A consistent focus on the needs of SMEs

Conversation scenario within the meeting of the working groups
© BMWi / Anja Blumentritt

Cooperation rather than competition

As the digital transformation of industry moves forward, it becomes increasingly important to take control of it. Thanks to the work of a wide range of different stakeholders, Plattform Industrie 4.0 has become the central hub for national and international activities on the digital transformation of manufacturing in Germany. The platform is sponsored by policymakers, representatives of business, academia, the associations and unions. A total of more than 300 stakeholders from 159 organisations are now actively involved in the platform’s bodies and working groups (List of members of Plattform Industrie 4.0 (PDF, 125KB)). The platform’s stakeholders are working on a number of important fields of action for Industrie 4.0 and a lot has already been achieved.

Services for SMEs

The platform’s members raise awareness for Industrie 4.0 among companies – particularly small and medium-sized ones – and encourage and help these companies to put Industrie 4.0 applications into practice.

The Plattform Industrie 4.0 website features an Online Map which displays around 250 examples of Industrie 4.0 applications (German map; English translation: around 140). These examples are a key source of inspiration for companies – particularly for SMEs – as they help them find out which Industrie 4.0 applications may be used in their own company. In addition to this, the map shows a number of places where companies can test new developments under real-life conditions. Finally, the map displays advisory services provided, for example, by the chambers of industry and commerce or by initiatives based in the Länder – the results are broken down by region. The online map is meant to be ‘dynamic’. Stakeholders can submit new content, which is then added on a regular basis.

Apart from the online map, Plattform Industrie 4.0 has developed an Industrie 4.0 compass (only in German) helps companies find their way around the support services that are available. The compass lists more than 50 non-commercial support services that are available in Germany and does so in a way that makes it easy for companies to find the service they need to successfully implement their Industrie 4.0 solution. This is done, for example, by breaking down the services by the development stage of the Industrie 4.0 solutions. The compass provides basic information, information about specific testing opportunities and information about how to implement a pilot project.

In addition to this, Plattform Industrie 4.0 has held more than 50 events for raising awareness among companies and for training them. These events have been organised in cooperation with the chambers of industry of commerce, associations and the Länder-based initiatives. The series of events entitled Industrie 4.0@Mittelstand (only in German) provides people interested in Industrie 4.0 with information about key issues such as IT security, legal implications of Industrie 4.0, progress on standardisation, innovation transfer and many others. These events also allow company representatives to directly network with one another.

In order to put Industrie 4.0 solutions into practice, it is key for companies to have access to testing centres. A number of Plattform Industrie 4.0 members – including companies and associations – have therefore started a new initiative entitled ‘Labs Network Industrie 4.0’ (www.lni40.de). This initiative helps companies find suitable centres where they can test their Industrie 4.0 solutions before making any major investment. The findings that result from the work undertaken in these testing environments also inform the efforts undertaken on standardisation, the work done by the platform’s working group on ‘Reference Architecture, Standards and Standardisation’ and the Standardization Council 4.0 (https://sci40.com/de). So the testing centres not only provide support for SMEs but also help drive forward standardisation. In the future, Plattform Industrie 4.0 will work even more closely with academic partners and companies on the issue of testing environments.

Recommendations for action for policymakers and companies

Plattform Industrie 4.0 has five working groups, each of which focuses on a different subject: Working group 1 addresses ‘reference architecture, standards and norms’, working group two ‘research and innovation’, working group 3 ‘security of networked systems’, working group 4 legal frameworks’ and working group 5 ‘work, education and training’.

The working groups develop concepts and recommendations for action for the pre-competitive stage in a number of selected areas. These recommendations are aimed at both companies and policymakers: Working group 1 has developed a model that illustrates the basis for interaction between Industrie 4.0 components. Working group 2 has drawn up a research agenda in which it identifies and ranks a number of issues that companies are to conduct more research on and where providing dedicated funding programmes could prove worthwhile. Working group 3 has released a ‘Guideline on IT security’ which helps companies – particularly SMEs – implement digitised manufacturing processes in a way that is secure. Working group 4 deals with lawmakers’ need to adapt the legislative framework. Working group 5 addresses the issue of Training and Education for Industrie 4.0 and looks at what new skills employees need to develop in the age of digitalisation and Industrie 4.0. The recommendations provided by working group 5 are aimed at both policymakers and companies.

The platform’s working groups develop recommendations for action on standards, research, IT security, legislation and training, thus providing input for companies, policymakers and civil society. All papers, concepts, guidelines and recommendations for action will be successively published in the platform’s online library.

Standardisation

The Plattform Industrie 4.0 stakeholders have developed the RAMI 4.0 reference architecture model. RAMI 4.0 is a three-dimensional coordinate system that displays the complex interactions of Industrie 4.0, namely IT, lifecycle and automation hierarchy. The system is set out in DIN specification DIN SPEC 91345 and is attracting a lot of attention internationally. For some time now, it has been discussed by international standardisation organisations such as the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). Working group 1 of Plattform Industrie 4.0 aims to move forward standardisation. It has recently come up with a so-called interaction model for Industrie 4.0 components. From this model, rules for the interaction between machinery, sensors and products can be derived.

A number of the platform’s key stakeholders have founded the Standardization Council 4.0. This initiative aims to develop standards for digital production and to coordinate them at both national and international level.

National and international alliances

The platform engages in intensive dialogue with both national and international alliances in order to drive forward the debate on standardisation and in order to position Germany as the lead market for Industrie 4.0. The platform is also part of the dialogue that takes place between Federal Government and Länder initiatives. At international level, the platform works with the Industrial Internet Consortium (USA), Alliance Industrie du Futur (France) and the Robot Revolution Initiative (Japan). In addition to this, Germany has signed a Memorandum of Understanding and adopted a joint action plan with China, and maintains regular dialogue with the European Union and the G20 countries.

It is currently working with its international partners to draw up an online overview of Industrie 4.0 applications worldwide.