“We are the first country to have a vision of the future”

We interview Henning Kagermann, President of the National Academy of Science and Engineering.

picture-alliance - Henning Kagermann

Professor Kagermann, you are con­sidered the most prominent champion of the Industry 4.0 vision. Why do you feel so strongly about this development?

Industry 4.0 is immensely important for our future competitiveness. That’s why we have to rise to the innovation challenge. Industry 4.0 makes two things clear. First, modern economic policy is essentially innovation policy, one that ensures our country is at the forefront of such developments and not dragging behind. Second, the most dynamic innovation is no longer found at the core of individual research areas or industries, but at their interfaces.

What is happening at the interface to 
Industry 4.0?

Not only the production and automation sectors, but also information and com­munications technologies are moving closer together in Industry 4.0. It involves the arrival in the factory of the Internet of things, data and services. Humans, machines and products communicate seamlessly like in a social network. Rigid 
production processes no longer define uniformly manufactured products, but the unique product determines its own 
individual production path.

Why is Industry 4.0 so important for Germany in particular?

Our industrial core is the backbone of our economic success. We are able to build on a state-of-the-art manufacturing sector, a world-leading automation industry and strengths in the field of business IT. But we must manage our move towards Industry 4.0 so that we can remain in our favourable position after the transformation, perhaps even improve it. Value creation, prosperity and millions of jobs depend on this.

What qualifications does Germany have for developing Industry 4.0?

Germany has the know-how. We have companies that are strong in production, in 
production technologies and in business software. Other countries have also recognized this trend. However, our chances are so good above all because we are the first country to have developed a coherent and comprehensive vision for the future of our economy that is supported by everyone – industry, politics, unions and research.

How do you aim to solve the central 
issue of security for Industry 4.0?

Data security is an essential prerequisite. This challenge has technical, legal and cultural aspects. At the technical level it is crucial to establish the principle of “security by design”. Legal security should be achieved internationally as much as possible and – where necessary – defended at the national or European level. Security also has a cultural element. We must develop a viable Internet culture that aims to achieve sovereignty for users with regard to what they reveal and what they wish to remain hidden.

You spoke of innovation developing at the interface between the physical and digital worlds. In concrete terms, what does that involve?

Where embedded systems exchange data over the Internet in real time and form larger systems, we speak of cyber-physical systems. We already referred to the 
example of Industry 4.0. Smart grids are another example. In these cyber-physical 
systems the physical world – energy producers, power lines, consumers – merge with the virtual world of the Internet. In simple terms, the washing machine in a private household runs when electricity is cheap. This harmless example involves intelligent infrastructure. It links electricity production and consumption, thereby stabilizing the energy system while the proportion of fluctuating electricity production is increasing.

How will the consumer’s world change?

Smart grids are only one area of application for cyber-physical systems. Systems of this type can be deployed in the healthcare or transport fields. In the health sector, for 
example, intelligent assistance systems will reduce dependence on doctors or carers, which also means greater quality of life. We will see entirely new business applications that combine things, data and services to produce individualized packages. Cus­tomers will purchase individually tailor-made products including follow-up services – for example, service and maintenance over the entire life cycle of a product.

When will Industry 4.0 become a reality?

Companies are already successfully offering components of Industry 4.0. And complete prototype factories already exist – for example, at the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence. We also have strong research networks such as the leading-edge cluster Intelligent Technical Systems OstWestfalenLippe (OWL). In other words, Industry 4.0 is already a reality. Yet it will take decades before all the standards have been developed, all the legal and security questions have been resolved and all the components work together smoothly without a hitch. ▪