The term industry 4.0 is hyped especially at trade fairs, but the digital transformation is also met with fear among manufacturers and their professionals: will their expertise become obsolete in the age of digitalisation? Alexander Epple and Michael Königs explain, why the knowledge and experience of experts will still be needed in the future.
Some production experts will be looking at the EMO Hannover with mixed feelings and its “Industry 4.0 area”: they fear that Industry 4.0 will lead to algorithms and solutions themed around big data, which in the long term will render the experts’ knowledge superfluous. But that risk is dismissed by Senior Engineer Alexander Epple and Michael Königs from the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University, who emphasise the role played by the interaction of big data and specialised expertise.
Alexander Epple, as a Senior Engineer at the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering (WZL) of RWTH Aachen University, you head the Machine Data Analytics and NC Technology Department: how did this come about? Wouldn’t the post have been more suitable for a mathematician?
Alexander Epple: I admire mathematicians for their powerful algorithms and their capacity for tackling problems with a high degree of abstraction. These abilities also help when it comes to analysing big data. In the production world, due to the multiplicity of machines and processes involved, there are highly disparate kinds of data. Machines with the same processes permitting mutual comparisons are thus quite rare. Under these preconditions, purely statistical approaches are not very fruitful, and abstract big data approaches quickly come up against their limits in a production environment. It’s more fruitful to link knowledge of production technology, in the form of models, for instance, to the data concerned. This is why engineers have a place in the big data world as well.
Does your team reflect this interdisciplinary approach?
Alexander Epple: We have six academics working in my team, who are supported by highly qualified programmers and machinery technicians. The team is in fact very interdisciplinary: we have not only mechanical engineers, but also computer scientists and electrical engineers. What’s more, I work very closely together with Dr. Marcel Fey and his Machine Technology Department, since his people possess extensive knowledge of modelling. Together, we harness the capabilities of almost 30 academics, which enables us to drive ideas effectively forward. At the moment, however, we’re still seeking to expand our team.
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