SINGAPORE Countries with strong manufacturing know-how, including Japan and Germany, have an opportunity to regain their competitive technological edge as big data ushers in the "Industry 4.0" era, Christian Brecher, director of Germany's Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology, said at the opening session of the Nikkei Asia300 Summit.
Noting that the U.S. and China had dominated the consumer internet, led by tech companies like Google and Tencent Holdings, he said Asia and Europe have an opening in this new era of manufacturing.
He said the "internet of production," or industrial internet, is not as easy as the consumer internet because production is much more complex.
He noted that Europe, Japan and some other parts of Asia have a lot of knowledge about manufacturing. "This is a strong opportunity," he said. Combined with manufacturing knowledge, "we can create customer value."
He said once data is merged with cutting-edge production technologies such as robotics, it will bring about a revolution in the manufacturing sector.
But right now manufacturers are unable to utilize most of the data they generate in ways that can benefit customers. "We have a lot of production knowledge all over the world, but we are not using the real actual data," he said in his remarks on Asia and the new industrial revolution. "We still wait for the explosion of available data."
Brecher said data-based services are already used in daily life, citing Google Maps as an example. He said that without live data, the online map service only shows major routes between two places. But using live data of current traffic, maps can show optimized traffic routes. "This is what we can do in manufacturing."
Tracking live data from the manufacturing process and analyzing it in the cloud will create huge gains in productivity, he said. By merging data together with production knowledge, manufacturers will have "the chance to monitor quality in real time."
The big obstacle right now is that "most of the data never reach the cloud," in part because the bandwidth cost is not falling as fast as the cost of storage and computing, and that some industries prefer to store data locally for legal reasons.
He also said that many companies have been preparing for the new era. Big companies, including Siemens, SAP, General Electric and Amazon.com, have been investing heavily in the internet of production, he said, and many new companies are entering the area.