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ECONOMY X.0: SMEs SHAPE UP FOR A DIGITAL FUTURE

The Baden-Wuerttemberg Industry 4.0 Transfer Platform translates digital transformation trends into practice at SMEs

Industrial trends are accelerating at an incredible speed. Within a short space of time, a variety of global techniques and technologies have become established, rapidly resulting in new products, applications, strategies, and business models. German businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises, are still finding it difficult to keep up. Since 2016, this has been the starting point for the Baden-Wuerttemberg Industry 4.0 Transfer Platform. Focusing on SMEs in Baden-Wuerttemberg, the initiative showcases the opportunities offered by Industry 4.0, paving the way for firms to embark on projects that are ready to be implemented.

One of the challenges with the initiative is addressing misconceptions regarding Industry 4.0 and digitalization and presenting a success model to provide a contrast to some of the damaging experiences companies had in the past. Traditional German businesses have a strong tendency to want to play things safe place and as a result, in many areas of business SMEs are presently extremely hesitant about current developments. Some companies have been running at near full capacity for up to ten years, the order books are brimming, and they have been so successful that it has left them with a false sense of security. As a result, there is an urgent need to invest in new developments and innovative solutions, since companies keep deferring the need to rethink and put off the transition to a digital workplace. In some cases, they have actually done nothing.

MAKING IT EASIER TO ENTER THE WORLD OF DIGITAL TECHNOLOGY

Set up by the universities of Aalen, Reutlingen, and Esslingen in cooperation with the Steinbeis Foundation, and backed by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs, Labour, and Housing, the Baden-Wuerttemberg Industry 4.0 Transfer Platform (TPBW I4.0) is based on the idea that more small and medium-sized companies could be provided with access to knowledge, know-how, and experience regarding project implementation in the field of Industry 4.0 and digitalization – especially when it comes to the practical application of new technologies and processes. In keeping with this idea, the function of the transfer platform is to simplify the challenges firms will face, no matter how daunting they may seem, and it has already demonstrated through a large number of projects how low the entry point can be for the world of digital technology. It thus reduces the risk of SMEs in Baden-Wuerttemberg falling behind in the worldwide development of digital solutions.

For Economy X.0 to work, SMEs will need to turn to the research and development experience offered at universities, and they will have to be in a position to make a success out of their own projects – more quickly and more reliably. One tremendous advantage offered to companies is that universities have developed implementation concepts and strategies that are not only tried and tested, but also practice-oriented. TPBW I4.0 focuses on core competences with an immediate impact on the future competitiveness of our SMEs, thus supporting the targeted promotion of SMEs in Baden-Wuerttemberg. In particular, it allows companies to get involved, especially those lacking the internal capacity to work on the topic of digital transformation. These firms make use of the resources of the TPBW I4.0 in order to immerse themselves quickly in transformation projects in an uncomplicated manner and turn them into a success. The main focus of the TPBW I4.0 lies in artificial intelligence, the introduction of ultra-smart logistics and assembly processes, the use of cloud solutions, digital twins, data analysis and evaluation, data security, and predictive maintenance.

A WIN-WIN SITUATION FOR EVERYONE INVOLVED

Focusing on these areas delivers significant benefit not only to companies, but also to universities and institutions involved in vocational training. It also serves future generations of engineers and developers, which are urgently needed in the state. The projects being carried out through the TPBW I4.0 clearly highlight how easy it is to enter into fruitful partnerships with other parties and the major benefits that collaboration can deliver not just for companies, but also for universities – over and beyond actual projects. For example, people become more aware of and open to the network philosophy and the sense of innovation shared by their industrial partners, and this leads to further collaboration scenarios, such as involvement in the Industry 4.0 alliance.

The transfer platform is a successful way to help SMEs overcome the challenges of Economy X.0 and adopt a leading position on the world stage in the future. Being able to implement projects through a low entry point is particularly important for allowing a large number of SMEs to benefit from the expertise of universities and Steinbeis. Because the transfer has a strong focus on business practice, it bolsters the regional economy, extends the outlook of regional companies to as-yet unimagined solutions for the digital age, and grants SMEs access to new resources. There is another aspect to the success of the TPBW I4.0, which should not be underestimated: During intense periods of collaboration, industrial partners have the opportunity to discover new business models and raise internal commitment to innovative solutions. As a result, the energy invested in transfer is often just a catalyst for developing important competences within the company. This also gears small and medium-sized enterprises to the challenges they will need to face across a broad variety of topics encountered in Economy X.0.