The concept of partnership assumes great importance in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. While formerly primarily used in terms of sales partnerships, today’s partnerships centre on companies’ value-adding processes. Partnership networks are thus far more extensive and have taken on a new quality. The question therefore becomes: What will future partner networks look like for Industrie 4.0? Also, what resultant benefits are generated for partners and customers?
A new way of thinking is required
The fact is that a value-added network can no longer be sustained and borne by a single company and its know-how. This becomes clear using the example of the HARTING MICA (Modular Industry Computing Architecture) and our concept MICA.network: the partners of the MICA network do not exclusively market the MICA product. They do much more by generating their own hardware and software. They also provide system integration services to their customers, combining their own software with software from other partners, and in turn provide customers with hardware from other partners for further use. This combines a multiplicity of knowledge and experience into an overall concept, thus creating synergies. The core of this lies in the openness of the MICA – being a modular and open platform, it can be configured with individual hardware, freely available software and suitable interfaces – depending on the individual requirements of Integrated Industry. MICA is designed in such a way that numerous entities can make their own contribution to it. Compared to the classical sequence of development, production and distribution, this is a significant difference.
One partner’s solutions developed independently in the customer project enrich the portfolio of all the partners. These networked building blocks of an overall solution comprise the de facto benefit for the customer. Complex integrated solutions are necessary in Integrated Industry. Generating these in monolithic fashion exceeds the expertise and resources of any single company. In addition, such an individually configured solution would need to prove its efficiency in the individual project. But this is usually not possible at all. This is where the partnership model comes in, creating the tailor-made solution for the customer out of the multitude of individual solutions – both quickly and economically. Such a solution is more than the sum of the individual parts. It borders on a calculation along the lines of 1 + 1 = 3, since a new building block is usually created which ends up benefiting everyone. This type of growth is, of course, only possible if all partners make a substantial contribution.
Speed is an asset
The goal of a partner network must be to work together to develop an idea in order to bring forth the corresponding products. This applies primarily to the original standard way of thinking. Until now, the conventional sequence of real-world product development formed the basis of a standard that was intended to ensure product interoperability. Actual development work could then take place, in order to use this later as a company’s in-house solution for the customer. This cycle, however, took some five to ten years – far too long in today’s age of Integrated Industry and Industrie 4.0 to be able to act quickly and flexibly in the face of international competition. Acceleration is achieved by bundling expertise and capacities, which in turn permits faster implementation on the market.
Development partnerships at HARTING
An exemplary development partnership is in place between HARTING Technology Group and Polish company Digital Technology Poland (DTPoland). The two companies are jointly developing an energy management system based on the MICA which not only enables the acquisition of important energy data from the manufacturing process, but also enables the associated preventive maintenance derived from it. Consequently, a solution package of hardware and software has emerged which can be supplemented in complementary fashion by other partners – e.g. system integrators – into a complete system.
A further example is the collaboration between HARTING and distributor Arrow Electronics. This company offers an adapted and/or expanded business model: in addition to actual logistics services as a distributor, it also provides engineering services with the help of the MICA, i.e. Arrow Electronics in turn furnishes additional services for its customers. The HARTING Customised Solutions (HCS) segment, as part of HARTING Technology Group, can to an extent be viewed as a mini value-added network. The primary activity of the business unit is to create infrastructure installation systems. The customer determines the solution, not the provider, which in turn leads to the possibility of multiplying the solution for others. Here, a HARTING service in the form of a connector is combined with an engineering application – a cable that is not manufactured by the technology group. The commonality that ties them together is the goal to generate the best solution for the customer from among the competition. Here too, capacities and expertise are bundled in order to achieve faster time to market.
The key to openness toward partnerships and value-added networks is the competition of expertise. Once the know-how of equal partners is united, new ideas emerge – which in turn allows other innovations to come forth. Ultimately, competing for the best overall solution in Integrated Industry also pertains to this competition.