Matthias Machnig, Beamteter Staatssekretär beim Bundesminister für Wirtschaft und Energie; Quelle: Michael Voigt

© Michael Voigt

Two things are necessary in order to harness the potential of digitisation and Industrie 4.0. First, we need to arrive at a shared understanding of what is happening, of what is possible, and of what we need. Digitisation is changing the rules - and it is doing so at breath-taking speed. Digitisation is changing every aspect of our lives: the ways in which we do business and live together as a society, the way we work, act as consumers, cooperate and communicate with one another.

Second, we need to engage in joint initiatives, that is in cooperation. Digitisation is not limited to decision-making at national level. Digitisation does not stop at national borders. We must therefore join forces internationally to create growth and well-being across the globe. That does not mean that all countries ought to do the same. Far from it. Everyone ought to play to their strengths and do so in their own way.

Sometimes, we'll find that the various approaches complement each other. We in Europe can certainly learn a few tricks from countries in America or Asia. And they can learn from us. We'll find that each country and each region in the world has its own industrial tradition, its own way of doing business, its own notion of data privacy, of what a good regulatory framework should look like, and of labour standards, for example. This is why there are many different approaches to making the transition into the digital age: Some will rely on platforms. Others will focus on the industrial sector.

We in Germany have made it very clear that we want transformation rather than disruption. We want to create real products, real jobs, real innovation, and real economic output. By 2030, an estimated 500 billion devices will be connected, which is 25 times more than the number today. This figure adds up to 60 connected objects, machines and sensors per person. These developments cut across all areas of our lives. And of course, the industrial sector is no exception. This opens up massive potential. For Germany, projections say that we may well see 435 billion euros being added to our economic output by 2025 thanks to digitisation. Our productivity is set to rise by up to 30 per cent, our efficiency is to improve by 3.3 per cent every year, and our costs could fall at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent.

We now need to lay the basis for successful digital transformation, which also means that we need to build trust within the public. For instance, we need to ensure that labour rights continue to be protected in the digital age. This means that intermediaries and platforms must be held to account when it comes to wages, labour standards, and social security. We need a regulatory framework for investments and innovation. It's about creating a level playing field, a competitive environment without monopolies or similar forms of power and data concentration. We need to take account of the fact that economic success depends no longer just on physical products, but also on data. We need new rules that level out the playing field for analogue, digital, and hybrid business models.

Parallel to this, we must also address several other issues. But the most important thing we need is powerful digital infrastructure. We must not allow ourselves to end up in a situation whereby a lack of infrastructure is holding us back on digitisation and Industrie 4.0. This is why Germany has decided to upgrade its broadband network into a gigabit optical fibre network. Industrie 4.0 will only work if there's control in real time. Only then will it be universally applied. We must also make sure that all our small and medium-sized firms based in rural areas have access to broadband.

So what exactly do we mean by Industrie 4.0?

Industrie 4.0 brings together manufacturing and state-of-the-art information and communication technology. Following the invention of the steam engine, the production line, electronics and IT, smart factories are what defines the fourth industrial revolution. Industrie 4.0 will completely change the way in which global value chains are organised. International cooperation will be more crucial than ever before.

German companies are extremely well prepared for Industrie 4.0. They have a global distribution network and are much valued for their expertise. Let me point out three major steps that we have taken in Germany:

1) First, we have recognised that Industrie 4.0 has the potential to completely change the way in which our society, politics, and businesses are organised. This is why we have made sure to build our Industrie 4.0 platform on a broad basis and made sure to get society and policy-makers on board. About 300 stakeholders representing more than 150 organisations have joined the platform so far. This includes companies from all over the world. The platform is one of the largest global networks. There are five working groups staffed with experts from the private sector, science and academia, business associations and trade unions who are supporting the German government in its efforts to develop practical and workable solutions. These five working groups are looking at: standardisation, research and innovation, security, the right regulatory framework, jobs and skills management.

2) Second, we have succeeded in giving Industrie 4.0 a positive image. Industrie 4.0 is now being debated in terms of the opportunities it opens up.

3) Third, we have succeeded in steering the debate towards the facts. The focus is on developing solutions that work for companies. Of course, our Industrie 4.0 platform has a leading role to play in this. And other countries are also listening closely to what is being said there. Let us take standardisation as an example. The platform established its RAMI 4.0 model [Referenc architecture model Industrie 4.0], which now serves as a key basis for discussions within the international standardisation bodies.

For Germany as an export-driven country with export-driven SMEs, particularly engineering companies, international cooperation is of utmost importance. It is important to point out that engaging in this cooperation must always be the companies' task. However, government can act as a door-opener and create a suitable regulatory framework. We are therefore also in close contact with the European Commission and welcome the Action Plan on accelerating the digital transformation of industry at European level. We will host the first European Stakeholder Forum together with the Commission on January 31st to Februry 1st in Essen, Germany to provide for the exchange between the national initiatives in the field of Industrie 4.0. Industrie 4.0 will also be high up on our agenda for the German G20 presidency. We are planning to host a conference in mid-March that will bring together all of the Industrie 4.0 initiatives undertaken by the G20 states.

All this shows that Germany, in its capacity as a leading industrialised country, is also a sought-after partner for cooperation on Industrie 4.0. We will do our utmost to strengthen international cooperation in this field. If we are to remain globally competitive, we need modern infrastructure, a strong industrial sector, a highly capable ICT sector, and international cooperation.

Source: The European Files