SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart opens

Mittelstand 4.0-Kompetenzzentrum Stuttgart
Photo: (left): Rainer Bez, © Universität Stuttgart IFF / Fraunhofer IPA; (right) Ludmilla Parsyak, © Fraunhofer IAO

The SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart helps SMEs choose which path to digital transformation is right for them. For expample “Smart Health” helps ensure quality of life in old age.

New points of contact in Stuttgart and Karlsruhe help SMEs get in shape for digitalization

On March 28, 2017, the SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart premiered with a kickoff event held at the Fraunhofer Institute Center. Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi), the new facility aims to establish the transfer of practical expertise to help get SMEs in southwest Germany in shape for the digital transformation.

Baden-Württemberg’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and skilled craft companies now have two new points of contact for questions about Industrie 4.0 applications and digitalization solutions. In Stuttgart and in Karlsruhe, the partners in the SME 4.0 Center of Excellence offer a wealth of practical support – from identifying a company’s own “4.0 innovation potential” to support in harnessing it. “SMEs and skilled craft companies in particular are unlikely to have their own research budgets that would allow them to take a targeted approach to the development and implementation of digital solutions. But to successfully master the digital transformation, they need our help and the SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart can play a major role in providing active support,” says Oskar Vogel, managing director of the Baden-Württemberg Confederation of Skilled Crafts (BWHT).

The interplay of theory and practice

How to put theory into practice was something that the 150 or so guests from industry, science and politics were able to experience firsthand at the kickoff event. “Using practical training concepts and concrete solutions, we demonstrate together with our partners exactly what Industrie 4.0 means for SMEs and how companies can harness the potential of new technologies,” explains Prof. Anette Weisbecker, deputy director of Fraunhofer IAO.

“Here it’s as much about the development of new products as it is about digitalization strategies in general and how these apply to business models, processes and products,” Weisbecker continues. In keeping with this idea, each practical presentation was given jointly by one industry and one research partner in a series that covered smart solutions for assembly and automation as well as health, well-being and care. Following that were tours of the Future Work Lab – an innovation lab for work, people and technology that opened in February – and the application center at Fraunhofer IPA. These tours were supplemented by a look at mobile demonstrators from the Karlsruhe partners: the FZI Research Center for Information Technology used its Smart Health demonstrator to present digital solutions in the area of health care, while Fraunhofer IOSB presented current applied research on IT security. These practical scenarios provided a tangible illustration of the scope of digital value-added processes. “This is why this center is so important – it’s SMEs in particular that still tend to be hesitant about implementing Industrie 4.0. Through custom training and workshops, and through the demonstrators we have at the Fraunhofer Institute Center, we can help companies overcome current hurdles and support them in enhancing their competitive edge,” says Prof. Thomas Bauernhansl, director of Fraunhofer IPA.

Practical solutions for SMEs

The SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart is currently one of eleven centers of excellence being funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) as part of the “SMEs 4.0: Digital Production and Work Processes” initiative. The aim is to support SMEs and skilled craft companies as they carry out the digital transformation process and to help them develop and implement new information and communication technologies (ICT). The “SME Digital” priority funding category comprises the funding initiatives “SMEs 4.0 – Digital Production and Work Processes,” “eStandards: Standardizing business processes, securing success,” and “Simply intuitive – usability for SMEs.”

In addition to workshops, information events and application demonstrations, the SME 4.0 Center of Excellence Stuttgart offers practical training concepts and concrete solutions as well as support for interesting implementation projects that SMEs can apply for.

Alongside the Fraunhofer Institutes for Industrial Engineering IAO, for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB, for Systems and Innovation Research ISI, and for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, partners in the new SME 4.0 Center of Excellence include BWHM GmbH, the FZI Research Center for Information Technology, the Steinbeis Foundation, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association VDMA, and the Chambers of Industry and Commerce (IHKs) in Baden-Württemberg.