Vernetzte, adaptive Produktion

The Fraunhofer IPT concluded a thorough review of its strategic processes in 2015 by adopting a new leitmotiv for its work, making clear where it stands on the issue of “Industry 4.0“. Dr.-Ing. Thomas Bergs, Managing Chief Engineer of the Fraunhofer IPT, describes how his Institute arrived at its current position – and how it sees the path into the future.

Why a new leitmotiv for our work?

“Industry 4.0“ is a phrase that has very much caught the public attention ever since the media began to use it in the spring of 2011. That was five years ago, but we struggled for quite some time to formulate a clear strategy of what we were going to do about it. Ask five people for their personal view, and you will receive five different answers. We ourselves have made this experience in many internal conversations and even in discussions with our clients who expressed a need for guidance and advice in issues of research and development. Before we could address this urgent demand, we had to adjust our portfolio of skills and services to match the new requirements of Industry 4.0 – without undermining or even abandoning the foundation of our technological expertise.

What impact does this have on our working relationship with the manufacturing industry?

Our unique selling point has always been our expertise in virtually all areas of production technology. Our vast array of technical equipment allows us to manage innovative technologies and to evaluate their potential values for the manufacturing industry. Our business units have acquired the capacities required to assess entire process chains for the manufacturing of highly sophisticated components and products of leading high-tech industries. Our ability to model these techniques and technologies on a (nearly) full scale and to simulate their use in realistic scenarios allows us to create virtual copies of entire production systems with all their processes and process chains. This is the key that enables us to research new technologies in the environment of cyber physical systems, the Internet-of-things, big data analyses and real time production, verifying their potential use and profitability for our clients. Or, in the words of one member of our Board of Trustees: “If there is one research institution capable of bringing Industry 4.0 to the shop floor, it is the Fraunhofer IPT.“ These words have provided a huge incitement for us to steer the Fraunhofer IPT decisively towards networked, adaptive production processes.

Where do we stand today – and where are we going?

Ask us today for our contribution to Industry 4.0, and we shall give you a clear reply. We intend to develop a “connected, adaptive production“ with three central areas of activity: the connection of know-how in technology and process technology, the design of adaptive processes and the creation of process chains – all on the foundation of our deep understanding of the technologies that are involved in production processes, equipment and measuring or sensor technologies. One important step was the establishment of a dedicated unit that concentrated all the required in-house skills in one place – software development, networking and digitalization – to explore insufficiently used as well as unknown innovation potentials. The establishment of a Fraunhofer Service Center for “connected, adaptive production“ could turn out to be a key milestone on our way into the future: we are currently planning to build this Center – in close cooperation with our neighbours, the Fraunhofer Institutes ILT and IME – later in 2016 here in Aachen, using our own funds and financial assistance from the federal state government. This can also provide a highly useful launching pad for the planned participation of the three Fraunhofer Institutes in the Excellence Initiative of the RWTH Aachen University. Our new leitmotiv has already sharpened our profile and changed the way in which the outside world – including our clients – perceives us. But our employees, too, stand to benefit: connectedness and adaptiveness have always been, after all, important elements of successful research activities.