How Entrepreneurs from the East Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia can help each other with Smart Industry 4.0

14 October 2019

Entrepreneurs from the East Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia can help one another make the most of Smart Industry. Dutch and German students conducted research to find out how companies from both countries might best go about this. What will be the impact of industrial digitization on the East Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia?

Commissioned by Oost NL’s export programme GO4EXPORT, Dutch and German students of the Global Project and Change Management programme of Windesheim Zwolle carried out research to find out how the two regions might collaborate on this.

Smart Industry is not just a future concept: it’s already happening

Concepts like Internet of Things (IoT), Smart Industry and Industry 4.0 are often associated with futuristic projects. “But industrial digitization is already happening as we speak,” says Michiel Hamming, one of the students working on this report. “The entrepreneurs we interviewed in either country call this trend inevitable. We have mapped some interesting trends and scenarios with them.” 

The experts collaborating on the report see some significant items for special attention as well, besides the benefits. There are concerns about security of intellectual property with everybody sharing everything with everybody. “We also often hear that there are worries about how people are an obstacle to successful implementation of new systems, adds fellow student Chiara Moenter. “It’s all about trust and having the courage to be transparent.”

Connections between the East Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia

The report focuses mainly on the manufacturing industry, automotive and connections between these two in the East Netherlands and North Rhine Westphalia. The students interviewed 13 experts and contacted a total of 200 entrepreneurs. In their research they used the Delphi method, which outlines four future scenarios, ranging from extremely rapid development to stagnation. “That’s why the detailed specification of these scenarios serves as a starting-point for a discussion on the future of the manufacturing industry in the East Netherlands and North Rhine-Westphalia,” says Hamming. “This makes it easier to see where collaboration can be improved.”

Strategic Collaboration

“Based on our research, we can see plenty of opportunities for collaboration,” says Moenter. "Germany as a production country is, of course, a global player. And the East Netherlands has many smaller hidden champions that are already quite far in Smart Industry. Especially in the field of e.g. machine learning, artificial intelligence and high-tech assembly lines. Both regions can complement each other well in those fields.”

But the students see opportunities on another level as well. "Think of strategic collaboration," says Hamming. "For example, in data sharing or smart bundling of logistics. And these are just two examples. "

Mutual Trust Essential

A prerequisite for such collaboration is a high level of trust in each other, and in the new technology. “Experts view that as an inhibiting factor for industrial digitization," says Moenter. "So it’s important to take that fear away and to demonstrate how everyone can benefit. Eventually, it may take a mediator to get this process going.”

What also complicates matters is that this process can be different for every company. "There is not one solution that works for everyone," says Moenter. Many entrepreneurs wonder what steps exactly they should take, she notices. "That’s why an internal analysis is needed: what can we digitize already in the current process? But an external look is also required; perhaps IoT will create new earning models.”

Round-Table Meetings with Entrepreneurs

The students noticed that entrepreneurs are very interested this theme, which was reflected by their willingness to participate. "We got to speak to a lot of people in a relatively short time," says Hamming. "Responses were very positive."

Their client, Hans Brouwers of GO4EXPORT, is happy with the report. Together with the students and Kennispoort Zwolle, he is organizing a Round-Table Meeting this autumn to take concrete action together with entrepreneurs.