2011 was the first year we were given a 4 out of 10 for our performance in manufacturing. Ever since, despite unprecedented numbers of strategic alliances, things haven’t changed much. Politicians on a national and regional level still seem to be investing “every ounce of energy” in the next industrial revolution.
What got underway in Germany four years ago soon caught on in China (“Made in China 2025”) and even in the United States (“Industrial Internet”). And over here? Somehow we got stuck on 4.0. Or maybe it’s a much more fundamental problem. And anyway, where’s this all supposed to be taking us in manufacturing? We have software evolutionists and technology- driven project sponsors battling vehemently to raise the bar to 5.0. At the other end of the scale, economists sit there calling out for sustainable and holistic development at a speed matched to the implementation rates of small and medium-sized business, based on real business cases, along the lines of an Economic Miracle 2.0.
Talking of economic booms: the German economic miracle – version 1.0 – started 60 years ago, fundamentally fuelled by a passion to make something new happen, coupled with the courage of creative, vision-oriented workers and entrepreneurs. It resulted not only in products and services that were a global success, but also in methods and technology excellence, processes that made it possible to manufacture competitive industrial solutions.
Maybe it would do us good to think about these two aspects more closely again in all the discussion that is going on at the moment because, successful as they may already be in international markets, there’s no guarantee that products will safeguard jobs and affluence in Germany if they don’t add value. Focusing the debate on the “how” of industrial manufacturing will only get us so far, because to work out “how”, one has to start with “what”: What it will actually be possible to sell in the international markets of the future. This also opens people’s eyes to the fact that what should interest customers most is not the manufacturing process itself, but the benefit provided by a particular product, even if a manufacturing process may only have been “adequate.” Otherwise German businesses run the risk of becoming substitutable suppliers.
So will we soon start talking about Products 2.0? There are plenty of technical reasons to use this term, especially given the accelerated networking of (everyday) objects and the opportunities this creates to provide new services. Even here, people are talking about “revolutions” fuelled by disruptive technologies that could have a radical impact on our manufacturing, theworld we work in, indeed even the entire world we live in. This could be extended to a string of terms like Work Environment 2.0, Living Environment 2.0, etc. By this point, there is sufficient evidence to say that there are enough layers to the topics covered by the term Industry 4.0 and that to move things forward, one has to consider the bigger picture.
At the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute, where these topics are looked at closely and activities are coordinated within this context, the term Industry 4.0 is used to mean a “company-specific overall approach to enhancing value creation using interdisciplinary business capabilities and employee skills.” This interpretation hinges on business capabilities and employee skills, based on the interplay between the different disciplines of engineering, IT, and management. Developments on the technological and conceptual level – as “revolutionary” as they may be – are “enablers” in implementing corporate strategies and business models as required. So Industry 4.0 is not the goal, it’s the means or journey to a competitive future. Identifying, assessing and establishing a foundation of business capability and employee skills are a step in the right direction in achieving this, and thus an absolute must for every industrial enterprise.
The Steinbeis Network spans over 1,000 Steinbeis enterprises specialized in a variety of disciplines. Its international contacts are practically predestined to provide the German Mittelstand (small and medium-sized enterprises) with interdisciplinary support. Steinbeis has the unique potential to implement and deliver more individual projects, adding to the many examples of new technologies and demonstrating its power with business models that are also sustainable from an economic standpoint. This would be an important step in overcoming the widely perceived standstill.