New customer benefits through data utilization

Lemgo /

The Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo and the Department of Economics at the Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences (THOWL) have founded a new research area at the Innovation Campus in Lemgo. The focus is on the development of new business models based on added values that lie in the product and production data of primarily medium-sized companies. Data-based value chains are becoming increasingly important because more and more data is being generated in automated industrial production environments. To enable medium-sized companies in particular to generate more value from this data in the future - for example, with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) and via new business models - Fraunhofer and TH OWL are combining the perspective of economics with more than ten years of expertise in intelligent automation.

"Up to now, there have been hardly any economically sustainable uses for the growing volumes of data in the context of automated and AI-supported industrial production," says Professor Dr.-Ing. Jürgen Jasperneite, director of the Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo. The idea for the new branch of research was therefore born at the Fraunhofer. "The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft had announced a competition for new research groups, and we are one of two institutes nationwide that have been awarded a contract," says Jasperneite. He found an accomplished comrade-in-arms in Professor Dr. Tobias Schäfers from the Department of Economics at TH OWL. "I have been dealing with the change from product-centric to service-based business models for years," says Schäfers. "To now be able to shed even more light on this topic based on industrial data together with the experts from the Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo is very exciting. It is precisely in this combination of different perspectives that there is a lot of potential from which medium-sized companies in the region can also benefit," says Schäfers.

Dr. Oliver Niehörster is also pleased that technicians and economists at Innovation Campus Lemgo are working together to create these new perspectives. He heads the "Machine Intelligence" department at Fraunhofer and has already been working on data science and AI in production for years. "I am very pleased that, in addition to the technical topics, we can now also offer a business perspective here together with TH OWL, because there is a great deal of innovation potential in this topic, and there is still a lot to be leveraged here," says Niehörster.

"It is the case today that we can already achieve a great deal with technology," said Fraunhofer Director Jasperneite. With automation and AI, business processes can be optimized very well. "But to date, there is no really clear perspective in the SME sector on what companies can do with the data in business terms," says Jasperneite. The issues he and his team at the Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo would have to deal with come from the technological direction. "With the complementary business perspective, we are closing a knowledge gap throughout Germany," Jasperneite is certain.

"For us economists, it's the other way around," adds Professor Dr. Tobias Schäfers. Much has already been developed from technology, he says. There are also numerous methods for opening up new business areas, he adds. "But a technological issue does not automatically lead to an offer that makes sense from the customer's point of view and for which there is a willingness to pay," explains Schäfers.

Professor Dr. Korbinian von Blanckenburg, Dean of the Department of Business and Economics at TH OWL, is also pleased about the cooperation within the framework of the new research area, especially its focus on small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs): "For many of these companies, digital transformation is an investment with considerable risk," says Professor Dr. von Blanckenburg. "The central question here is: Is it worth it for me?" The result of the transformation in these companies is then often customer-specific individual developments, he said. "Scalability and thus economically sustainable operation are often less of a focus for SMEs," the economist knows. This is where the new research area can provide support and accompany SMEs on their successful path to the smart economy.

What is important to the technicians from Fraunhofer and the economists from TH OWL is the scientifically based approach. "We work individually with partner companies, for example in workshops, in some of which we bring people together who often do not share enough of a strategic perspective in day-to-day operations. Production and sales managers, buyers and company management. "Basically, we couple technology and change management. In a first step, we offer well-tested technology modules and then find out in the workshops what of the accruing data is useful for whom in the company or on the customer side," clarifies Jasperneite.

The new research approach is well received by practitioners. One who is sure it can be of great benefit to all companies is Hans-Dieter Tenhaef. The managing partner of MIT - Moderne Industrietechnik GmbH & Co. KG and board spokesman for the "OWL Maschinenbau" network knows the problem all too well. "We supply system valves for industry, and in some cases we build individual solutions for filling and dosing equipment. And of course, pump extinguishing systems, for example, constantly generate a lot of data about pressure, temperatures and other things, which we use to optimize our customer solutions, but which we do not currently use as the basis for our own business models," says Tenhaef. He is also aware that he will have to look around for new business areas: "Our main focus is on blowing up and filling PET bottles. You don't know whether that will still work as a business model in two or three years, given the climate and sustainability debates."

For economist Professor Dr. Schäfers, this is a core problem of modern industrial production: "Data of this kind could form the basis for customized or even comprehensive services, for example in the field of production or production optimization. However, implementing this requires not only technology but also organizational issues, for example in the design of distribution channels, and in some cases completely different pricing models."

Oliver Niehörster of Fraunhofer agrees with Schäfers. "What could be done with the data if the necessary competencies were available in the companies. But competencies and sales structures are often lacking. However, the companies that work with us have long since recognized how much regular interdisciplinary communication can achieve. We look forward to helping numerous mid-sized companies create customer value through data through our new research group."

© Fraunhofer IOSB-INA
Dr. Oliver Niehörster, head of the "Machine Intelligence" department at the Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo, Hans-Dieter Tenhaef, managing partner of MIT - Moderne Industrietechnik GmbH & Co. KG and board spokesman of the "OWL Maschinenbau" network, Professor Dr. Tobias Schäfers from the Department of Economics and Professor Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute in Lemgo, are pleased about the cooperation. SmartFactory OWL can already demonstrate how data can be processed and offered to customers for their benefit.