Having SICK as the first partner for an Enterprise Lab, Fraunhofer IML fired the starting pistol for a unique successful innovation format in 2013. Company representatives and scientists are actively working together in the labs and they are implementing systems and products “made in Germany“ in direct cooperation – for example intelligent and networked sensor technology for the future in the SICK Enterprise Lab. Gerhard Mutter from SICK AG, Lab Director at company level, explains in the following interview how both viable and sustainable solution emerge from the novel innovation ecosystem.
Logistics ahead: Just now, you extended the partnership with Fraunhofer IML for another three years. What does the Enterprise Lab offer that other formats do not offer?
Gerhard Mutter: Certainly the work in the network. Having the Enterprise Lab means that we have a unique innovation ecosystem on hand. For here, the top experts meet from different areas – from our company, from Fraunhofer IML, but also partners and customers from both worlds. We can break up existing borders and get new impetus in many topics and at all levels that help us as company to go on. The work in the Enterprise Lab developed towards a new internal knowledge transfer.
Logistics ahead: Which technological research areas are specifically interesting for Sick AG?
Gerhard Mutter: We want to know at an early stage how the requirements respectively the equipment of our customers will change as this has direct impact on the development of sensor technology. In our opinion that can be very well accomplished at Fraunhofer IML as our customers and partners are present there. An example for a specific research area is the further development of sensor technology in cellular transport vehicles or in package measuring. Moreover, we focus very much on data security in the context of Industry-4.0 concepts. For all specific projects we use the know-how of Sick and Fraunhofer IML, for example for the development of demonstrators.
Logistics ahead: How sustainable are the relationships Sick makes in and with the Enterprise Lab?
Gerhard Mutter: The cooperation between Sick and Fraunhofer IML did not only start with the Enterprise Lab but also long before. Our commitment in the Enterprise Lab is already a sign for the continuation of our cooperation. It is important to consider that we achieved a new quality of cooperation with the Lab. In particular, the exchange of employees helps to consolidate the relationships: In the past years, numerous developers and application engineers from various Sick sites in Germany worked between three and six months at Fraunhofer IML – and in fact on very specific solutions. Not only are the innovations developed in this time an asset for our company and employees but also the employees’ more profound knowledge of current technologies and methods.
Logistics ahead: The SICK-internal event “Zukunftsforum“ (Future Forum) helped to institutionalise the knowledge transfer around the Enterprise Lab to a certain extent. What characterises this event?
Gerhard Mutter: We understand these future forums as “hands-on conferences“: We exchange about future topics and present solutions at the same time. Up to now, we have run three of those future forums with numerous employees and selected key personalities of our innovation ecosystem. The last one took place beginning of this year. We always focus on one topic – be it “Future of Intralogistics“, “Cloud “ or “Transports of the Future“. The open discussions helped to develop specific project ideas. The next future forum is already in the planning stage and will address the topic “Enabler for I4.0“.
Logistics ahead: Many thanks for the conversation and good luck for a successful future.
ABOUT GERHARD MUTTER
He is Head of Corporate Solution Center Logistics Automation at Sick AG, leading in innovation and pioneering work on the development of groundbreaking sensor technology, and Manager of the Enterprise Labs. Sick AG in Waldkirch employs around 8,000 employees worldwide. According to Sick the company invests about ten per cent of its turnover into research.