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Industrie 4.0 – when you hear this word, it usually refers exclusively to production. However, smart technology is also needed to deliver parts to the original equipment manufacturer or the product to the customer. "Agile value-added networks between OEMs, suppliers, logistics providers, and retail in B2B sectors are important types of cooperation for the future of the manufacturing industry," says Mario Zillmann, a partner at the business consultancy Lünendonk and author of the whitepaper Intelligent Logistic Services for the Manufacturing Industry. "The key to optimizing operational processes in an Industrie 4.0 strategy is a fully digitalized supply chain that allows the entire flow of goods and processes to be controlled online, making it transparent to participants." Characteristic of this are automated transactions and embedded intelligence, optimized and connected data flows, and strategies based on real-time data and simulations.

According to Lünendonk, many companies are pursuing smart supply chains which are not yet "smart" enough. These supply chains frequently have little in common with transparency. Nevertheless, progress is being made by introducing new digital technologies. Many companies are planning to make investments to digitally transform their supply chains, especially in four key technologies: supply chain visibility platforms/solutions, Big Data/analytics, cloud computing, and simulation tools.

Digitalization is also viewed as desirable on the part of buyers. "Without Purchasing 4.0, Industrie 4.0 is not possible since it encompasses all company divisions," says Dr. Silvius Grobosch, Deputy Chair of the German Association for Materials Management, Purchasing and Logistics (BME). "Digitalization presents an historic opportunity to purchasing that must be leveraged in order to live up to the strategic significance of purchasing in the future. The goal is to jointly promote networking between businesses and innovations as defined by a value-generating network," says Grobosch.

One of the central topics at Industrial Supply 2017 is how far suppliers have come and the direction they are taking. "Digitalizing the entire supply chain, integrating manufacturing, lightweight construction innovations through digitalization, the purchase of software firms by mechanical engineers, and the issue of traditional purchasing versus platforms are the current trends that will be addressed by exhibitors and forums at the trade show," says Olaf Daebler, Director, Industrial Supply at HANNOVER MESSE.

One example of the role played by suppliers as partners for Industrie 4.0 comes from Salzgitter AG. For this Industrial Supply exhibitor, speed is one of the most important advantages of integration: "For us, large orders are fully automated – from ordering, production and delivery to automatic additional deliveries if the customer has a shortfall on defined stock quantities," explains Frank Seinsche, Corporate Communication, Salzgitter. All of this occurs through fully electronic data exchanges. "Our goal for the future is to establish this system for smaller buyers as well," says Seinsche.

"Integrating partners and suppliers plays a major role in the quality of our products and services," says Thorsten Koldehoff, Sales Manager for KAPSTO(R). "For example, we use portals with our customers to exchange information such as transmitting RFQs, placing bid proposals, making PPAPs available, etc." Software and networking simplify the entire process: Virtual product development and optimization using 3D simulations at over 40 CAD work stations serves this synthetics specialist as an efficient way to create mass production molds. EDI aids in the order process, RFID in shipping, samples are created using 3D printing, and rapid tooling is also a part of the 4.0 everyday routine at Pöppelmann.