Fraunhofer IPK

Institut für Produktionsanlagen und Konstruktionstechnik

Digital Transformation - Englische Ausgabe 2017

Digital Transformation


»More digitization on our fingertips than ever«, was the overall assessment at CeBIT 2017. The organizers of Hannover Messe, too, announced the progress in digitally networked industry by offering the first mature Industrie 4.0 technologies. Which effects linking both worlds, real and digital, has on production, cooperation and communication was part of our interview with Professor Eckart Uhlmann, Director of Fraunhofer IPK.

FUTUR: Professor Uhlmann, in your opinion, how has digital transformation in society and economy progressed so far? 

Prof. Eckart Uhlmann: Digital media have shaped our everyday lives for quite a while, now. Classical production technologies are now following suit. By now, entire production process chains are digitized. Internet technologies venture into companies, production and systems engineering. Mobile technologies such as cloud computing account for crucial changes in industrial processes. Embedded systems help components and machines to communicate with one another. They are able to optimize, configure and diagnose themselves and assist people in their increasingly complex decision making processes. Centralized companies are being transformed into decentralized and dynamically controlled manufacturing sites, which excel through their individuality, flexibility and speed.

FUTUR: How does this influence the manufacturing of products?

Uhlmann: Up to this point, the focus was on mass production. Now, flexible manufacturing of customized products has all the attention. Take for example the pump manufacturer KSB. From 600,000 pumps the company builds in two years, only two will be identical. Another example is adidas in the consumer goods industry. Consumers can now go online and personalize their favorite shoes by choosing the material and color. This is always based on data access, everywhere and in real-time. Using IT to link all participants in the product chain – people, workpieces and machines – we create dynamic, real-time optimized and self-organizing value-added networks. At the same time, digital transformation optimizes business and value-added processes in and across companies under the keyword »Industrie 4.0«. Also, it creates completely new business models. Together with their products, manufacturers now also sell the services associated with the product. When Rolls Royce sells an engine, it also offers the associated maintenance and repair package. Alternatively, consumers do not buy the engine but rather »power by hour«. BMW or Daimler are no longer just automotive manufacturers, but also mobility service providers. They also lead the flexible car sharing services worldwide. Such success would not be possible without digital transformation.

FUTUR: Back to the production level again: What are the real advantages of digitization? 

Uhlmann: The use of cutting-edge information technologies makes manufacturing more flexible and efficient. Digitized factories are able to produce customized products in a cost-effective way. This means that the order status and the state of the machine are available everywhere, at any time. This contributes to the optimization of production processes and increasingly flexible work processes. It also obviates the need for central organization and planning. Employees are able to assume more responsibility for the control of production processes at all levels. Smart technologies assist them in their work.

FUTUR: Are there also reservations against the digitization trend in the economy? 

Uhlmann: Of course, mostly small and medium-sized companies are very fearful of these changes. They are afraid of high investment costs for mere survival. Hence, our motto is: Industrie 4.0 has to be affordable for manufacturing facilities of all sizes. Together with our customers we decide on realistic scenarios. This may result in upgrading existing facilities to Industrie 4.0 and finding smart ways to analyze and use existing data. Usually, 80 to 90 percent of the IT tools needed already exist, even though they are not fully networked. In response to industry demands, we develop simple and cost-effective solutions under the motto »Industrie 4.0 Kit«. These solutions consist of readily adaptable modular technology. And let me emphasize at this point: There is no ONE solution for Industrie 4.0. Every manufacturer must find the most practical individual solution for his or her factory. This does not only apply to small and medium-sized companies, but also for large manufacturers and manufacturing conglomerates worldwide. 

FUTUR: Speaking of worldwide matters, which countries make the greatest effort in introducing Industrie 4.0? 

Uhlmann: Aside from Germany, large economies try the hardest: The USA, China, Brazil and Japan implement their own Industrie 4.0 programs. »Made in China 2025« is an impressive example for the tremendous investments in China. Under the motto »Combining Chinese Speed with German Precision«, we assist in building the Sino-German Intelligent Manufacturing Research Institute (SGIMRI) in Nanjing and the German-Chinese Institute for Technology Transfer (IFT) in the Chinese-German Metal Eco City in Jieyang.

FUTUR: Fraunhofer IPK is at home in Berlin. How is Berlin positioned in the international competition

Uhlmann: As part of a study for the Senate of Berlin in 2015, we analyzed the potential of Industrie 4.0 for our metropolitan region and the local industry. The result was clear: Building on the existing conglomerate of IT industry, manufacturing industry as well as science and research, Berlin has the chance to establish itself as an attractive and competent location for innovation in digital transformation. We are excited that we can advance this process in the Berlin Center for Digital Transformation thanks to support from the State of Berlin and the Fraunhofer Society. In this center, we explicitly bring together information and communication technology providers, automation outfitters and the manufacturing industry. All participants will jointly identify relevant research and development topics and initiate the implementation of the respective projects. This includes building and providing infrastructure, so that we can develop and test the various scenarios for applied digital solutions for the production and manufacturing equipment.

From Berlin for Berlin

The Berlin Center for Digital Transformation is a cooperation of the four Berlin Fraunhofer Institutes FOKUS, HHI, IPK and IZM. At the center of its activities are technologies and solutions, which stay abreast of the increasing digitization and connectivity across all aspects of life. The research focuses on basic and cross-sectional technologies as well as on solutions for four areas of application:

  •     healthcare,
  •     mobility and city of the future,
  •     industry and production,
  •     critical infrastructures and energy.

The Governing Mayor of Berlin, Senate Chancellery – Research and Technology and the  European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)fund the Berlin Center for Digital Transformation with 6.4 million euros.


Prof. Dr. h. c. Dr.-Ing. Eckart Uhlmann

Phone: +49 30 39006-100


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