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prostep ivip Symposium and the big issues of the future

By Bernd Pätzold

I believe that this year's prostep ivip Symposium was a complete success – and not only because of the record number of visitors. Good keynote addresses and a program packed with interesting presentations on, for example, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain technology and smart manufacturing made it clear that the prostep ivip Association has taken a long, hard look at the issues that will play a role in the future digitalization of business processes. 700 participants from 21 countries made the event the most international to date.

The fact that the Association is looking at new issues involving the digitalization of development and production does not mean that there is no longer any room for the "old favorites". On the contrary, openness and standards are more important than ever in facilitating an agile response to the challenges of digital transformation. This was underlined from the outset by Klaus Straub, CIO of the BMW Group, which sponsored this year's symposium together with CENIT AG. BMW intends to become 100 percent agile, as Straub affirmed in his keynote address but not without pointing out that this will be a long journey, since agility requires changes in processes, structures, cultures and IT technology.

Resistance to radical change is not easy to overcome. This is something we ourselves experience in many projects. As Kurt Bengel, CEO of CENIT, said so aptly: "We Germans are world champions when it comes to being reactive and have a pronounced tendency towards inertia. I therefore fully subscribe to his call for us to use our imagination to envisage our future and to shape it proactively. Otherwise we and our companies will fall victim to digital Darwinism, the dangers of which were painted vividly by management consultant Karl-Heinz Land. The essence of his keynote address was that digitalization, networking and automation are unstoppable. Which is why we must act now.

This is not the first time that calls of this nature have been heard at the symposium, and they are clearly falling on fertile ground. This year I had the impression that companies have shifted up a gear in the digitalization of their development processes and the networking of development and production. Model-based systems engineering in particular is making progress. An important driver is undoubtedly autonomous driving, which is forcing car manufacturers and suppliers to give even more thought to the virtual validation of driving functions. It is simply not possible to actually drive the millions of kilometers that are needed for validation.

The digital twin is also enjoying growing acceptance in companies, if we are to believe the presentations from the users. Its importance in implementing Industry 4.0 initiatives and supporting new, service-oriented business models is no longer in question. The only aspects that are still at issue are how completely it needs to represent reality in any given use case and what IT systems it is best stored in.

The digital twin is indispensable for the digital transformation of production. Companies expect considerable rationalization potential from the possibility of monitoring, controlling and optimizing the behavior of real production systems with the aid of digital twins, e.g. faster detection of faults and a higher level of system availability. To achieve this, the twins must of course receive sensor data from production in real time and must also be able to interpret this data correctly. Increasingly, algorithmic methods from machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) are being used to evaluate the vast signal streams.

Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the "new" topics which the Association will look at more closely in the near future – mainly at the instigation of members from the scientific and research communities. In reality, this is not a new topic; it is simply that we only now have the necessary computational power, storage capacity and ultimately the huge amounts of data available to effectively use AI. As the new CEO Armin Hoffacker explained, the Association wants to sound out the potential of AI for industrial processes in fast-track projects, so initial results will certainly already be presented at the next symposium.

According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group, most companies assume that AI will play a key role in improving productivity in industrial processes in the future. [Link] As far as implementation of initial AI applications is concerned, however, the market researchers found that German companies are clearly lagging behind American and Chinese businesses. China in particular is providing massive support for the expansion of AI. In the latest budget debate, Chancellor Angela Merkel also said that Germany was in danger of missing the boat and warned against too much data protection with regard to AI. She said that it was not possible to be a leader in AI while at the same time being as restrictive as possible when it comes to data. One of the paradoxes of politics is that companies in Germany are at present busy implementing the stricter requirements of the new European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

But back to the symposium and another topic for the future: Like AI, blockchain is one of the technologies that could revolutionize the business world. Until now it has been known primarily from the world of cryptocurrencies, but it is in essence suitable for validating any business transactions in the Internet of Things and Services. It is not yet possible to make an accurate assessment of the applications in industry for which it promises added value. The aim of the blockchain workshop led by PROSTEP was therefore to discuss potential PLM applications. Here, Dr. Martin Holland explained how the technology works using the forgery-proof exchange of 3D print jobs as an example. Similarly, software updates in vehicles, the exchange of classification-relevant components in ships and other transactions such as toll payments could all be protected against manipulation with the aid of blockchain.

I found the application case presented in the concluding keynote address by Dirk Spindler, responsible for R&D Processes, Methods & Tools at automotive supplier Schaeffler, particularly fascinating. In combination with traditional PLM methods, blockchain could secure the cross-company change process in a partner network without any central authority, thus not only minimizing the communication outlay, but also resulting in an enormous acceleration of the change process. We will be learning more about this at the next symposium, which will be sponsored by Schaeffler. I am curious to find out what other new digitalization topics we will be looking at in Stuttgart.