The IoT’s impact on the European industry was the topic in three earlier articles. In the first one we have discussed how new demands will alter economic structures. Based on that, we have taken a look at the Industry 4.0 in classic and new production models. Concluding we have tried to answer the question whether and, if so, how well European manufacturers are prepared for the future in terms of the IoT. This article however is meant to take a look at the current state of the digitisation, paying special attention on Germany.
Shift Of Focus
There is no doubt about it that we arrived in the digital age already. Still in the 20th century information technology (IT) was used to modernize private households and workplaces, to create computer networks and software products. Office programs and enterprise-resource-planning system were introduced, and the focus was on automatization and optimisation. Since the beginning of the 21st century other topics are in the focus, like disruptive technologies and innovative business models, as well as automatization, flexibility and individualisation.
3D-Printing Fosters Product Individualisation
Digitisation enables the individualisation of products already today. The optimisation and development of production processes with the objective to produce a single product certainly is key to success here. As an example, 3D-printing for a long time enjoyed importance as a niche technology, but nowadays celebrates an unprecedented upswing through affordable and handy systems for the private household and the employment in offices and factories.
German Leadership Position in Automation Technology
The German economy is world market leader in mechanical engineering. Highly automated machines or production lines are sold globally. Furthermore, we are technology leader, e.g. in the area of sensors and drives. The same applies especially for the field of controllers. Well-known German companies, such as Siemens, Beckhoff, Wago, Lenze or Phoenix Contact, are important players in automation technology. Another fact that underlines the German leadership position is the increasing interest of international investors to get a foot into the door. In particular Asian financiers are seeking to acquire shares of German companies and their know-how. One of the most recent examples is the interest of the Chinese company Midea in the German robotics manufacturer KUKA.
Infrastructure Is Crucial
Nevertheless, being in the leading position in the area of sensors, drives and controllers is great but only one side of the story. For machine and plant manufacturers it needs more than the interplay of those areas in order to produce individual products. It is crucial and vital for them to have a digital infrastructure, data space, and not least computing power. If we think of computer centres the first that come to our minds are those of the giant internet enterprises like Google, Facebook or Amazon. They are able to store and process huge amount of data. Because of their immense media presence you might think that Germany is behind those companies or even worse could lose contact in the race here. Far from it: German companies that offer computer centres and processing power even offer an essential advantage over oversea concerns. Due to stricter data protection regulations in Europe and especially in Germany the handling of data is much more reputable and safer, whereas US-based companies are often being criticised for their rather careless handling with data.
The Fraunhofer Society, with its 67 institutes, in comparison is working on secure data storage and data processing for several years already. For the German industry – represented by all big car manufacturers, chemical and pharmaceutical industry, logistics and insurance companies – it was important to get their data security from a neutral authority rather than from a single company. That’s why the “Industrial Data Space” was developed, which is based on the fundamental idea that servers or data clouds must not be in the hands of a single entity. “Basically, we secured the data exchange between the servers of single companies.” Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer Society reveals in an interview with the FAZ. Yet, there are also German companies whose business is to deal with huge data sets and “Big Data”. One of those is SAP, with its headquarters in Walldorf near Heidelberg, being one of the first enterprises globally to work in that area. Since its founding in 1972, SAP is working on software solutions for the industry.
To put it in a nutshell, digitisation needs data space and computing power in order to process data. Even if American players like Google, Amazon and Co. seen to be omnipresent, the European and especially the German industry is well prepared for the challenges of securing, processing and exchanging data securely. When it comes to digitisation of the industry and the digital world, Europe and especially Germany distinguishes from oversea countries through a careful and responsible handling with data. The main components of digitization were developed with German thoroughness and have been tested for years. Data security here is at the top of the list of arguments.
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