Written by Matthias Schorer, Lead Business Development Manager, IoT, EMEA at VMware
Digitalization not only radically and dynamically alters our physical world and creates new business models, it also transforms the way we work together globally. An exciting example in which all these factors flow together is emerging in China – and it’s all happening through a technology transfer from Germany.
In a highly interconnected digital world, country borders and even oceans between continents are no longer obstacles. Digitization is leading to a globalization 2.0 in which cooperation and technology transfer over long distances are possible and meaningful. It is no longer about a few industries. Industrial production is also changing drastically – keyword “Industry 4.0”. You’ve certainly heard that term before, but what actually is Industry 4.0? Industry 4.0 or Industrial IoT as it is called in some parts of the world, is defined as intelligent and networked systems taking industrial production with modern information and communication technology to the next level of evolution. However, those who have not dealt with it so far have difficulty finding access. This is one of the reasons why subject matter experts in countries such as Germany are so persistently told that they would lag behind in digitization.
Despite the lack of access, economically rising countries still hold a great spirit of optimism for pursuing Industry 4.0. However, without know-how, digitalization cannot play out its full dynamic. This is the current case in China. Industry 4.0 projects are booming in the Middle Kingdom, but many Chinese companies still lack the appropriate technology. This is likely to change soon as the Huai’an region is currently being developed into a modern industrial park, which should promote a technology transfer from Germany.
Learning Factory on the German Model
The Institute for Automation and Industrial Technology (IAIT) has set up an intelligent learning factory in the Chinese province of Jiangsu with the participation of the Fraunhofer Institute IOSB-INA. It is not only a reference plant for German technology, but also a real experience test and lab environment. Individual model cars are produced here for demonstration purposes. The assembly line on an exhibition area of 1,200 square meters consists of an RFID-based control concept with various robotics applications and solutions for intelligent quality control. The technology transfer is not limited to the hardware alone. The cooperation also includes a didactic awareness, qualification and research program. In the end, local companies should be inspired for their own production facilities. In order to benefit German companies as well and to make the cooperation a win-win scenario for both countries, the learning factory consists of components that German companies already offer on the market.
If you thought that at this point, German companies would simply give away their know-how and make even the ubiquitous feared industrial espionage redundant, then you are wrong. The technology transfer via smart factory components from Germany does not include the blueprints of the hardware nor the source code of the software. A replica and the development of proprietary software would be conceivable, but not useful. It would require a lot of know-how and, above all, it would take a lot of time.
Smart Electronic Factory – Testing Under Real Conditions
Similar plants in Germany go even further. With the Smart Electronic Factory (SEF), an intelligent factory was built in Limburgan an der Lahn, which is used as an evaluation environment for Industry 4.0 solutions. Companies can realistically test the digitization of their production before adapting their productivity systems. This not only saves a lot of development time, but also avoids prolonged production downtime while evaluating new technologies and components.
Such real laboratories have already proven themselves in other areas of digitization. In Germany, for example, various companies can cooperate with each other and develop innovative solutions for common problems under real production conditions. There is therefore an additional transfer of knowledge between companies that share the same goal: potential for optimization. Potential problems, as well as new requirements can be experimentally explored before they affect production. Software and hardware manufacturers benefit equally and develop their products faster and cheaper. Incidentally, this creates interoperability, which is hardly achieved in the case of a conventional and separate development.
Overall, we should not only understand digitization as technical progress, but also as a new form of cooperation – between man and machine. If we succeed, we will also be able to cope with the social and economic challenges of digitization.