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Today, I had the great honor to speak at EMO, the world’s premier trade fair for the metalworking sector. Under the motto “Connecting Systems for Intelligent Production”, EMO again makes Hanover THE meeting place for manufacturing specialists from all over the world.

While preparing my speech, I thought a lot about what “intelligent production” means – and how this is connected to my vision of an intelligent enterprise. To me, intelligent production is a necessary consequence of the ongoing digital transformation that affects not only businesses across all industries, but society as well. Digital transformation comes with a shift in customer behavior – as consumers, we are now more informed than ever before, much more demanding, and most of us are no longer willing to adapt to a product, but rather we expect the product to adapt to us. The lot size of one or “mass individualization” will be topics that every manufacturer must face sooner or later.

The changing world of manufacturing
The challenge will be to provide those highly-individualized products for the same price and with the same delivery time as their mass-produced equivalents. This new product individualism will appear throughout the value chain, eventually also hitting the machine industry. It demands production processes that are much more flexible as well as new machines. It’s not enough to have machines that flexibly and easily interconnect with each other; they also have to be geared towards adjusting production dynamically.

In addition, technologies like 3D-printing are offering new opportunities: We can integrate manufacturing and extended supply chain with additive manufacturing by connecting a global network of intelligent 3-D printers. With such an extended supply chain, we can, for example, print automobile spare parts in 3-D on demand in remote locations. This not only increases customer satisfaction, but also significantly reduces spare part warehousing costs.

So, what does this mean for production processes? We are currently seeing more and more companies move away from repetitive jobs in assembly lines towards more flexible production setups. Intelligent workbenches are delivering items from one “production island” to the next. In the future, the question of the next production step will be answered by the product itself, with the help of embedded intelligence. And all of this will happen in a standardized fashion, leveraging the Platform Industry 4.0 reference architecture RAMI 4.0.

Why collaboration is key to success in Industrie 4.0
Talking about the Platform Industry 4.0 – one of the key learnings for me in my role as its steering committee chairman is that the fourth industrial revolution is not something a company can tackle on its own. Industry 4.0 needs collaboration, integration, and, consequently, a certain level of openness. Companies have two simple choices: They can try it on their own, or they collaborate with a technology partner – like SAP. My recommendation would be to go with the latter.

There are some areas where collaboration is required more than in others. Customers need to cope with the complexity of connecting their systems from the shop floor to the top floor – and this needs integration, standardization, and – as mentioned before – openness. However, when it comes to the topic of open platforms, questions around data security, data protection, confidentiality, and intellectual property come up.

Companies need to be sure that connecting their machines with the machine vendor or a service provider doesn’t result in leaks of important customer or production data. A service provider does not need to know which CAD files you are running on your milling machine, but on the other hand, he needs enough information about the machines, devices, and assets to be able to provide proactive maintenance, thus avoiding costly downtimes in your production environment.

Addressing the big questions
But data protection is just one of many facets that we must deal with in this ongoing transformation. Another important aspect is the societal impact. Questions like “How does intelligent production influence the future of work?” or “How do we attract the right talents and train the existing workforce to keep up with the pace of Digital Transformation?” also need to be answered. And when considering cutting-edge, modern technologies like machine learning, we need to find answers to questions like “Who in the end will be responsible for the actions of autonomous machines?”

These are all topics that we are currently working on in the many Platform Industry 4.0 workstreams. What we want is to come up with the right set of recommendations and guidelines – for the industry and for the government. In the end, the fourth industrial revolution can only be successful as a joint effort driven by industry, society, and politics together – to make sure that nobody is left behind.

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