The worker in the intelligent factory

Ministry of Science funds new 'Fortschrittskolleg' of Bielefeld and Paderborn universities

In the future, factories should be able to respond to orders for goods both quickly and individually. To make this possible, companies are changing their manufacturing processes. The answer lies in machine parks that can be reprogrammed rapidly in order to deliver customised products. ‘Industry 4.0’ is the buzzword used to describe the transition to intelligent factories, which affects companies and their employees. A new research college of Bielefeld and Paderborn universities will investigate which measures are needed to support workers and management during this change. The Ministry of Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) announced today (12.5.2014) that it would fund the new 'Fortschrittskolleg' (progress college) in NRW, one of six new colleges, with 2.6 million Euros.

‘We analyse the impact of the change to production processes on working life,’ says the informatics Professor Dr. Ulrich Rückert of the Faculty of Technology, Bielefeld University. Rückert is a member of the Cluster of Excellence Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC) and was one of the initiators to secure funding for the college. It’s title is: “Gestalten von Flexiblen Arbeitswelten – Menschen-zentrierte Nutzung von Cyber Physical Systems in Industrie 4.0” (Design of flexible workplaces – people-centred use of cyber-physical systems in Industry 4.0).

In the coming four and a half years, up to 15 doctoral students of Bielefeld and Paderborn universities will be working across disciplines in the 'Fortschrittkolleg'. The college connects informatics, engineering with business administration and economics and work and organisational psychology in individual doctoral projects.

The ‘Cyber-Physical Systems’ that the doctoral students are investigating are mobile and embedded devices which are increasingly being used in industrial production: radio frequency chips (RFIDs), wireless sensory networks with integrated minute computers or also Smartphones and tablet-PCs. These devices connect processes in the physical world with digital systems so that, for example, autonomous logistics and production processes are possible.

‘In the new Fortschrittskolleg, we will investigate how well employees accept new working conditions, amongst other topics. We are working on ways to modify the technology so that it benefits the workers. We also are working on developing concepts to redesign the working area of employees so that they get along well with the new production conditions,’ explains Ulrich Rückert. This includes teaching machines a ‘sense’ for human feelings. The new technology should be able to recognise, for example, when a worker is tired or stressed, and be able to react appropriately, by slowing down the operation or reminding the employee to have his or her break.

Which qualifications and what training do employees need in an intelligent factory? How does the role of workers change? The Fortschrittkolleg is also concerned with questions such as these. Professor Dr. Günter W. Maier is responsible for tackling these aspects from a psychological angle. He is head of the research group on work and organisational psychology at Bielefeld University.

The Fortschrittskolleg is coordinated by PACE (Paderborn Institute for Advanced Studies in Computer Science and Engineering) of Paderborn University. The relation to professional practice will be ensured through the close ties with the leading-edge cluster ‘It’s OWL’, the innovation network Energie Impuls OWL e.V., the technology advisory service at DGB NRW e.V. and IG Metall NRW. At Bielefeld University, most of the research of the Fortschrittkolleg will be based at the Research Institute for Cognition and Robotics (CoR-Lab).

In total, the Ministry of Science is funding six new Fortschrittkollegs. The funding period begins on 1 July 2014. The colleges are part of ‘Fortschritt NRW’ (progress NRW), the research strategy of the state of NRW. This stategy is focussed on research for sustainable development in the areas of the biggest future challenges: climate protection, energy supply and mobility as well as nutrition, health and social security. The aim is to palpably improve the living conditions of people.

Further information available on the Internet at: (German)

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Ulrich Rückert, Bielefeld University
Faculty of Technology
Telephone: +49 (0)521 106 12050