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Strategy
15/03/2018

Digitalisation’s Challenges for the manufacturing industry

Prof. Dr. Jeschke about the topic Industrie 4.0
Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke
Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke
Director IMA/ ZLW & IfU RWTH Aachen University
Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke
Prof. Dr. Sabina Jeschke, Director IMA/ ZLW & IfU RWTH Aachen University

How can digitalisation and Industrie 4.0 be distinguished from each other from an academic perspective? What are possible reasons why information and communication technology has still not made significant inroads into automation? tec.News broached these topics with Prof. Sabina Jeschke, director of the Institute Cluster IMA/ZLW & IfU at RWTH Aachen University and Science Year 2014 German Informatics Society (GI) honouree as a “Digital Head of Germany”.

What does digitalisation and Industrie 4.0 mean to you? How are these two terms distinguished from one another?

Jeschke:

In principle, digitalisation is the more concrete or more technological concept. Digitalisation can be understood to be the mapping of existing knowledge, in conjunction with the tendency to replicate it and make it available to other sources. By contrast, Industrie 4.0 addresses a fourth industrial revolution characterised by the comprehensive digitalisation of all areas, particularly in industrial production – hence digitalisation is driving the revolution. The fascinating thing about this fourth industrial revolution is the upcoming of autonomous, technological, artificial intelligences and the groups of intelligent, cooperating systems. Major processes are relocated to the internet, which makes them available everywhere in “real time” and gives digitalisation a whole new quality. You no longer have individual systems becoming more intelligent, but rather complete processes that change. By way of example, for the customer this may mean he’ll often communicate directly with the end producer, or even with the product, and intermediate levels drop out. In addition, everyone contributes information and can use it, as is seen in e.g. the “quantified self” movement – digitalisation is a phenomenon of information generation, information dissemination and communication strategies.

In your view, what is the importance of information and communication technology (ICT) for the manufacturing industry?

Jeschke:

Today, ICT allows me to find out what my customer wants in a way that’s completely different than in the past. Market research is performed using Big Data methods: what individuals visit certain web pages – other contexts might work as well – and subsequently make conscious purchase decisions? It becomes easier to grasp an individual’s personality. This enables a company to deduce which products it should produce – when, where and in what quantity. The customer’s direct impact affects production and product design alike. Industrie 4.0 will establish itself in areas where this type of influence is exerted. driving the revolution. The fascinating thing about this fourth industrial revolution is the upcoming of autonomous, technological, artificial intelligences and the groups of intelligent, cooperating systems. Major processes are relocated to the internet, which makes them available everywhere in “real time” and gives digitalisation a whole new quality. You no longer have individual systems becoming more intelligent, but rather complete processes that change. By way of example, for the customer this may mean he’ll often communicate directly with the end producer, or even with the product, and intermediate levels drop out. In addition, everyone contributes information and can use it, as is seen in e.g. the “quantified self” movement – digitalisation is a phenomenon of information generation, information dissemination and communication strategies Existing automation has progressed far, but there’s still a lack of end-to-end communication out to the decisive value- creating processes. Currently, what we see are more isolated solutions, not structures which extend beyond a company’s borders. Of course, when using ICT there’s a risk of automation cloistering itself away, of it becoming virtually encapsulated in itself in order to continue to use proprietary ICT within its own subnet. I think this tendency is wrong. The real leap in performance is precisely the integration of all information, even “gray” information, from multiple heterogeneous sources, not only from the sources in a protected, virtual fenced-off area. A “near-synonym” for Industrie_4.0 is the “Internet of Things” – which is precisely that, and it’s “all Things”. I see the internet in its current form – and perhaps what it develops into in the future – as the common protocol level on which a uniform, universal ICT should be implemented.

What is the role of open source in automation? What do you see for the future and for innovation in open models?  

Jeschke:

: In my view, this results in a massive shift in the question of ownership and intellectual property. The open innovation approach means we develop everything together, and with respect to businesses’ ability to innovate – content- wise as well as in breaking up encrusted structures – this approach offers tremendous opportunities. Still, this approach raises new questions – how does trust function within structures with continuously new players, who owns results, to what extent can they be reused by the external inventor in other contexts, etc. Simultaneous to this you have innovations taking place in such fast cycles that there’s barely time left to protect one’s intellectual property. I think these closed concepts based on intellectual property are no longer viable. Because, how long can proprietary models exist if they’re unable to evolve quickly with an open innovation cycle? And what is the point of the large expense in protecting IP in patent form when the IP is passed by by the next innovation that follows, before the signature on the patent is even dry? Wouldn’t it make more sense to put this effort into further innovation, instead of into protecting the old one?

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