Home > Research > Strategic Cooperations > Leading-edge cluster “it's OWL”

Leading-edge cluster “it's OWL”

Artificial intelligence for tomorrow‘s production

it’s OWL has developed innovative formats and new initiatives in 2021. The winning idea from the it’s OWL makeathon is now a project and the “Datenfabrik.NRW” marks the launch of another strategic initiative in the cluster, a model for data-driven factories of the future. The “Arbeitswelt.Plus” centre of excellence is gaining speed and it’s OWL has also been working with the Heinz Nixdorf Institute on a marketplace for AI in product creation.

Together with more than 200 partners, it’s OWL works to successfully shape digital transformation in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe region, with a national and international impact. As part of innovation projects, companies and research institutions are developing solutions in the fields of artificial intelligence, digital platforms, digital twinning and the working world of the future. 48 companies and research institutions are currently collaborating on 22 innovation projects. In September, the judging panel selected seven further innovation projects for launch in March 2022. For example, the Heinz Nixdorf Institute is involved in the “ZirkuPro” project, the aim of which is to develop a system for integrated, circular product creation for intelligent technical systems. This stands alongside strategic initiatives with large consortiums that are developing artificial intelligence applications in the fields of product creation, production, the world of work, and business model development.

Transfer is also working well within the leading-edge cluster: small and medium-sized enterprises can collaborate with a research institution to solve the specific challenges of digital transformation as part of transfer projects. The Heinz Nixdorf Institute is a key catalyst and driving force for these projects.

Thus far, more than 50 companies have tackled the specific challenges of digital transformation faced by their company via a transfer project. Nearly two million euros of funding have been awarded to small and medium enterprises in the region as part of this. Companies and research institutions presented the results and effects of transfer projects at the Digital Transfer Day in September 2021.

It has become clear that collaboration within the “it’s OWL – Intelligent Technical Systems OWL” leading-edge cluster has been a model for success and become firmly established. Named a leading-edge cluster by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), it’s OWL is considered as one of the largest initiatives for “Industrie 4.0” in medium-sized businesses. In total, it’s OWL plans to implement projects with a total volume of 200 million euros by 2023 with the support of the state, federal government and EU. So far, 34 projects with a volume of around 115 million euros have already been launched.

The leading-edge cluster’s strategic initiatives are of vital importance for developing new fields of technology and ensuring that medium-sized industry remains competitive.

In January 2020, the AI Marketplace project was launched, which won the 2019 “AI for Innovation Ecosystems” tender from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and in which the Heinz Nixdorf Institute is the consortium leader. It’s OWL won another major nationwide competition in 2020 with the “Arbeitswelt.Plus” centre of excellence, one of five centres of excellence for work research under the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. A third example is the “Datenfabrik.NRW”: in a real product environment, Claas Selbstfahrende Erntemaschinen, Schmitz Cargobull, NTT Data, Duvenbeck Kraftverkehr and MotionMiners as well as the IEM, IML, IOSB-INA and IAIS Fraunhofer Institutes are working on a data-driven factory of the future.

A marketplace for artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence is an important key in product creation for intelligent products and effective manufacturing. Since the beginning of 2020, the AI Marketplace has been offering an ecosystem that is unique in Germany, enabling companies to tap the potential available in this area. The linchpin is the AI Marketplace platform, where providers, users and experts can develop and exchange solutions for AI. The vision is a marketplace that offers not only an intelligent matchmaking service but also a protected space for secure data exchange and data sovereignty. In addition, an app store for AI solutions will also be added, and eventually a range of comprehensive AI solutions thanks to a modular design principle.
Success is ensured by a project consortium of 20 research institutions, networks and companies with the Heinz Nixdorf Institute as the consortium leader. The nucleus is the technology network it’s OWL.

Artificial intelligence for a better working environment

But how will the use of artificial intelligence actually change the world of work? And how can employees be prepared for that change? Answers to these questions are provided by another strategic initiative from it’s OWL, namely the “Arbeitswelt.Plus” (“Working World Plus”) centre of excellence, which was launched within the leading-edge cluster in 2020. “With “Arbeitswelt.Plus”, we can make the results of top-level research available to industry in OWL and put them to use in medium-sized companies”, says Professor Roman Dumitrescu, Managing Director of it’s OWL Clustermanagement GmbH and member of the board at the Heinz Nixdorf Institute.

18 universities and companies are working together with the trade union “IG Metall” to develop concrete approaches for workplace design and qualification. “Arbeitswelt.Plus” brings together findings from work research in the future-oriented field of artificial intelligence. Main topics include workplace design, competence development and change management. The centre of excellence is supported by Bielefeld and Paderborn Universities, OWL University of Applied Sciences, Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences, University of Applied Economics FHDW, Fraunhofer IEM and Fraunhofer IOSB-INA as well as the companies Atos, Bette, Bosch Rexroth, Deutsche Angestellten-Akademie OWL, Dr. Oetker, Kannegiesser, itelligence, Lenze, Miele, WAGO and Weidmüller, and the trade union IG Metall. Between now and 2025, the centre of excellence will receive 10.7 million euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (project volume 12.2 million euros).

In flagship projects, research institutions and companies are developing concrete solutions that make AI technologies available for various fields of application. Weidmüller, for example, is working with the Bielefeld University of Applied Sciences to develop new approaches for teaching skills to trainees and employees. In addition, they are investigating what changes are required in organisation (such as learning culture or agile structures), in the understanding of leadership and in co-determination. Employees’ interests are being incorporated into the project through close cooperation with the works council and the IG Metall trade union. Miele will develop approaches for intelligent personnel deployment planning, Bette will develop intelligent knowledge management. WAGO plans to develop an AI-based sales assistant, Dr Oetker AI-based sales planning. Kannegiesser wants to optimise laundry sorting, and Bosch Rexroth is working with Paderborn University to develop an AI-based framework that will form the basis for AI-based assistance systems.

The results and experience gained from these projects will be made available to small and medium-sized enterprises. To this end, an information platform will be set up, good examples will be prepared and events and workshops will be held. Further training courses will train employees in the use of AI technologies. In transfer projects, companies can work with a research institution on using new AI technologies to solve concrete challenges in their company.

The Competence Centre “Arbeitswelt.Plus” brings together findings of labour research in the future field of artificial intelligence. (© AdobeStock/Gorodenkoff)

Datenfabrik.NRW – production of the future becomes a reality

How can we use artificial intelligence to future-proof production in Germany amid international competition? Pioneering work in meeting this challenge is being undertaken by the “Datenfabrik.NRW” (“Data Factory NRW”) project within the it’s OWL leading-edge cluster, in which the companies Claas and Schmitz Cargobull are working with NTT Data, Duvenbeck Kraftverkehr and MotionMiners as well as the IEM, IML, IOSB-INA and IAIS Fraunhofer Institutes to develop a model for a data-driven factory of the future – and implement it directly in real production environments. This project has a total volume of 14.5 million euros and is receiving 9.2 million euros of funding from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

“The production industry is a key factor in North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy. The “Datenfabrik.NRW” project should ensure that it remains so in the future, and that our economy is ideally equipped for digital transformation. I am delighted that we are able to pool the knowledge and experience of global market leaders and top-level research institutions within this project to ensure that our state’s production is set for the future”, Minister for Economic and Digital Affairs Professor Andreas Pinkwart explained on his visit to Harsewinkel.

The “Datenfabrik.NRW” is hugely important for OstWestfalenLippe as an industrial location. “Artificial intelligence has huge potential for manufacturing machinery and systems more efficiently and productively. With the data factory, we are seeking to completely rethink production – and consistently record and analyse data, from factory planning to production to logistics. Manufacturing companies across OWL will benefit from the findings and experience gained. It’s OWL will be organising workshops, tours and transfer projects as part of this”, emphasises Günter Korder, Managing Director of it’s OWL Clustermanagement GmbH.

ServiceNavigator: From winning idea to successful start-up

The winning idea from the #horizonteOWL makeathon has become a project under the it’s OWL leading-edge cluster. Here’s what it is all about: there are many reasons why a machine might fail, and the longer it takes to troubleshoot, the bigger the economic impact. The “ServiceNavigator” app seeks to help machine manufacturers and operators find and repair faults in an automated process, up to five times faster than previously. Companies can benefit from the app development now by taking part in the project.

The app offers an automated diagnosis tool that systematises finding and repairing the cause of a machine fault when it occurs. This is designed to help service technicians ensure more efficient deployments and document and classify their knowledge for the long term. In the event of service technicians being unavailable, as has been the case during the coronavirus pandemic, the tool even helps operators to help themselves. As well as automating “diagnoses”, the “ServiceNavigator” also offers what are known as “routines”. After finding the cause of a fault, these also help to rectify it – step by step with visual support.

The app is being developed in two stages. Firstly, it motivates experienced, increasingly rare skilled professionals to document their service knowledge thanks to simple usability and auxiliary training and support functions. The system and integration then enables the data to be analysed by an underlying algorithm. This processes the knowledge, provides it to technicians and operators via the diagnosis tool, and is optimised by regular use.

Thanks to the API-first approach of the specially developed technology base, the “ServiceNavigator” functions as independent software but can also be integrated into existing portals and ecosystems.

The project team expects the solution to offer up to five times faster troubleshooting and measurable use on both sides, by machine manufacturers and operators. Initial discussions with experts suggest that the “ServiceNavigator” will offer a potential gain in efficiency of 50 percent, and an up to 10 percent increase in machine availability for operators. The team plans to found a start-up to market the solution.

“The project involves immensely rapid transfer between fundamental research, business model development and incorporation. There is an acute need for action on the part of industry in this area. An idea results in the creation of a solution that is relevant for the market”, explains Professor Roman Dumitrescu, Managing Director of it’s OWL Clustermanagement.

The birth of the idea

In May 2020, it’s OWL organised a makeathon in cooperation with Fraunhofer IEM and OstWestfalenLippe GmbH to create new momentum during the coronavirus crisis. Nearly 200 participants responded to the call, and formed 31 teams tackling a total of 15 challenges from companies. These included challenges submitted by the companies GEA, Kraft Maschinenbau and WP Kemper, a solution for which has now become a million-euro project for the winning team.

Less than a year later in the spring of 2021, the special project got out of the starting blocks. “We are overjoyed with both the exceptional idea and its rapid implementation as part of an it’s OWL project, as well as with the funding from the state of NRW. We are delighted to see that the majority of the winning team have also joined the project team”, explains Günter Korder, Managing Director of it’s OWL Clustermanagement GmbH.

GEA (Oelde), Kraft Maschinenbau and WP Kemper (both Rietberg) are serving as pilot companies for the project and helping the team with co-development and validation of the solution. The project team is obtaining further expert knowledge from the digital consulting company UNITY Consulting & Innovation, as well as Fraunhofer IEM, Fraunhofer IOSB-INA and Fraunhofer ENAS.

In 2021, the it’s OWL leading-edge cluster launched another strategic initiative with the “Datenfabrik.NRW” project. The aim is to trial a data-driven factory of the future in a real environment. (© Claas)

How it‘s OWL is received by the public

It’s OWL has gained national visibility in 2021 with its innovative formats. Well attended online events and successful digital career events for young talent have ensured that the technology network’s activities have received a high level of attention in the professional world. Following regular specialist and media articles and digital events, joint advertisements (such as the special publications on the OWL high-tech region) were deployed in “Wirtschaftswoche” in the spring of 2021 and in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” in November thanks to partners such as the Heinz Nixdorf Institute.