Text Katharina Weber ––– Photography
Marc Weitzel looks intently at the control system for the Learning Factory. “I haven’t done anything with this system before,” says the up-and-coming mechatronics engineer as he continues to study the control panel. “But with a little bit of time and effort I’ll get to grips with it.”
Currently in the third year of his mechatronics course, he’s pleased that the digitalization he encounters on a daily basis is being covered at his vocational college. Indeed, there is one thing the 24-year-old is very confident about: “IT is expanding all the time and we’re encountering it increasingly frequently. Employers will expect us to be able to cope with that and get to grips with the tasks this involves.”
NEW CHALLENGE FOR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
Industry 4.0 doesn’t just present new challenges for employees, it also has implications for apprentices, students, colleges and trainers. It all centres on skilled workers, expertise and competition. If they want to be at the top of their game in the international labour market, then the next generation of skilled workers needs to achieve the standards that will be expected of them in the future.
STUDYING DIGITAL PROCESSES
Industry 4.0 also means offering young people a bright future, whether at home or abroad. The Smart Factory at the vocational college gives apprentices a route to becoming the best-prepared skilled workers in the digitalized industry – including at an international level. Weitzel is in no doubt that the smart factory will help pave the way to a brighter future for him: “Completing my training on a system like this will definitely give me better career opportunities. If I know my way around this system then I can apply that acquired knowledge all over the world. The only difference would be the language, but you can learn that, too.”
Weitzel, who is taking his final examinations in June, is optimistic about what the future holds. That is hardly surprising, given how extremely popular Industry 4.0-type projects are in China, for example. In fact, the Huai’an Industrial Park has been operating a learning factory based on the German model since March 2018, under the guidance of the Institute for Automation and Industrial Technology (IAIT) in Hannover and in partnership with the Fraunhofer IOSB-INA Industrial Automation branch in Lemgo. “Produktion” (www.produktion.de), the German-language information-sharing platform for technology and industry, has described the industrial park as effectively building “an ideal bridge between the two countries.”
In particular, the dual training system in Germany is setting standards worldwide. Training young people with a combination of theoretical study and practical elements is considered an ideal model and a great advantage – especially by addressing the new requirements associated with Industry 4.0. According to OWC-Verlag für Aussenwirtschaft GmbH, a German publishing house specialising in international trade, Germany’s Industry 4.0 strategy ought to serve as a template for China’s “Made in China 2025” strategy. A total of 15 learning factories are to be set up in Huai’an by 2020, with the number due to grow to 40 by 2025, according to the OWC website (www.owc.de).
That means not only is the Learning Factory in Dillenburg a huge step forward in the training provided in the region, but it also secures an important advantage in the international competition for skilled workers. All the processes involved in Industry 4.0 production can be depicted and tried out. Thanks to the smart factory – financed by owner and CEO of the Friedhelm Loh Group, Prof. Friedhelm Loh – this college based in a modest town on the River Dill will be able to hold its own in the international competition to keep skilled workers fit to face whatever the future holds.
Hecker is certain that Digitization 4.0 will soon become standard practice in all metalworking and electrical careers, and he sees the vocational colleges in Dillenburg as the competence centre for Industry 4.0. “We need to make the most of that for the locals and the region,” says the training boss, highlighting the significance of the smart factory.
Besides installing intelligent processes, Industry 4.0 also means “increasing interdisciplinary teamwork”, as Hecker puts it. He predicts that a range of jobs will have to come together hand in hand in future to manufacture a product. The lines separating those different jobs are shifting and even starting to dissolve, with mechatronics engineers relying on IT specialists and vice-versa to keep a company’s production facilities running. High-tech machinery can, for its part, take care of everything else, from receiving the customer’s order to dispatching the finished product.
FORGING AHEAD BASED ON EXPERIENCE
“Process know-how is important. It’s what companies expect from young people today,” points out Burkhard Schneider, who is in charge of the department at Dillenburg Commercial College responsible for industrial metalworking careers and the college’s Industry 4.0 Competence Centre.
He says that he and his colleagues have learned a great deal since the Learning Factory 4.0 was incorporated into the college in September 2018. In the working world of the future, there won’t be any workplace that doesn’t feature a screen. Software-controlled and smart production processes form the basis for Industry 4.0. These challenges have to be met, particularly given the international competition.
Training for Industry 4.0 will become increasingly important in the fight to win skilled workers. Teaching at the vocational college in Dillenburg has adapted to meet the requirements of the future world of work. Digital content has been incorporated into curricula and Industry 4.0 is an integral part in teaching.
Collaborations between vocational colleges and industry, like this example in Dillenburg, are starting to catch on. Other vocational colleges in Hesse have already been in touch, asking about Learning Factory 4.0, and Schneider is pleased at the response from his peers at other teaching institutions and their interest in his own training programmes. After all, they need to understand these facilities and how to master them before they can pass on the relevant skills and train students.
The teaching staff in Dillenburg have adopted a very systematic approach. “We need to learn from one another,” says Andreas Franz, Schneider’s deputy, extolling the virtues of close collaboration between teachers and skilled workers. The ‘plant of the future’ run by Rittal in Haiger offers the ideal opportunities to do just that.
4.0 IS CHANGING EVERYDAY WORKING LIFE
Dillenburg Commercial College has also started to look into Industry 4.0 training for adults. Industry 4.0 is a world that will increasingly shape day-to-day working life, and it therefore needs to be studied and properly understood.
Hecker, the Director of Technical Training in the Friedhelm Loh Group, sums up the situation for companies: “Industry 4.0 will not be limited to production, it will permeate every area of a company.” The relevant seminars, workshops and further training courses focusing on digitalization have been developed in-house by the company’s Loh Academy.
Bringing the Smart Factory to vocational colleges will open the doors wide for metalworking and electrical careers. The state-of-the-art facilities help make dual training at the college more appealing and will enhance the qualifications of the upcoming generation in the region for cutting-edge technologies. When he officially opened the Learning Factory 4.0, Roland Mandler, Vice President of the Lahn-Dill Chamber of Industry and Commerce, declared that “the entrepreneurs of the future can only benefit from vocational colleges.”