Munich, January 9, 2024 – At the turn of the year, WGP President Prof. Jens Wulfsberg from LaFT at Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg handed over the helm to Prof. Michael Zäh. He had already symbolically handed it over at the fall conference in Kassel in November. In line with the rotation, the head of the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management (iwb) at the Technical University of Munich will now steer the fortunes of the Scientific Society for Production Engineering for two years. “I can’t remember a time when we in the production sciences have faced as many challenges as we do today,” says Michael Zäh. “We have difficult years ahead of us, and I am very aware of the responsibility that comes with the office of WGP President. I will therefore be particularly committed to two extremely important areas that will have a major impact on the future of our society: Artificial intelligence and the lack of young talent.”
When the term Industry 4.0 was coined more than ten years ago, it was about the digitalization of production – which had actually been underway for a long time, albeit in measured steps. “Today, however, artificial intelligence is changing everything at breakneck speed. It’s no longer just about digitalization and automation. The machines of tomorrow, and in some cases those of today, are learning to optimize themselves. This is creating completely new opportunities for our industry,” says the newly appointed President. “It’s a process that can unlock unimagined potential in factories. At the same time, however, it is an immense challenge for us, because AI will not only change production, but our entire society, our way of working and living. As a production scientist, I want to ensure that we take the right steps here during my presidency. And in doing so, I can build on numerous research projects within the WGP.”
For example, the association of leading German professors in production technology published the position paper “AI in Production”. It is a guide especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) that want to explore the potential for their specific circumstances or establish AI in their factory. This is because SMEs in particular often do not have sufficient in-house expertise or financial capacity for external service providers.
ProKI network and further developments
In order to offer additional practical support, WGP institutes also founded the ProKI initiative last year. In this nationwide demonstration and transfer network, companies receive practical guidance and support in the introduction of sample applications – free of charge. It was launched at the beginning of 2023 with the implementation of AI in forming technology, but joining, cutting and coating in production are also covered – depending on the focus of the participating research institutes. Six of the eight locations are WGP institutes.
“During my presidency, I would like to further expand our offerings, especially for SMEs, and thus set a clear accent,” says Michael Zäh.
Inspiring the next generation for production
However, it is not only new technologies that are changing production and therefore people’s work. The shortage of skilled workers, which is already severely affecting many companies today, will become even more acute – demographic change leaves no doubt about this. According to Michael Zäh, the development at universities is also worrying. “We need to join forces to get school students interested in technical professions and ultimately train future specialists for our industry. My experience at schools has shown me that there is a lot of potential here. Many children and young people are definitely interested in robotics and sustainable production, for example. But technology is usually not part of the standard curriculum. With our expertise, we want to show young people that they have great leverage in technical professions and engineering to make the world a better place.”
To this end, the WGP also launched a young talent initiative last year. “As professors who teach at 41 institutes spread across Germany, we are predestined to become regionally active. Our 71 colleagues are an asset that we can and should use to our advantage. And I’m not just talking about the unique breadth of knowledge in production science that we bring together in the WGP. I’m also thinking of the enthusiasm for our cause – resilient, sustainable and efficient production that is geared towards a circular economy,” says Michael Zäh.
Image 1: Prof. Michael Zäh, source: iwb, TUM, Sebastian Kissel
Image 2: The WGP Autumn Conference took place this year in Kassel from November 8-9, 2023, source: WGP