Are SMEs Ready for the Future?

Industrial forum and Steinbeis Transfer Arena at Jade University of Applied Sciences in Wilhelmshaven

Industry 4.0, the German government’s high-tech strategy, is in place. Now practical concepts and applications are needed to bring the strategy to life. And Jade University of Applied Sciences (Wilhelmshaven) and Steinbeis answered the call at the end of 2015. Global industrial enterprises, Steinbeis, and regional firms took a closer look at Production 4.0, presenting the latest innovations and developments. The event was organized by the German Welding Society (DVS), a student group at Jade University of Applied Sciences in collaboration with the team from the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Applied Production and Joining Technology. Students, scientists, and representatives of private-sector firms were invited to participate as part of the Jade Career Day. Rahmen des Jade Karrieretags an der Jade Hochschule.

The focus of the industry forum was how digital networking is revolutionizing production in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The objective was clear – SMEs in particular need to be shown ways to improve industrial processes and workflows from the ground up, because right now this represents the greatest challenge facing companies. A challenge that was summed up in the question addressed by the forum that day: “Are SMEs ready for the future?”

Experts and professionals participated in a Steinbeis transfer arena and two blocks of lectures to grapple with key aspects of Production 4.0 and explore potential ways to introduce more forward-looking production concepts. Kicking things off with the question “Industry 4.0 – What does that even mean?”, Steinbeis expert Sven Gorny showed that SMEs are particularly unlikely to understand the thinking behind the Industry 4.0 initiative. Companies only rarely respond to the new technological and organizational challenges.

Under the leadership and moderation of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dieter Liebenow and with the participation of student representatives, the arena discussed contrary aspects of transferring university research findings and the potential benefits for industry, especially SMEs. Several experts took the podium, including Prof. Thomas Wegener, Vice President of Research and Transfer at Jade University of Applied Sciences, Prof. Dr. Heiner Lasi, Director of the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute (Steinbeis Foundation), and, representing industry, Gerhard Müller, Managing Director of the Emdenbased engineering company Logaer Maschinenbau GmbH.

Lasi highlighted the many opportunities to be found in the high-tech strategy, but also pointed to many issues that still need to be resolved, particularly within SMEs. He underscored that the potential of an Industry 4.0 revolution could be enormous – provided it was exploited correctly. There are many global challenges that need to be solved, and these are often riddled with far-reaching local organizational consequences for companies. This discussion also demonstrated that transfer via Steinbeis and the network’s initiatives plays a decisive role in facilitating and applying innovative solutions in SMEs.

The arena event was followed by talks focusing on live business examples from the fields of welding technology, industrial robotics, and automation engineering. These met with keen interest, offering a thoughtprovoking accompaniment to the simultaneous exhibition at the university. Renowned representatives from the fields of welding technology (including FRONIS Deutschland GmbH, EWM AG, and LORCH Schweißtechnik GmbH), industrial robotics (KUKA Roboter GmbH, FANUC Deutschland GmbH), and regional systems providers presented practical examples of technologies and solutions as well as automation concepts from the perspective of Industry 4.0. At the Steinbeis Plaza, Steinbeis enterprises demonstrated the expertise which they leverage to make a significant contribution to the transfer of knowledge from science to industry.

There was such a positive response before the event that there was not enough space for all interested exhibitors. Large numbers of visitors from the scientific community and regional companies were impressed by the capabilities showcased by the exhibitors, plus their innovative systems, which were all designed to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0. There was much lively discussion at the booths and the hands-on demonstrations of the systems helped forge new contacts and in some cases actual partnership agreements.


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