World Wide Race

future of production | Industrie 4.0 in Europe, Asia, USA

Germany is not the only place where companies and researchers are wondering about the future of industry. “Everywhere in the world policymakers and businesses are facing the same issues,” reports Professor Jürgen Jasperneite of the Institute of Industrial Information Technology at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences and of the Fraunhofer Application Center for Industrial Automation in Lemgo. “The focus in on increasing digitization and its impact on production processes and industries.” It therefore comes as no surprise that governments and companies elsewhere have launched research programs along similar lines.

Everyone is agreed on the objective: the manufacturing of the future should be efficient, environmentally friendly, and highly customizable – these are also the central goals of the German Industry 4.0 project. Individual countries have different starting positions, however, which have an impact on the main focuses of their research programs. Whereas Germany is traditionally seen as the “world’s supplier” and therefore relies heavily on its extensive know-how from individual industries, the USA has the reputation of the “world’s networker” and places a stronger emphasis on the IT aspects of the topic. This is also illustrated by the name and the member companies of the Industrial Internet Consortium, which is the US counterpart of the Industry 4.0 initiative in Germany.

Experts believe that the individual initiatives will apply similar basic technologies – such as the internet of things as the platform for the networking of sensors, products, and systems. It is very likely that many countries will make a contribution to the production of the future. To this end, basic standards need to be defined so as to enable machines to communicate with one another, for instance. “We want to be the leading market and leading supplier of the production technology of the future,” stresses Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, CEO of the German Center for Artificial Intelligence, with sites in Saarbrücken, Kaiserslautern, Bremen, and Berlin. “Other countries are also set to benefit, because Industry 4.0 allows them to raise their production to a new level.”


USA: Industrial Internet Consortium

The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) was established in the USA in March 2014. It comprises more than 100 companies, including General Electric, IBM, Intel, AT&T, and Cisco, all working on technologies for the production of the future – with German heavyweights such as Siemens and Bosch among them, too. Since many IT specialists are involved in the IIC, one of the focal points is on the internet of things and the interlinking of the factories of the future. The IIC’s vision is largely consistent with the goals of Industry 4.0: to make production more efficient and to optimize value chains. In addition, the companies are striving for higher machine availability and the cost-effective manufacture of customized products.


Europe: Initiatives at EU and national level

Alongside Germany’s Industry 4.0 project the EU and individual countries across the continent have set up their own activities aimed at preparing for the production of the future. At European level, Industry 4.0: Powering Europe, a German-led high-impact initiative, has been launched at the ICT Labs of the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT). Its aim is to bring about a rollout of cyber-physical platforms across European smart factories. There is also the Factories of the Future public–private partnership aimed at supporting mainly small and mid-size companies in their efforts to stay successful in global markets in the future. Individual countries are also active: Finland intends to spend some €100 million on its Industrial Internet program by 2019, whilst Austria plans to inject around €250 million into its vision of Industry 4.0. France, the UK, and the Netherlands have likewise launched their own initiatives.


Asia: Core technology catch-up

The Chinese government is seeking to develop intelligent production systems on the basis of ubiquitous information and communication systems under its Advanced Manufacturing Technology Roadmap, which extends as far as 2050 and defines milestones for the years 2020 and 2030. It is the country’s aim in core production technologies – such as in the automotive industry – to be less dependent on imports. This is also reflected in the current five-year plan, which designates advanced manufacturing equipment as a field of especially high priority. The activities of other countries such as Japan or South Korea are less well known. The many visits by delegations to Germany demonstrate, however, that there is huge interest in this topic in those countries as well.

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