People attending the 5th Specialist IE Conference in Dortmund agree:

Industrial Engineers Are Indispensable in Industry 4.0 too

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More than 250 participants enjoyed an exciting series of lectures and discussions related to the digital factory, human/robot cooperation, industrial data mining – and the role of industrial engineering as an important design factor in Industry 4.0.

The changes in the working world caused by Industry 4.0 were the major focus of the 5th Specialist IE Conference in Dortmund on 5 June 2014; the event was organized by the German MTM Association, the Institute for Production Systems (IPS) at Dortmund University of Technology and the RIF e.V. Institute for Research and Transfer. More than 250 participants enjoyed an exciting series of lectures and discussions related to the digital factory, human/robot cooperation, industrial data mining – and the role of industrial engineering as an important design factor in Industry 4.0. 

The main subject areas at the Specialist IE Conference in Dortmund since the first event was held in 2006 largely reflect the development of industrial engineering in Germany. For example, the IE methods and tools celebrated a revival under the terms “lean” and “all-round production systems.” Later the topic involved determining the distinction “between Taylor and Toyota.” The major focus in 2010 was “Planning with Foresight and Continual Improvements” indicating the new role of the industrial engineer as a process manager, who not only has method skills, but also expertise in systems and problem solving. The specialist conference in 2012 was devoted to the subject of “Developing and Advancing Core Expertise.” The start of a new age for production work in Germany was heralded less than a year later: Industry 4.0, where production systems are linked to information and communications technologies – a development that even includes intelligent, autonomously controlled objects within the production process.

Smart factory: evolution instead of revolution 

Prof. Dr. Jochen Deuse, the Head of the Institute for Production Systems at Dortmund University of Technology, believes that Industry 4.0 has not provided the finale for the renaissance of IE. “This industrial revolution will change many things – and industrial engineers will have to adapt to them,” he emphasized at the start of the specialist conference. But he was unwilling to risk any forecast about which design paradigms in industry would win out in the end – the leading organization-centered paradigm with lean management and the Toyota production system or the technology-centered paradigm in Industry 4.0. However, one thing was clear in his view: it will be necessary to reconcile humans, technology and organization in the factories of the future – which is one of the basic tasks within the field of industrial engineering.

The Internet of Things has made its way into factories with Industry 4.0, according to the experts. “This isn’t a revolutionary act, but an evolutionary process,” Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wahlster, Managing Director and Technical Scientific Head of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, emphasized. He used his lecture to lay out a vision of Industry 4.0, where machines can not only read the content, but understand it too: i.e. machines can, for example, coordinate matters with each other around the globe by means of Internet protocols. The key is the semantic product memory, i.e. information, norms and standards, which machines can understand and which the product being made carries with it from its design to its dispatch; this practically tells the machine what needs to happen next. “This is one of the major ideas that we’re pursuing with Industry 4.0 – and we’re well on the way to achieving this,” Wahlster said. However, his vision does not contain a factory that is devoid of humans. “People,” Walhster said, “will continue to play a central role in smart factories too.”   

Dr. Ulrich Rossgoderer, Director of Product Management and Dr. Georg Piepenbrock, the Product Manager for Manufacturing Planning Solutions at Siemens Industry Software GmbH in Munich, focused on the contribution that Siemens PLM is making to Industry 4.0: this involves end-to-end networking of products and production data and the intelligent visualization of these networked sets of data as the basis for making decisions. One current example for this symbiosis between industrial engineering and Industry 4.0 is the analysis of the value stream, which is supported by simulation processes. As the classic analysis of value streams largely rests on static data, a version has been developed to take into account the dynamic relationships in the production system like a variety of options, quality or fluctuations. “Whatever the case, it’s only possible to use digital simulation tools if the data is complete. Industrial engineers will be indispensable in the future too, for they describe, analyze and assess the production model.”

Cooperation between humans and machines creates greater flexibility

The process of technological shift from drive systems with internal combustion engines to electric power has started to gain ground again in the automobile industry. According to Dr. Markus Fallböhmer, Chief Department Manager for the Planning and Production of Electric Drive Systems at BMW in Munich, this development requires scalable and highly flexible production systems. “Human/robot cooperation – ranging from constructing the prototype to large-scale production – is a driving force when it comes to flexibility and growth in volumes,” Fallböhmer stated. “In addition, human/robot cooperation is making a major contribution towards health and safety at work and reducing physical stresses and strains in production.”

There is unused potential in many sets of data. The software provider RapidMiner is fully convinced that this is true. “After all, the data from production, manufacturing, assembly or maintenance work or key data on costs or quality or machine and process parameters alone are just the raw material,” Ralf Klinkenberg, General Manager at RapidMiner, emphasized. “Value added only emerges for the company when it analyzes the data.” Together with the Engineering VP, Dr. Simon Fischer, Klinkenberg provided a summary of the potential that can be exploited with solutions made available by RapidMiner – e.g. drawing up forecasts in order to recognize expenditure and risks at an early stage, avert hazards and make use of opportunities too.

Industry 4.0: an opportunity and a challenge

Dr. Detlef Gerst, a consultant on work design and health protection on the board of the IG Metall union, and Kai Schweppe, the Labor Policy Manager at Südwestmetall – the Baden-Wuerttemberg Employers’ Association of the Metal and Electrical Industry – gave a tandem lecture on the labor policy consequences of Industry 4.0. Schweppe called technological progress, the process of demographic change, global competition, the shortage of specialist workers and the health of employees the driving forces behind labor policy. He said that Industry 4.0 would not be the solution here, but the major challenge. He added that working in the Industry 4.0 world would mean a global division of labor, family and individual life models, mobility, adaptive places of work, digital networking, flexible age limits and ecology. Gerst pointed out that work design and work organization – and therefore industrial engineering – were important factors affecting the success of any development in the direction of Industry 4.0. He said he believed that the vision was conceivable, although small and medium-sized enterprises were still expressing doubts about the feasibility and need for this. 

“Anybody who wants to promote the faster development of smart factories should concentrate on explaining the additional benefits that accrue from specific examples in a plausible manner,” Gerst said. He also believed that it would be necessary to conduct an ethical debate about the value of human beings in the working world of the future and he suggested the development of planning guidelines for work performed by people in Industry 4.0.

The audience gave a particularly positive reception to the fact that Schweppe and Gerst outlined their positions on the “labor policy consequences” in a joint lecture. The general feeling was that this was a huge opportunity for employers and unions to talk to each other about future issues at this level.


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