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Connected, autonomous, customer-focused: Shaping the economy of tomorrow

Digital connectivity is bringing about a rapid and radical transformation of our economy. It promises efficient processes, new business models and user-friendly applications – the opportunities for German industry are huge. At the same time, it is transforming the workplace and demanding new skills of the workforce. So what changes do industrial and service companies in Germany need to make in order to maintain their global leadership in the face of this technological transformation?

Are partnerships more important now than ever before? Which new skills must the workforce acquire? And how should autonomous systems be designed to ensure their social acceptance? acatech is involved in several projects to analyse topical issues connected with the technological transformation of our economy and provide recommendations for policymakers.

Industrie 4.0: Developing the strengths of German industry

In the future, business processes such as supply, manufacturing, maintenance, delivery and customer service will all be connected via the Internet. Rigid value chains are being transformed into flexible global value networks. According to the findings of an international benchmarking study published by acatech and partner organisations in June 2016, Germany is well placed to implement the Industrie 4.0 transformation compared to other countries around the world and could even become a leading market and leading supplier by 2030. The strong points of German industry lie in its innovative manufacturing sector, its strengths in the field of business IT and its established know-how in the relevant key technologies. In order to remain competitive, it will need to build on these strengths, making use of venture capital, Internet technologies and innovative, data-driven business models.

“We live in a time of unique opportunities. Our vision of networked production and production-related services can become a global standard. This will allow Germany to strengthen its position as a leading manufacturing nation and industrial equipment supplier.”

Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), receiving the Industrie 4.0 benchmarking study from acatech Executive Board member Günther Schuh at the BMBF manufacturing congress in Berlin in June.

But it is users’ needs, not products and machines, that are at the centre of Industrie 4.0. This means that data will be critical to success and digital platforms will become key marketplaces. Customised solutions can be created by combining customer and product data. In order to accelerate the development of digital platforms, companies must collaborate in digital ecosystems. acatech published examples of successful implementations in its report Smart Service Welt that was launched at the Hannover Messe 2016.

Photo: acatech

New forms of cooperation and harmonised norms and standards are essential for value creation in global networks. Many companies, particularly specialised SMEs, are concerned about how data and intellectual property can be effectively protected in this context. The acatech STUDY Industrie 4.0 in a Global Context, which was launched in November at a Münchner Kreis symposium, provides them with country-specific background information to assist them in their negotiations with international partners.

Digitalisation will also bring about profound changes in industrial work processes. Developing the workforce’s skills and training them to perform new tasks will be key to the successful implementation of Industrie 4.0, especially in SMEs. The acatech POSITION PAPER Kompetenzen für Industrie 4.0 provides recommendations for all the relevant education partners about how to adapt training and professional development to the requirements of digitalisation.

“Managers need to stop micromanaging organisational processes, while employees must acquire new skills. In Germany, we have both the ideal conditions for this transformation and the right competencies in our companies. By delivering the appropriate training for the business environment and workplace of tomorrow, we can ensure that the transformation is a positive one.”

Federal Minister of Education and Research Johanna Wanka at the presentation of the acatech POSITION PAPER Kompetenzen für Industrie 4.0 at the National IT Summit in Saarbrücken in November 2016

INDUSTRIE 4.0 SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COMMITTEE: At the 2015 Hannover Messe, the Plattform Industrie 4.0 was expanded to include a wider range of political and social actors. Since then, under the leadership of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), it has broadened its remit to cover the security of networked systems, the regulatory framework and training and professional development. In support of the new structures, since January 2016 the Scientific Advisory Committee’s 20 members have been working even more closely with the Plattform Industrie 4.0 and its working groups.

Autonomous systems: Valuable assistance governed by clear guidelines

Connected digital systems are also finding their way into other areas of our lives. In the field of healthcare, self-learning robots can provide support for patient treatment and care. Self-driving vehicles can make transport and logistics systems safer, more efficient and more sustainable, while smart buildings use autonomous systems to reduce their energy consumption. Under the chairmanship of acatech President Henning Kagermann, the Expert Panel Autonomous Systems investigates the opportunities, risks and societal impacts of autonomous systems and advises the German government on the implementation of its High-Tech Strategy.

In its interim report published in April 2016, it concludes that, despite their capabilities, in many situations autonomous systems lack the common sense and intuition to replace human beings. Humans will continue to set the goals which the machines will then deliver by planning and executing the necessary steps increasingly autonomously within their own scope of action. The success of autonomous systems thus ultimately depends on their social acceptance.

Automobility of the future: Scenarios and roadmap

Mobility is one of the most exciting fields of application for autonomous systems. The acatech STUDY Neue autoMobilität, published in December 2016, contains concrete semi-automated and fully automated driving scenarios and an implementation roadmap that show how connectivity and automation can improve road traffic flows and road safety between now and 2030. In addition to investing in infrastructure and research, it will also be necessary to establish test sites in real road traffic settings. If (semi-)automated driving can be shown to work in this environment, public confidence in this technology is likely to grow. Regulations such as the Road Traffic Act and vehicle licensing laws will also need to be updated.

Personalised medicine: The theme of the acatech Academy Day

Digitalisation also promises huge advances in the field of medicine. The combination of modern technology and big data enables personalised diagnosis and treatment, increasing the options available to practitioners and thus improving the chances of successful outcomes. Participants in the acatech Academy Day held in Hannover in May 2016 discussed the key challenges, including data security, data privacy and patient control over their personal data.

“Communication between experts from the widest possible range of disciplines and members of the business community and the public is absolutely key to innovation, particularly in the field of healthcare. Germany’s scientific academies, especially acatech, help to promote this important dialogue.”

Gabriele Heinen-Kljajić, Minister for Science and Culture of the Lower Saxony state government, at the acatech Academy Day in Hannover in May 2016

acatech projects in the thematic field of Technologies in 2016

Completed projects  
Smart Maintenance for Smart Factories Dec. 2014 - May 2016
Industrie 4.0 – International Benchmark Jan. 2014 - June 2016
Industrie 4.0 in a Global Context – Strategies for Cooperating with International Partners July 2015 - June 2016
Skills Development Study Industrie 4.0 June 2015 - Nov. 2016
Cooperation Opportunities for Development Cooperation & the Private Sector in the Field of Technology and Know-how Transfer in Emerging Economies (Brazil) May 2016 - Nov. 2016
Workshop series: Industrie 4.0 – The Future of Industrial Work Dec. 2014 - Nov. 2016 (Massive Open Online Course “Industrie 4.0”) June 2015 - Nov. 2016
Ongoing projects  
Additive Manufacturing (in partnership with Leopoldina and the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities; lead institution acatech) Feb. 2014 - Jan. 2017
Industry 4.0 Maturity Index April 2016 - April 2017 (Massive Open Online Course “Machine Learning”) Nov. 2016 - Apr. 2017
Expert Panel Autonomous Systems Jan. 2016 - June 2017
Framework for the Future of Materials March 2016 - Nov 2017
Digital Service Platforms Nov. 2015 - July 2017
Medical Technology and Personalised Medicine Jan. 2015 - Sep. 2017
InnoKey 4.0 Jan. 2016 - Sep. 2017
Industrie 4.0 Scientific Advisory Committee II March 2016 - Feb. 2019