SmartFackoryKL: Next Industrial Revolution will be collaborative or (maybe) won’t be at all

BY Fernando L. Mompó on 30 / 09 / 2016

Name a new idea, an innovative concept, a promising new set of technologies or a disruptive movement or trend that is meant to significantly change the present in a more or less near future, and you’ll find collaboration is a core element to its development. Look for cases or examples of the most advanced initiatives and enterprises in that area and most likely you’ll be finding collaborative projects. Try to find out why a particular promising area of innovation is not meeting expectations, why its progress seems to be inexplicably halt considering its potential and for sure the lack of collaboration and understanding among its different players necessarily involved will stand out as a main barrier. We have already defended this is the case in areas such Circular Economy, Internet of the Things, Wearables, or Omnichannel Retail

Industry 4.0 is another of such innovative concepts. The so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution responds to a vision of a future manufacturing environment in which smart factories, machines, raw materials, and products communicate to each other and cooperatively drive production. The goal of the Industry 4.0 idea is to implement a highly flexible, individualized and resource-friendly mass production factories in which products find their way independently through the production process. 

Currently, one of the biggest barriers for this concept to become real is the lack of technology acceptance and system interoperability. As it is the case of other such ideas based on the interaction of new and disparate technologies (Smart Home, for instance), widely accepted standards are a key requirement. Enough companies collaborating and agreeing on common solutions and standards seems not to be optional. 

But is this possible when in many cases this companies are competing for the same potential market?  At the moment, most companies with an interest on a new level of automation in manufacturing have built their own lab to create and demonstrate their own proprietary solutions. But Industry 4.0 is a paradigm based on the networking of hardware and software affecting a wide range of areas from planning to logistics and devices from automation technology to digital communications. 

A collaborative project to watch 

SmartFactoryKL in Kaiserslautern, Germany, meets a wide consensus among analysts as one of the most worthy places to watch in the world to understand the future of industry. Of course, we’re talking about a collaborative project. 

Recognized as the first vendor-independent factory lab for industrial IoT applications, SmartFactoryKL develops holistic smart manufacturing solutions in a jointly manner within a network of a research community and a group of more than 40 companies including large multinational enterprises (such IBM, SAP, Cisco, Huawei and Siemens) and small and medium-sized enterprises. 

SmartFactoryKL’s research and development activities are organized into four working groups, one of them defining its road map and the other three focusing on thematic areas such as technical environment, tools and methods, and modularization approaches. These groups meet regularly to develop common standards and specifications that later can be used for each of the working groups. The joint process allows all partners to learn from best practices and get tangible assets to work with knowing they won’t take a path too disconnected from a common ecosystem. 

Connected regardless competitive aspects 

The latest prototype developed by SmartFactoryKL is a highly modular and multi-vendor production line that includes a plug & play extension. This development is the most collaborative project so far in SmartFactoryKL, and the result of overcoming the need of universal protocols and information models required to link smart factory objects. For this to happen, a sponsorship concept was applied which has proven very successful and consisted in each of the partners taking responsibility for specific plant components and technologies in accordance with its core competence. 

SmartFactoryKL collaborative approach is based in a pragmatic reality: there is no a single-solution provider able to cover all aspects of a future Industry 4.0 demand. For this reason, the association connects technology partners regardless of competitive aspects, including companies with overlapping competence and business areas but willing to set a vendor-independent standards on top of which make proprietary technologies and business models but ready for an open ecosystem. 

SmartFackory KL     

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