0

© Gorodenkoff Productions OU - / Florian Müller

The human element plays a major role in the success and the productivity of Industry 4.0 technologies and applications. This is why we also look at each phase of digitalization from a behavioral and sociological perspective. In this interview with Stephanie Schmitt-Rüth, head of the Human Centered Innovation group, you can find out how we support companies as they plan and design the rollout and communication of their digital transformation to ensure it enhances motivation and productivity.

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Forecasts and performance indicators make forklift fleets more efficient

© Fraunhofer IIS / Florian Müller / Marco Wenzel / Paul Pulkert

In most companies, the efficiency of in-house transports with industrial trucks is recorded only manually and in a very incomplete manner. We tap the potential for optimization by developing “intelligence” for industrial trucks that enables analysis of individual intralogistics transport processes. In this interview, Christoph Hohmann, former deputy head of the Process Analytics group , uses the example of forklifts equipped with a specially developed system of mobile positioning technologies to demonstrate the recording of data and its subsequent analysis and use.

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Intelligent assembly with Industry 4.0: screwdrivers that think along with you

© Fraunhofer IIS / Florian Müller / Paul Pulkert

In many cases, tightening procedures have an impact on quality during assembly – but monitoring them has been difficult up to now. Our key to quality monitoring and support in assembly is a wireless tool sensor module that detects and analyzes the screwdriver’s movement and position in real time. In this interview, Christian Nickel, Senior Engineer in the Machine Learning and Validation group, presents a retrofit solution that turns tools from any manufacturer into a cyber-physical, intelligent system.

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Error-free processes with the picking armband and near-field positioning

© Fraunhofer IIS / Florian Müller / Paul Pulkert

Every mistake in the picking process causes extra work. But installing assistance systems that alert the order picker to picking errors can be extremely complex. That is why we are developing a reliable picking monitoring system based on inductive near-field positioning. In this interview, Tobias Dräger, manager of the RFID and Inductive Sensor Systems group, explains how this system marks a fundamental departure from previous picking monitoring systems that work with optical sensors, light barriers or laser scanners.

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Complex manual picking made flexible and error-free – with wireless pick-by-light technology

© Fraunhofer IIS / Florian Müller / Paul Pulkert

Wired pick-by-light systems are inflexible and costly when the picking area is redesigned. Our wireless information system makes it easy to install compartment displays, thus allowing for temporary storage setups and quick reconfiguration of pickup compartments. Stephan Oswald, a research fellow in the IoT Applications group, answers questions in this interview about how the system works, the value it adds for companies, and its customized implementation.

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Industry 4.0 in technical application

Which conditions are important for the technological implementation of Industry 4.0 in SMEs?
Jasper Jahn, Advisor to the Head of the Positioning and Networks unit at Fraunhofer IIS, highlights different points where promising applications can be launched or used in existing intralogistics and industrial processes. In a video interview, he addresses the following questions:
• What do small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) need to consider from a technological perspective when it comes to digitalization?
• Do SMEs need to switch to completely new technical systems to keep up with the digital transformation?
• Which existing processes can be digitalized without major effort?

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Data platforms and information exchange

© Fraunhofer IIS

Professor Andreas Harth, Head of Data Spaces and IoT Solutions in our Center for Applied Research on Supply Chain Services SCS, talks about the topic of data as well as data platforms and information exchange. He comments on the following questions:
• Why do I need better access to process data?
• How can data be made available as quickly and flexibly as possible?
• How can data be shared in a meaningful way?

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Technologies and solutions for digital value creation: A project for SMEs

© Fraunhofer IIS

In the video interview, Professor Alexander Pflaum explains why a research project on digitalization and Industry 4.0 is particularly relevant for SMEs, and answers the following questions:

  • Why is there a need for a project that focuses explicitly on digital value creation at SMEs?
  • What approach did we take?
  • What do SMEs need to keep in mind to make their own digital transformation a success?
  • What can we do specifically to support SMEs?
  • What essential advice can we give SMEs?

Watch the video

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