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Industry 4.0: Henning Banthien

Selling a New Revolution


Selling a New Revolution


The government-financed “Plattform Industrie 4.0” is the major promoter of the revolutionary Industry 4.0 concept in Germany. Platform chief Henning Barthien tells CommonWealth Magazine of the concept’s benefits and challenges.



Selling a New Revolution

By Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 601 )

“You’re the first visitors we’ve had from Taiwan,” says Plattform Industrie 4.0 Secretary-general Henning Banthien when he greets visiting CommonWealth Magazine reporters in his Berlin office. Guests from China, Japan and South Korea have already made their way to the German capital to learn about the  nerve center of this manufacturing revolution.

The platform is a collaboration of Germany’s industrial, academic and public sectors and labor unions aimed at integrating resources and working with these stakeholders to jointly promote and put into practice Industry 4.0.

From 2013, when the concept was first hatched, to today, more than 100 companies, business associations, labor unions, research organizations and government agencies have become members of the platform, making it Germany’s biggest national Industry 4.0 organization. It could be described as the “brains” and “command center” of the new revolution.

The platform is not only important to Germany. For many countries intent on developing the new manufacturing concept, it represents a model to emulate.

In an interview with CommonWealth Magazine, Banthien discusses how the platform was formed, how it’s structured and how it helps companies put Industry 4.0 into practice. He stresses that Industry 4.0 is far more than just a “technological question” or one only relevant to companies. It will have social, legal, labor, and educational implications and will affect every individual and whole countries at every level, he asserts.

Companies that decide Industry 4.0 is not for them do so at their own peril, Banthien warns. “If you’re not going to change, you won’t be there any more in a couple of years,” he says.

Here are excerpts of the interview, in Banthien’s own words, in describing the many roles the platform plays.

This platform was organized and financed by the three major associations -- the IT association (BITKOM), the VDMA, that’s the association for mechanical engineering, and the ZVEI (the electrical and electronic manufacturers’ associations). Those three major associations in Germany, they organized this platform [in 2013]. They worked two years, very important work because they made sure that there is sort of a trust building between those different players.

In 2015, in Hanover Fair, these associations realized this platform is important but it’s not powerful enough. We needed new input. We needed to make sure politics is on board. We needed to make sure research is on board. We needed to make sure the labor unions are on board, because before, it was the platform only organized by and for business with nobody else.

We understand Industry 4.0, Internet of Things, this is not only a technological question; it is also a systematic question. It’s a question about labor, how do we work in the future? It is a question of standards; it is a question on legal frameworks, the regulatory environment for the digitization of industry. To challenge and tackle those questions and to be successful in having answers to those questions, you need that kind of a platform.

So this relaunched platform is now business, it’s the associations, it’s the labor unions, it’s the research organizations and it’s politics. And not only one ministry but two ministries, the most important ones in digitization – the Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the Ministry of Education and Research – they both are board members of the platform.

We also have four top managers, the CTOs of Siemens, SAP , Telekom and Festo; the president of Fraunhofer (a German research organization for applied research), the president of the labor union the IG Metall, and the president of the BDI, the umbrella organization for all business associations. This is our board.

Role No. 1: Coordinator

Staying Neutral, Bringing People Together

One way of supporting Industry 4.0 is to make sure the policy programs we have in Germany are well-adjusted to the needs of companies and also well-coordinated. The ministries for research and for the economy and also others start programs and in the course of developing the programs get feedback from us. Once the programs are active, we coordinate them and make sure the companies know these programs are there.

Building trust is also important. [It helps that] we are neutral. This took some time for everybody to understand and also that they realize we are sort of an honest broker between all of them. We manage this platform very transparently and make sure that all the interests of the various partners are really seen and taken care of.

When there are conflicts, we mention those conflicts, and we deal with them and try to find solutions. It’s important not to make a taboo out of the conflicts in interest because they are there.

[One example of the coordination is that] we have 50 to 60 test infrastructures in Germany at universities or in companies. You can go there as a company and test technology, a business case, [or a security solution or a management system] before you actually implement it in your own company.

We help you to access those tests. What we want from you is to learn what is relevant for standardization, but otherwise it’s their business. It’s their competitive work.

The platform is strictly pre-competitive in the way we work. We are not allowed and we don’t want to enter into any subjects which are competitive in the market place.

Role No. 2: Promoter

Getting SMEs Involved

At the moment, something like 25% of the companies, of the small and medium-sized companies, in Germany are actually active implementing Industry 4.0. The rest are still thinking, so we need to change this. We need to make sure they all get active.

[Among the reasons why companies are still reluctant to get involved], one reason is money, investment. If you start investing in Industry 4.0, this can become expensive. A second challenge is to have a schooled workforce, and third is security. It is also a challenge of a change of the organizational structure. These are a number of the obstacles we hear about.

With regard to them, we as a platform have working groups. There are five – on standards, on research, on security, on the legal framework and on the future of work. They write recommendations for politics but also for companies, sort of guidelines that help companies to have easier access to Industry 4.0. So this is something very pragmatic.

We are also making SMEs aware that Industry 4.0 is happening and is an opportunity for them. So we organize many conferences throughout the entire country just explaining to companies what digitization is about, what are the challenges and what are the opportunities.

One important field of work is standardization. Industry 4.0, the very concept, relies on the idea that those machines can actually talk to each other. If we don’t have a common language, they won’t be able to talk. So there again there is mutual interest in having shared reference architectures.

In this context, internationalization plays a role. In this IoT world or Industry 4.0 world, I’d rather prefer the notion of co-opetition [to competition]. There is always a mixture of cooperation and competition. And you need to learn to combine those. I think that is also true for the way we cooperate with other countries.

Many solutions for Industry 4.0 are only possible if we cooperate with other countries because if not, we won’t have shared solutions life shared standards, the whole development won’t take place. If it won’t take place, this would be a very negative effect for many of us, for consumers, for industries, for workforce.

I think it’s always [important] to cooperate to learn from each other and for us to learn how they approach [different things].

The IIC (Industrial Internet Consortium), the American partners, they are top level if it comes to IT solutions, software solutions, interconnected solutions, so there it’s beneficial for us to work with them. On the other side, they benefit from our knowledge in the manufacturing area so I think [there’s] a give and take.

With China as well, we see they learn a lot from us and they take over those solutions and at some point in time we will become competitors. But at that time you could always say in those years ahead, German companies will have new solutions. But overall, I think this is a developing market and I think there will always come up new opportunities and new technologies.

Role No. 3: Convener

Bringing the Government, Unions on Board

In a strategic sense, it is very important the government is on board because in some way, they are the conveners for this platform. As I’ve described, there are many competitors meeting in this platform. There are labor unions and companies and the research [units]. They all understand we have a common interest in working together, but there is also a lot of conflict of interest; there are many difficult questions to deal with. Since government is on board, it always has a high degree of trust, of importance, and of relevance for the work, so for example if we work on the platform we can always be sure this is closely followed by government officers. They understand in detail what we are talking about, what the needs of industry are. So for example funding programs can be adjusted directly toward the needs of companies or research or labor unions. We [describe it as] policy consultancy in real time.

As for labor unions, the discussion with digitization is: “Will it help us in terms of workforce or will it actually have as a consequence that many jobs get lost because actually machines, robots or simply automatized processes can do those jobs easier and more efficiently?” The overall situation is there is a huge transformation taking place. Statistically you can say there sort of a polarization. There are people with skilled hands that are hard to replace and very high qualified work that’s also very tough to replace – the creative thinking, critical thinking. This is nothing machines can do. But in between, there are many, many jobs that potentially can be automatized.

So now the question is how we deal with that transformation because this is not a transformation that is happening as a natural law, but it’s something we can actually shape. [The unions] are very smart and very constructive in the way they work with companies in Germany, and I think it is a huge advantage that there is a critical but close cooperation between unions and companies because both have realized there is a transformation happening.

One of the core answers to this challenge is education. Starting in schools, we need to redesign our schools to make sure small kids learn how to think and act in a digitized world, but very important as well is the way we get educated during our entire lifetime. Training on the job, how you get qualified every day you work, how do you get relearning etc. the interaction with the machine. If we’re good in that, we can create even more jobs, even more high qualified jobs. But it will be a long process.

There are many, many fields where training and qualification need to take place. One very interesting field is the way as a manager you lead. The role of leadership changes because in a virtual production system, things are much more decentralized. The classical understanding you have sort of a top boss and he can give out his core messages, that cannot work anymore because the way production runs today it’s very networked. Every individual worker has a very high autonomy in the way they work. A manager has to rethink his role if they are very autonomous, what is then the role of the leadership? You still need to give directions or you need to ensure that people can absolutely live up to the responsibilities they have, so there are different challenges.

Role No. 4: Counselor

Shortening the Learning Curve

It is important for those companies who aren’t active yet to have a very concrete impression and a 1-to-1 talk to somebody who’s actually doing it. Because it is quite a change taking place, so for an entrepreneur it’s a tough question how they want to go about with this change and then it’s helpful to talk to somebody who’s in a similar situation whom you sort of trust as a counterpart. That is an important first step.

We have also developed an online map where you can visit concrete solutions of Industry 4.0 already in practice today in Germany. You can search there and click and go there and visit them.

Then [there is the need] to realize as a company we’re not talking about a huge leap. We’re talking about several small steps with a clear goal. [I often think companies] just make the challenge too big. Companies have this impression with security [where they say], “This is too expensive, we’re not going to do anything.” If you look at it and you analyze it for the specific needs of your company, you can have a very tailor-made and well-adjusted security solution that serves your interests and problems and not more. So you can make the problem digestible.

[When it comes to telling a company the need to convert to Industry 4.0], the simple but not very friendly motivation is if you’re not going to change, you won’t be there any more in a couple of years. This is a trend that is relevant for everybody and if you don’t take care of it, you will go out of business, period.

English transcript of the interview edited by Luke Sabatier