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The technology initiative SmartFactory KL e. V. (SF-KL) in Kaiserslautern consists of a network of around 50 companies and research institutions that carry out joint research and development projects around Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future on an equal footing. The goals formulated within the vision "Production Level 4" (PL4) in the context of 2019 are currently taking on more and more concrete form. Demonstrators are currently working together in shared production at three sites. The basis is formed by skill-based modules, industrial edge cloud concepts, artificial intelligence methods and digital platforms. Both machines and software will be available to companies as rental models in the future. But while new answers are constantly developing from a technical perspective, one question usually remains unanswered: What do matching business ideas look like?

Many paths lead to the future

According to Vision PL4, which SF-KL sees as an update of the idea of Industry 4.0, companies will in the future assemble individual, sometimes temporary production lines in order to be able to manufacture even small quantities lucratively. In the course of this, software agents, so-called production bots, will take over central tasks, for example, by compiling the necessary processing steps and selecting the appropriate production equipment (hardware or software) on digital platforms. Criteria such as energy efficiency, production speed or transport routes would be an essential part of the strategy. "Technically, all of this will be feasible," says Prof. Martin Ruskowski, CEO of SF-KL, "but how will this ultimately be monetized?" Currently, the association is working with partners to develop AI solutions that could be used by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as a service. "So far, however, there is no concrete implementation of how one company offers this service or another can use it," Ruskowski said. "It could be an annual subscription, but it could also be billed on a case-by-case basis. So far, there are only idea approaches." SmartFactoryKL now wants to fill that void.

Difficult calculation

At the Mittelstand-Digital-Zentrum Kaiserslautern (MDZ), SF-KL is the consortium leader and supports SMEs in digitization projects. "We are seeing strong demand for artificial intelligence services, for example for quality control," explains Jonas Metzger, head of the MDZ, "but at the latest when we are asked about the costs, it becomes difficult. There's nothing general, tangible on the market yet." The complexity of the issue arises primarily from the nature of AI: "The fact that AI learns with every order, and therefore becomes an increasingly high-quality product, means that this must be included in a price calculation. On the one hand, it would have to be evaluated how the customer has contributed to the improvement of the AI, and on the other hand, the next customer would receive an improved product and thus have a greater benefit from the AI capabilities," explains Tatjana Legler, who is supervising the project at the TU Kaiserslautern. "How exactly do you want to map that financially?"

SmartFactoryKL launches workshop on business ideas

"It is becoming necessary for us not only to be idea providers in the area of technology transfer, but also to push the development of business ideas. That is only logical," Ruskowski formulates the new approach. "That's why we initiate the discussions, but don't implement anything." The SF-KL board has now agreed that workshops on business ideas are the means of choice to bring the PL4 vision further into practical implementation, step by step. "PL4 aims at resilience and sustainability. That has already excited many," says Ruskowski. "Now we want to show how our idea can also be used to make money. With this, we want to convince more decision-makers:inside."