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If industry wants to, it can turn Germany’s economic development into a positive one. But to do so, it must break with habits and invest boldly in the future. The tools are available and mature: cloud and AI. Using them for the digital transformation of industrial automation can make all the difference.

“2023 was the year of AI innovations, 2024 will be the year of the productive use of these innovations.” According to the F.A.Z. on January 2 under the title “The race for productivity”. This refers to the many opportunities to use AI to save on expensive personnel for routine activities that have become superfluous. Examples include companies that invested almost 20 billion dollars in AI solutions last year alone, according to F.A.Z.: “At Google, 30,000 jobs in the sale of advertising products are said to be on the line; IBM and Spotify have also already announced such plans.”

But this is not how Germany, still the world’s leading industrial location, will strengthen its position. In this country, the focus is on the use of AI and web technology at the heart of the manufacturing industry: in production and engineering. Well-known solution providers have positioned themselves in recent yearsBosch Rexroth, Contact Software, Rittal and the Friedhelm Loh Group, Phoenix Contact, WAGO, Weidmüller, to name them in alphabetical order.

A jolt through the industry!

Mechanical and plant engineering and all other sectors of discrete manufacturing were used to apply new technologies with caution and the handbrake on. Nothing should jeopardize the holy of holies, the manufacturing process itself. Don’t stop running horses. But now the industrial location itself is in danger. Because AI and digitalization have what it takes to invite new players from China to the USA to overtake us.

It is not the servers on company premises that provide the speed and, above all, the security that is now needed. It is not the “business as usual” with the installed software that will bring the innovation that is now required. It is not the familiar value chain with product sales at the end that creates sufficient value for the industry.

Industrial production itself must manage with less energy and be a pioneer of the energy transition. Products and production must become sustainable and, in some cases, digital services at a rapid pace. At the same time, the global market wants individual products, manufactured to the highest quality and yet as quickly as in mass production. This does not work with the old technologies. That’s why the standards of Industry 4.0 were created. Now they need to be implemented.

Cloud and AI in their industrial use can turn the tide in Germany (Image: 123rf Free Images)

Shared data spaces (such as with Catena-X and Manufacturing-X), for example via the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA), bold investments in new solutions based on open standards (such as Linux and Kubernetes) – this is exactly how the industry can make the difference that the location needs. Not with a German or European cloud platform and AI platforms. It’s probably too late for that. But with the fast, secure and economically successful use of these technologies in the field in which German industry can – still – set the tone.

Cloud and AI alone make the well-known giants in the USA even more powerful and richer. But despite their lead, they have not yet been able to conquer the large field of using this technology in industry. Here we still have a head start that counts. If we use it.