With Australia’s notable strides in various sectors, particularly mining and resources, the country is currently overcoming challenges in the advanced manufacturing industry. In this journey vis-à-vis Germany, a global leader in Industry 4.0, Australia continues to try and adapt a robust manufacturing tradition, a highly skilled workforce, and strong government support.
Specific skill requirements for emerging technologies and integrating smart manufacturing practices are among many, what Australia is trying to actively work on to leverage its strengths. The goal is to drive innovation, and in ways replicate Germany’s fully integrated industrial ecosystem.
In examining the factors contributing to Germany’s advancement in Industry 4.0 and Australia’s ongoing efforts to bridge the gap, it becomes evident that addressing skill shortages and fostering greater collaboration between academia, industry, and government are critical steps towards enhancing Australia’s competitiveness on the global manufacturing stage.
Table of content:
- Industry 4.0 Pioneer, Germany
- Strong Manufacturing Tradition:
- Advanced Industrial Ecosystem:
- Skilled Workforce
- Challenges Australia are facing
- Virtual PLC: Manage PLCs from suppliers (Siemens, Bosch Rexroth and Beckhoff) like cloud-based software systems
- Industrial-control-as-a-service model
Industry 4.0 Pioneer, Germany
Germany is often considered a pioneer in the Industry 4.0 movement, which focuses on the integration of digital technologies, the Internet of Things (IoT), and automation in manufacturing.
a. Strong Manufacturing Tradition:
Germany’s strong manufacturing tradition dates back to the 19th century, which is why it gets a pioneering role in Industry 4.0. The country’s leadership stems from early recognition of the potential of digital technologies, with a focus on IoT integration for real-time data collection and operational optimisation. Key technologies, including AI and machine learning, contribute to the development of smart factories, fostering flexibility and responsiveness.
Germany’s commitment to research, exemplified by initiatives like “Industrie 4.0,” ensures continuous innovation and collaboration between industry, academia, and government. This strategic approach has propelled Germany to the forefront of the fourth industrial revolution, establishing it as a global leader in smart manufacturing practices since the early 2010s.
b. Skilled Workforce:
– Germany’s skilled workforce is nurtured through its acclaimed vocational education and training (VET) system, combining classroom learning with hands-on apprenticeships. Lasting three to four years, apprentices split their time between vocational schools and on-the-job training, gaining practical skills aligned with industry needs. Strong industry-education collaboration ensures training programs remain updated with technological advancements. Employers actively participate in curriculum development, facilitating a seamless transition into the workforce and fostering adaptability crucial for implementing smart factory technologies.
– The German approach to electrical engineering education is pivotal in shaping professionals with diverse skill sets. In the dynamic world of electrical engineering, Germany stands out for its unique approach, where electrical engineers seamlessly integrate three crucial roles into their skill set. These professionals not only excel in installation but also master the intricacies of programming and troubleshooting, creating a trifecta of expertise that sets them apart on the global stage.
c. Mittelstand Influence
The term “Mittelstand” refers to the collective of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Germany. These firms are characterised by their strong regional ties, family ownership, and focus on niche markets. The Mittelstand is considered the backbone of the German economy, representing a significant portion of its industrial base. These companies often specialise in manufacturing high-quality goods and have a reputation for innovation and reliability. In the context of Industry 4.0, the Mittelstand’s influence lies in its ability to rapidly adopt and integrate digital technologies into its manufacturing processes, contributing to Germany’s overall leadership in advanced manufacturing practices.
d. Government Support
Several key government initiatives have significantly supported Germany’s position as a pioneer of Industry 4.0:
– Industrie 4.0 Initiative: Launched in 2011, this initiative aims to promote the computerisation of manufacturing, including the development of smart factories and the integration of IoT, cyber-physical systems, and cloud computing.
– “Plattform Industrie 4.0”: This public-private partnership was established to drive forward the implementation of Industry 4.0 in Germany. It brings together representatives from industry, academia, and government to develop recommendations, standards, and best practices.
– High-Tech Strategy 2025: This government strategy focuses on promoting research and innovation in key technology areas, including advanced manufacturing and digitalisation, to maintain Germany’s competitiveness in the global market.
– Investment in Research and Development (R&D): The German government allocates significant funding to support R&D projects related to Industry 4.0, encouraging collaboration between industry and research institutions.
– Funding Programs for SMEs: Various funding programs and grants are available to SMEs to support their investment in smart manufacturing technologies, helping smaller companies participate in the Industry 4.0 transformation.
– Education and Training Initiatives: The government invests in vocational training programs to ensure that the workforce is equipped with the skills needed for advanced manufacturing technologies, fostering innovation and competitiveness.
– International Collaboration: Germany actively engages in international partnerships and collaborations to share knowledge and best practices in Industry 4.0, contributing to global standards and advancements in smart manufacturing.
These government initiatives, along with strong public-private partnerships, have played a crucial role in driving Germany’s leadership in Industry 4.0 and fostering innovation and competitiveness in the manufacturing sector. Germany has a well-developed industrial ecosystem with a high level of collaboration between academia, research institutions, and industry. This collaboration fosters innovation and the adoption of advanced technologies.
Virtual PLC: Managing PLCs from suppliers (Siemens, Bosch, Rexroth and Beckhoff) like cloud-based software systems.
A German company has introduced innovative “virtual PLC” technology, aimed at revolutionising real-time control in industrial automation. Developed by Software Defined Automation (SDA), this technology aims to decouple real-time control from proprietary hardware, providing automation engineers with the ability to manage PLCs from major suppliers such as Siemens, Bosch Rexroth, and Beckhoff using cloud-based software systems.
Unlike traditional setups where multiple vocational roles are required to cover installation, maintenance, and troubleshooting of electrical systems and equipment in Australia, SDA’s virtual PLC technology consolidates these tasks into one vocation. The virtual PLC technology functions by virtualising PLCs on edge servers, effectively removing the dependency on specific hardware setups. This allows automation engineers to work with virtual PLCs as they would with conventional PLCs, utilising a cloud-based control plane for commissioning and updates. Additionally, the SDA DevOps tool provides Git-based version control for PLCs, enhancing collaboration and minimising risks in the development process. While the specific working mechanisms of the virtual PLC technology are not detailed, it is designed to offer transparency, traceability of changes, and rapid code updates, empowering automation engineers with greater flexibility and efficiency in managing industrial automation systems. (Source: SDA)
As introduced in practice above, the “industrial-control-as-a-service” (ICaaS) model is a concept where industrial control systems, typically used in manufacturing and automation processes, are provided and accessed as a service through cloud-based platforms.
In this model, instead of companies purchasing and maintaining physical hardware and software for their industrial control needs, they subscribe to a service that offers control functionalities over the cloud. This means that the control systems, such as programmable logic controllers (PLCs), distributed control systems (DCS), or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, are hosted and managed remotely by a third-party provider.
In conclusion, the comparison between Australia and Germany in the realm of advanced manufacturing underscores the imperative for Australia to accelerate its adoption of Industry 4.0 practices. Germany’s robust manufacturing tradition, skilled workforce, Mittelstand influence, and comprehensive government support have propelled it to the forefront of industrial innovation. In contrast, Australia is still in the process of overcoming skill shortages, limited manufacturing tradition, and disparities in government support.
To bridge the gap, Australia must prioritise investment in research and development, enhance collaboration between academia, industry, and government, and prioritise workforce training and education. By emulating Germany’s proactive approach to smart production and leveraging emerging technologies, Australia can strive towards achieving similar advancements, fostering competitiveness, sustainability, and innovation in its manufacturing sector on the global stage.