Work 4.0: Minister-President Visits Fortschrittskolleg

How is digitalization impacting workers? What significance does Industry 4.0 – the ever-increasing digitalization of work processes – hold for employees? What is fair in human-machine interaction, and how should it be designed? What role should the culture of learning play in the businesses of tomorrow?  Minister-President of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Hannelore Kraft discussed these and other questions today (17 July 2015) in Bielefeld with doctoral researchers and secondary school teachers during the Fortschrittskolleg research college  on “Designing Flexible Working Environments – Human-Centred Use of Cyber-Physical Systems in Industry 4.0. At the Fortschrittskolleg, nine doctoral researchers from the University of Paderborn and Bielefeld University are working together on interdisciplinary issues. The Fortschrittskolleg connects the fields of computer science, engineering, and robotics with business and economics education, business studies, and sociology, as well as work and organizational psychology.

From left: Rektor Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Sagerer, President Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Schäfer, Prof. Dr. Günter Maier, Minister-President Hannelore Kraft, Prof. Dr. Gregor Engels, and Prof. Dr. Jochen Steil at CITEC’s Robotics Lab. Photo: Bielefeld University. Minister President Hannelore Kraft said: “The fundamentals of ‘good work’ also apply in Work 4.0. For this reason, it is extremely important that in a future-oriented state such as North Rhine-Westphalia works hard on the challenges that Industry 4.0 poses for the working world and conducts extensive research.”

In the future, factories should be able to manufacture fast, customized production orders. To make this a reality, businesses are working on transforming their manufacturing processes. This requires machine parks that can be quickly deprogrammed in order to also deliver mass-produced products. Industry 4.0 is the buzzword used to describe this shift in manufacturing towards smart factories. This conversion is having an impact on not only businesses, but also their employees. At the Fortschrittskolleg of the University of Paderborn and Bielefeld University, researchers are investigating which measures are needed to support businesses and employees with the transition to Industry 4.0. Beginning in 2014, the Ministry for Innovation, Science, and Research of the Federal State of Northrhine-Westphalia committed a total of 2.6 million Euro to the Fortschrittskolleg NRW for a period of four and a half years.

The “Cyber Physical Systems” that doctoral researchers are working on include networked mobile and embedded devices that are increasingly being deployed in industrial manufacturing settings: radio frequency chips (RFIDs), wireless sensor networks with tiny computers, or smart phones and tablet PCs. These devices connect processes taking place in the physical environment with digital systems. This enables, for instance, autonomously controlled production and logistics processes.

Another part of the Fortschrittskolleg is made up of the so-called “Civil Society.” This consists of partners and groups representing the interests of employees, including for example the Technology Help Desk of the German Trade Union Confederation NRW e.V. and IG Metall. The practical link to real-world applications also ensured by the Fortschrittkolleg’s close association with the Leading-edge Cluster it’s OWL and the Innovation Network Energie Impulse OWL e.V.

“Due to this close contact with industry, our doctoral students are able to experience first hand – already at the stage of determining the subject of their doctoral research – not what the opportunities the transition to Industry 4.0 forecloses, but also the risks and fears associated with it. This will contribute substantially to the development of academic solutions that will be widely accepted and suitable for real-world applications,” explains Prof. Dr. Gregor Engels from the University of Paderborn, who heads the Fortschrittskolleg.

Is there such a thing as fairness between robots and humans in a smart factory? And how are roles changing for employees? These issues are also being addressed by the Fortschrittskolleg. Prof. Dr. Gunter W. Maier is responsible for the psychological aspect of these questions. He heads the research groups on work and organizational psychology at Bielefeld University.

The Paderborn Institute for Advanced Studies in Computer Science and Engineering (PACE) at the University of Paderborn is coordinating the research plans of the Fortschrittskolleg for both universities.

The Fortschrittskolleg is part of “Fortschritt NRW” (Progress NRW), the research strategy of the Federal State of NRW. This strategy is focused on research for sustainable development in the fields associated with the big issues of the future: climate change mitigation, providing energy and mobility, as well as nutrition, health, and social security. The goal is always placed on appreciably improving people’s everyday lives.

Further Information can be found in the Internet:

Prof. Dr. Gregor Engels, Universität Paderborn
Institut für Informatik
Phone: 05251 60-3337

Prof. Dr Günter W. Maier, Universität Bielefeld
Arbeits- und Organisationspsychologie
Phone: 0521 106-6875