inpro is an established innovation incubator in German automotive production What innovations from our company have had a significant and lasting impact on the industry?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: inpro has been involved in pioneering new manufacturing technologies that have led to elementary improvements in automotive production. An impressive example of a production innovation with a huge impact was the introduction of the solid-state laser in car body construction. This innovation not only permanently changed automobile production about a quarter of a century ago, but also created many new jobs and several new companies. Our developments in the simulation of manufacturing processes such as sheet metal forming or joining technology have also led to significant advances in the industry. In addition to these beacons of industrial innovation, our company has steadily optimized automotive manufacturing with numerous incremental innovations.
Until the end of last year, inpro was working exclusively for the shareholder companies. Since 2023, turnkey digital products and „innovation tables“, where new solutions are developed together with partners, have been accessible to the entire market. How did this opening come about and what goals are being pursued with it?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: Innovations and synergies are created through heterogeneous cooperation. The founding companies of inpro understood this 40 years ago and established our joint venture for this purpose. In the course of the company’s history, there have been different shareholders, such as BMW, Daimler and SABIC, who have contributed to the cross-company innovation work for automotive manufacturing. But changes in the shareholder structure are costly and time-consuming. Today, as an innovation company, you have to remain nimble in all areas more than ever. Everyone involved can benefit even more if access to our projects becomes easier for innovative players such as start-ups and supplier companies, and the principle of risk sharing in innovation development becomes more flexible. Being involved in a project or product has a different dimension than entering into a joint venture. At the same time, the stability of our anchor shareholders Siemens and Volkswagen is an important guarantee for the sustainability of our innovation work, which is underpinned once again by inpro’s 40th anniversary and our now expanded product portfolio.
The platform idea has gained popularity in recent years, because collaboration is a necessity for advancing digital transformation. We have been familiar with the complexity of network economies for 40 years and will continue to bring this experience, combined with our innovation management knowledge and technical expertise, to the further development of European automotive manufacturing in the future.
Artificial intelligence, digital twins, automation and robotics: these are inpro’s current Innovation Tables. What are the biggest challenges and use cases to be solved with these technologies in the coming years?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: The world in general and our industry in particular are facing major challenges, and the momentum will continue to grow. The global political situation and economic volatility of recent years have made us aware of the sensitivity of supply chains. We need alternatives to the current form of globalization, but time cannot simply be turned back. Net Zero is another urgent need that affects not only battery manufacturing, but the entire value chain. It starts with planning and making manufacturing more flexible.
The „solution“ to all these challenges lies in Smart Digitalization. We are currently experiencing an enormous technology push with artificial intelligence. The ability to correctly prioritize and implement the fields of action is an important criterion for success. The availability of big data through platforms such as Catena-X, Manufacturing-X or digital production platforms such as VW will support this. Despite all the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, progress must be well thought out, because it clearly also entails risks.
There is enormous potential in factory automation: The virtualization of production automation requires new concepts, to name just one trendy topic in digital production. The increased use of „intelligent robots“, which can react to environmental influences, for example, through their ability to see, means that the engineering world must also adapt. New manufacturing technologies and the accompanying reduction of components require a fundamentally new design of production processes.
Among other things, inpro has a long history in simulation engineering and offers a modular toolbox for 3D simulation and reverse engineering. When and for whom does the use of simano make sense?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: Simulation technologies are essential to create a holistic optimum in manufacturing from the very beginning – to avoid waste and to continuously optimize through high forecast quality. Simulation software has established itself as a standard in automotive manufacturing, but the use of simulations along the process chain is not always possible across the board. With our simano toolbox, we make exactly that possible. Simulations from different manufacturers can be combined and synergized. With our other solution twino, we bridge the gap between simulation and physical manufacturing object. Using virtual reality technologies, we capture simulation data directly on the store floor and incorporate it directly into further simulation results. In this way, continuous digital manufacturing processes are created step by step.
Thank you for the insights.