State secretary Katrin Schütz and David Schneider at the award ceremony for “100 Locations for Industry 4.0 in Baden-Wuerttemberg” © Martin Storz


Steinbeis and the county of Schwäbisch Hall successfully launch local staff training concept

The changes brought about by Industry 4.0 (smart production/connected manufacturing) can be particularly challenging for firms and their employees. But what can companies do to prepare apprentices, staff, and managers for a working world that is still not fully developed? One answer is provided by Learning factory Industry 4.0, the Steinbeis Transfer Center from Schwäbisch Hall. In 2016, an alliance was formed between the four vocational schools in Crailsheim and Schwäbisch Hall and a variety of innovative firms. Together, they set up what are now highly networked and partially virtual engineering and machine production facilities across two sites.

The concept behind a learning factory is to prepare specialists and the next generation for the demands and working conditions of smart factories. Training and staff courses show workers how machinery can be operated based on actual industry standards. They can also practice how to work with ultra-modern, networked machinery and are introduced to every stage of the working process within overall value chains – from initial requests from customers to engineering and product delivery. As such, learning factories provide a comprehensive understanding of digitally networked production processes in a learning environment based on actual business practice. They are a particularly effective way to provide small and medium-sized firms with pointers on how to deal with and establish Industry 4.0 methods themselves.


The Schwäbisch Hall learning factory offers laser-cutting machinery, a bending machine, and a measurement unit for producing different parts from sheet metal. It has a web-based information platform to allow authorized users to work quickly and economically, providing them with straightforward access to all process data. For example, design engineers, buyers, sellers, and even customers can view all required information on their end devices. Thanks to the data exchange standard OPC Unified Architecture, information can be shared securely and reliably across different machines (or products) provided by different manufacturers.

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The learning factory in Crailsheim offers filling facilities. Receptacles of different sizes are required for the filling system at the site, and these are designed and produced in Schwäbisch Hall. The entire site has been replicated virtually. As a rule, users produce virtual models before entering the system so they can reduce throughput times on the filling machines. The system can also be viewed with a virtual reality headset to allow other parts to be looked at below the surface so that they can also be analyzed. The facility delivers an overview of the overall process from 3D production of receptacles to different filling techniques and packaging.

Both of the learning factories in Crailsheim and Schwäbisch Hall are connected through the same network. This creates a virtual value creation network to reflect real situations in the networked economy of Industry 4.0. It also provides close links between different locations within the county. The learning factory concept is based on three pillars: an Education Factory, a Competence Factory, and a Demo Factory.

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The Education Factory allows students to gain an early understanding of new demands and how Industry 4.0 is changing the nature of value chains. The virtual value creation network reflects real situations encountered in the networked economy of Industry 4.0. The aim is to create a benchmark for staff training in the field of sheet metal production.

The skilled workers of tomorrow can use virtual companies to practice working with ultra-modern, networked machines and learn all of the different stages of work processes within the context of overarching value creation – from initial requests from customers to engineering and product delivery. Once every academic year, the students are organized into interdisciplinary groups across different grades, according to each individual training course. The idea is to allow more experienced students to work on projects with less experienced students so they can share their knowledge.


In the future, the Competence Factory will offer preparation courses to specialists and the next generation of skilled workers on the requirements of Industry 4.0.

Students will work in small interdisciplinary teams. The specifics of the training courses are currently still at the planning stage and the idea is to cover different topics relating to “Workplace 4.0” with workshops and presentations. To set the ball rolling, a groundbreaking workshop was already organized called “Welcome to the world of digital technology – the future will need a better understanding of reality.”


The Demo Factory allows managers and business leaders to make use of the ecosystem offered by the learning factory, plus external centers in the network, and form visions and evaluate business models.

The experts at the Demo Factory come from a variety of disciplines and are available for questions and support. Interdisciplinary workshops are organized, offering an opportunity to develop/redevelop business processes and business models. The new operative approaches this results in can then be worked up and tested directly at the learning factory, complete with migration paths. This turns Learning Factory 4.0 into a test lab for manual trades and SMEs, providing a suitable tool for developing and evaluating strategies for implementing Industry 4.0 themselves.

One thing that makes the learning factory in Schwäbisch Hall special is that it was not set up by buying in a prefabricated modular system. Instead, an individual workshop of learning has been created by bringing individual, mainly local companies together. This involves both industrial and commercial schools, which work together in close collaboration. It’s a concept that works: In July 2019, Learning Factory 4.0 and its sites in Schwäbisch Hall and Crailsheim were named among the “100 locations for Industry 4.0 in Baden-Wuerttemberg” by Secretary for the Economy Katrin Schütz in Stuttgart.


David Schneider (author)
Steinbeis Transfer Center: Learning factory Industry 4.0 (Schwäbisch Hall)

Svenja Brassel (author)
Schwäbisch Hall District Office, Office of Economic and Regional Management (Schwäbisch Hall)