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15.02.21

Our factories are learning every day

Dr. Ralph Fürderer has been in his role as Chief Technical Officer at Hager Group for a year now. Long enough to get to know the company, the job and the people around him. In an interview, he talks about when he started at Hager Group and Industry 4.0, artificial intelligence (AI) and learning companies.

Let’s take a closer look at your role and the tasks involved. As Chief Technical Officer, you are driving the transformation of Hager Group into a company in Industry 4.0 mode. What exactly does that entail?
“For us, Industry 4.0 does not just mean the selective introduction of new technologies in the manufacturing process, such as additive processes, collaborative robots or interactive data glasses. More importantly, it is about connecting our systems and machines with each other and seamlessly linking the digital flow of information with the reality of the production processes.

Our main goal is to create visible added value for our customers, whether through faster production and just-in-time delivery, more efficient production processes, more customised solutions or more competitive costs. At the same time, we’re increasing our overall efficiency. So, Industry 4.0 means more satisfied customers and increased efficiency – and therefore a tangible competitive advantage.”

Where are specific Industry 4.0 applications already in use at Hager Group?
“At many very central points. For instance, we network with external service providers and partners via shared cloud platforms, while internally our tools, machines and systems exchange data in real time. AI functions analyse our demand for spare parts and automatically order the appropriate quantities, and networked tablets support preventive maintenance. In the future, Big Data analytics will trigger maintenance activities well before delays or downtime even occur.”

We read a lot about “learning factories” in relation to this. What does that mean?
“Our ‘learning factories’ are based on a seamlessly digitalised manufacturing process. It starts with the supply of the raw materials and carries right through to the finished product. People, machine equipment and systems are connected through modular devices and IoT (Internet of Things) components. With these intelligent devices and AI applications, industrial plants can continuously optimise their processes. We do this by permanently collecting process data and intelligently evaluating it in the shortest possible time, so that we can permanently optimise our processes and serve our customers in the best possible way.”

And does Hager Group already have experience in this area?
“At Hager Group, we have already been working on these topics for several years. With our Industry 4.0 ‘Tool Management’ project, we were among the pioneers in our industry in 2014, when we created a vertical and horizontal integration of machines, sensors, processes and systems. This project formed the basis for today's digital Industry 4.0 application architecture in Hager Group. In recent years, we have continuously further digitalised our manufacturing processes and networked them at the various production sites.”

That sounds like a task that is both complex and far-reaching.
"It is, and we're not tackling it on our own. For further development and research, we’re depending on partnerships with outstanding researchers and start-up companies. We already have several projects either underway or in preparation. These include the ‘SUITE’ project on adaptive support based on artificial intelligence (together with the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence) and the ‘Flexchain’ project on providing flexibility for networks on the consumer side (together with the August-Wilhelm Scheer Institute and Stadtwerke Saarlouis, among others). We have also applied to the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy for the ‘ELIAS’ project to automatically connect electric vehicles with charging infrastructure (together with EastSideFab, the German Research Institute for Artificial Intelligence and HTW Saar, among others).”

Because one thing is certain: we can achieve far more together. And, just as our production processes collect information and process data into knowledge every day, we do so too. Our goal is to achieve not (just) a learning factory but a learning company.”

Dr Ralph Fürderer:
As Chief Technical Officer, Ralph Fürderer heads Engineering and Production at Hager Group. With a PhD in economics, he is also responsible for logistics and quality departments. Before joining Hager Group, Ralph held leading positions for companies in the automotive and railway industries in Europe, the USA and Asia.




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Staying fit & healthy is important both individually and collectively. At Hager Group we are well aware of this - health and safety at work are paramount.


It certainly won't be a dull year!

Dr. Ralph Fürderer has been in his role as Chief Technical Officer at Hager Group for a year now. 


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In business as in sport, let's stay fit & healthy!

Staying fit & healthy is important both individually and collectively. At Hager Group we are well aware of this - health and safety at work are paramount.

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It certainly won't be a dull year!

Dr. Ralph Fürderer has been in his role as Chief Technical Officer at Hager Group for a year now. 

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