Industry 4.0 is making its mark on many companies. We spoke to someone who works on the topic every day: Gerhard Baum, Chief Digital Officer at Schaeffler AG. Schaeffler is a globally-active German automotive and industrial supplier with around 85,000 staff and 170 sites in more than 50 countries. Its headquarters are in Bavaria. The company has started its own digitization offensive, with the development of intelligent products playing a key role. After all, acquiring data is not an end in itself – the data also needs to be interpreted correctly and turned into action. In October last year, Schaeffler entered into a strategic partnership with IBM.
Gerhard Baum, Chief Digital Officer, Schaeffler AG
Everybody is talking about Industry 4.0 – but how does digitization affect your sector?
Industry 4.0 means the intelligent networking of production, logistics, customers and suppliers. Schaeffler sees digitalization as one of the key topics of the future. One of the core goals is to link the physical and digital worlds together in order to increase value creation. Internally, people, machinery, buildings, production sites, logistics and much more are networked and digital twins created. In order to generate added value for the company and our customers, existing business models are being expanded and new digital business models developed and implemented.
Which benefits do you promise your customers from using digital production processes?
Schaeffler, as a supplier, wants to actively shape digital production processes for its customers. With a team of more than 1,200 staff, we are constantly developing production technologies to achieve greater efficiency and higher quality. Our production system is implemented in more than 70 plants worldwide.
Production today is being constantly further developed by digitally-supported people and networked machinery. Schaeffler will use this to further expand its leading role in the production and supply chain environment and to make this expertise available to the market. Digitization enables us to optimise product quality even further and deliver even more reliably to our internal and external customers.
The Machine Tool 4.0 at the Schaeffler plant in Höchstadt: Cognitive technologies from IBM help to develop Schaeffler’s Industry 4.0 strategy for machine tools further.
The terms big data and Internet of Things (IoT) play an important role for Industry 4.0, which is the reason for the strategic partnership with IBM Watson. Which specific target are you pursuing with this?
As a technology supplier, consultant and development partner for a digital ecosystem, IBM is supporting Schaeffler in integrating its mechatronic components, systems and machinery into the rapidly-growing Internet of Things (IoT) and developing new business models based on digital services to market maturity. Our first milestone was the establishment of a digital platform, which has hosted all Schaeffler’s data-based services since October 2016.
How does close proximity to IBM’s international Watson IoT headquarters help you reach your goal?
We can only be successful in digitization if we work together not with just one partner, but with a whole system of partners. The ecosystem is the key. IBM is currently establishing an ecosystem like this with its research centre on the Internet of Things in Munich. The proximity of our headquarters in Herzogenaurach to Munich of course also gives us the advantage that consultation can take place at our own premises or at IBM.
You have also been collaborating on the innovation project “Machine Tool 4.0” with another partners since 2015. What have you been able to learn from the project so far and what progress have you made in this time?
With Machine Tool 4.0, Schaeffler shows that Industry 4.0 is not an abstract vision but is already helping to increase efficiency in our own value creation today. In the production environment, not only are machinery and material flows linked within the Schaeffler plants, but the individual plants are also linked along the entire supply chain. Schaeffler plans to optimise existing processes and procedures digitally, create new service-oriented processes and consistently promote digital interaction between people and IT systems. A clear goal is the constant optimisation of production and the supply chain. Machine Tool 4.0 was the first time that many Industry 4.0 technologies had been used in industrial series production at Schaeffler. During the installation of the machine tool, for example, digital connectors were developed that serve as prototypes for integrating further machines in the Schaeffler production group. All in all, it has become clear that the topics of data standardisation and interface description are very important and must be taken seriously. They are the difference between success and failure.
The interview with Mr Baum clearly showed how cooperation is driving innovation forward at Schaeffler. Bavaria already has a top-class cluster for the Internet of Things in particular. Companies like Google and Microsoft also invested heavily in Bavaria last year, moving their development centre and German headquarters to larger premises. Those considering setting up a site in Bavaria can contact Invest in Bavaria. The Business Promotion Agency of the state of Bavaria offers free and confidential support.