Steps by step towards Industry 4.0

Maria Beck, EffizienzCluster Management GmbH

It is common knowledge that small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) have more trouble dealing with digitisation than major corporations. At the beginning of 2016, the German Federal Government initiated SME enabling Centres for Digitisation that support SMEs specifically and unbureaucratically in developing their potentials of Industry 4.0. One of the first of these centres was „Digital in NRW“ managed by Fraunhofer IML and EffizienzCluster LogistikRuhr. Managing Director Maria Beck gives an overview on the work up to now.


Digitisation yes, but how? Especially small and medium-sized enterprises have too few resources and time in the daily business to be spent on a strategic reorientation. The bigger is the need for support focusing specifically on the requirements of companies at operational level. Just in the first year more than 1,200 company representatives, mainly from North Rhine-Westphalia, used the manifold offers of „Digital in NRW“. Together with the experts in digitisation they discussed problems and potentials in their companies helping them to set the course for the future.


The offers of the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation are purposely kept at low threshold. First contacts with companies were mainly made subsequent to events which took place at entrepreneurial associations or organisations or by means of networking partners. In the meantime, the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation is that well established that companies contact the head office directly. In a next step, the companies have the possibility to take part in consulting sessions. These are offered at the three locations of the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation, one of which is at Fraunhofer IML. Experts of Fraunhofer IML who are highly skilled for the respective issues immediately attend these consulting sessions. Afterwards, the experts will visit the companies. Other service modules of the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation like workshops for potential and design help to find solutions and implement new concepts. All offers are free for SMEs due to the public funding of the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs. Moreover, companies can apply for so-called transfer projects in which they work together with the experts at operational level – from digitisation of goods receipt up to networked cooperation in the manufacturing service. 12 of such transfer projects have started since the beginning of 2016, many more are to follow.


About 75 companies – mainly producing companies with problems in the area of production technology, logistics and automation – have already used this continuing offer in only one year. Part of that are often family companies where digitisation is accelerated by an upcoming or already successful generation change of the management. The climate of cooperation is always very positive. Surprising although not necessary is the frankness how companies name their weak spots in particular. Certainly, the companies show enormous confidence for the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation which is due to the expertise and reputation of the participating partners – beside Fraunhofer IML, there are other Fraunhofer institutes and also universities, university research institutions and two leading edge clusters of the Federal Government.


After one year of intensive and fruitful work we may consider: The work of the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation is that important and vital because here experts from business and science can meet at eye level and talk with each other. That proves: Industry 4.0 has always a chance in small and medium-sized enterprises if digitisation in the company solves existing problems. I am absolutely convinced that the digital transformation will only succeed step by step.



Dipl.-Logist. Maria Beck is Managing Director of the Dortmund location of „Digital in NRW. The SME enabling Centre for Digitisation“. She is responsible for the subject „Qualifying“, one of the five pillars which are the basis for the SME enabling Centre for Digitisation.

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