BERLIN – The idea of coopetition – a portmanteau of cooperation and competition – between the US and European nations is essential to make products for export to still other nations that specialize in neither Web tech nor production knowledge, Wolfgang Wahlster said today in an address that formally opened Industry of Things World 2016.
While the world looks up to the US for the greatest advances in Internet technology, the US has lost much of the production knowledge it had years ago, he said in response to a question from Smart Manufacturing magazine about what level of coopetition is appropriate between countries working to dominate smart manufacturing.
When he visited Tesla in California, he found most of the components building the firm’s electric vehicles – the robots and the software – were from Germany, Wahlster, CEO and Scientific Director of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, said in his speech.
The Tesla experience is emblematic of a diminished manufacturing industry in the US, he said. Even Ivy League US universities have only a handful of professors for manufacturing, he said in a follow-up interview with Smart Manufacturing.
Coopetition is very important, Wahlster added, “because we need cooperation especially with the United States and China concerning the equipment for Industrie 4.0. The basic layer of the Industrial Internet is well understood especially in the States, which is the Internet country. On the other hand, we need for Industrie 4.0 all of the manufacturing knowledge and software platforms for advanced manufacturing.”
During the time production muscle atrophied in the US, “it was improved in Europe, especially in Germany,” he said. “So we have to combine these two ingredients to really then deliver products we can export to the global market, to countries where both skills are missing.”
Production in Germany is “still very important for the GDP,” he said in his speech. “Therefore we thought (a few years back) we should make sure this could be continued.”
Industrie 4.0 started in late 2010 when Wahlster and a couple of other educators and government ministers met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and suggested Germany go from embedded systems to networked embedded systems and then to cyber-physical production systems – in which all the embedded systems are connected to each other, as well as the Internet.
Merkel, a former research scientist, was put off by “cyber-physical production systems.” She said it was too complex and needed to be more intuitive to market it to taxpayers, Wahlster said. The academics then came up with “Industrie 4.0.” It is one of 10 “future projects” identified by the German government as part of its High-Tech Strategy 2020 Action Plan.
Wahlster publicly introduced the term April 3, 2011, at a tech fair in Hannover, but it did not catch on until 2012. “Then the revolution started like a rocket.”
“Really, It’s all about using cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things from the next step in automation and production to end up with so-called smart factories,” he said. “It’s becoming real: We have the first (five) factories in Germany that are fully dedicated to Industrie 4.0, and many of the legacy factories are now in the transformation process.”
The Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy has set up 10 German competency centers for Industrie 4.0 – to give advice to small and medium manufacturers, Wahlster said.
The first operational smart factory – the smartFactoryKL in Kaiserslautern – is one of the centers. It was built in 2005.
“One of the key disruptions of Industrie 4.0 is service-oriented architecture (SoA),” where products tell the machines what to do, Wahlster said. “This is a complete inversion of traditional manufacturing, which has a manufacturing execution system controlling all the machines—which is a very bad idea if you have smaller batch sizes and have to adapt your production to many different products.”
In Kaiserslautern, Detlef Zühlke, scientific director for Innovative Factory Systems at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, “built up the first multi-vendor automation line in the Industrie 4.0 paradigm, Wahlster said. “There are modules for many different companies,” including Festo and Bosch Rexroth. “All of these modules you can plug out of the factory, remove and put in at another place and the production will still continue.
“Each and every production unit brings with it a digital self-description of the service it can provide… in a standardized way,” he said. “This means the production ontology is extended and updated on the fly.”
Why reshoring will happen
Zühlke, one of 30 visionaries profiled in the first issue of Smart Manufacturing, spoke about reshoring today at the same conference.
In recent years, production was often sent far away from the US and Europe, to low-wage countries.
“But this will not work any longer because wages are no longer low, for example, in China; they are going up,” he said. “But much more important is that in the future, the customers will want to have their products much faster. The customer can order his product on the computer using a mouse click. And if you order by a mouse click, you won’t wait for another six weeks to have it delivered from China, for example.”
Manufacturers need to prepare for some reshoring of production from low-labor cost countries, Zühlke said, in part because customers will want highly customized products.
“This leads us to much more local production.”
SmartFactoryKL, which has 47 members, including IBM, John Deere and Johnson Controls, now needs more partners, including certification organizations, component manufacturers, software providers, security providers, network providers and users, Zühlke said.
Next wave: Long-term autonomy
Wahlster and colleagues from Germany’s National Academy of Science and Engineering gave a private dossier to Merkel at the end of last year about what he said is the “next wave” in manufacturing innovation: Systems that have long-term autonomy.
“Long-term autonomy means these machines and robots really keep a kind of diary,” he said in his conference address today. “They have an episodic memory, and they become in one sense kind of a computer individual. They have a memory of what they have done and experience with glitches incidents in the factory.
“The really show very interesting self-learning behavior.”
Such autonomous systems are “extremely important for industrial production,” he said. “And of course in autonomous mobility, we have been working very hard on the first Volkswagen and BMW and some Mercedes self-driving cars. But not cars like those in the US that go very slow; VW already has an autonomous test car that goes 170.
“We don’t want to go 50 km/hour with some (California Internet) car; We want to have the high-speed cars we are known for in Germany—now in autonomous driving.”