inpro is an established innovation incubator in German automotive production. Which 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. One impressive example 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 primarily used for the shareholder companies. Since 2023, digital solutions and “innovation tables”, on which joint research and development is carried out, have also been accessible to external customers. How did this opening come about and what goals are being pursued with it?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: Innovations and synergies often come about through 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 structure of a joint venture are costly and time-consuming. Today, more than ever, innovation companies need to remain nimble in all areas. Everyone involved can benefit even more if access to our projects becomes easier for innovative players such as 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 expanded product portfolio.
The platform idea has gained popularity in recent years because collaboration is a necessity to drive digital transformation. We have been familiar with the complexity of network economies for 40 years and want to continue to bring this experience, combined with our innovation management knowledge and technical expertise, to the further development of 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 that will have to be solved with these technologies in the next few years?
Dr. Gerd Eßer: The world in general and our industry in particular are facing major challenges, and the dynamics will only increase. 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 an urgent need that affects the entire value chain. It starts with planning and making manufacturing more flexible.
The “solution” to all these challenges is in Smart Digitalization. We are currently experiencing an enormous technology push with artificial intelligence. The ability to correctly prioritize and implement fields of action is now an important criterion for success. The availability of big data through platforms such as Catena-X or Manufacturing-X will support this. Despite all the opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, it is important to reflect on progress carefully, because it also harbors risks.
There is enormous potential in factory automation: The virtualization of production automation enables completely new concepts, to name just one trend topic in digital production. Due to the increased use of “intelligent robots”, which can react to environmental influences, for example, through their ability to see, the engineering world must also adapt. New manufacturing technologies and the associated 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 for creating a holistic optimum in production right from the start – avoiding waste and continuously optimizing 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 used synergistically. With our other solution twino, we bridge the gap between simulation and physical manufacturing object. Using mixed reality technologies, we capture simulation data directly on the store floor and incorporate it directly into the simulation work. In this way, continuous digital engineering chains are created step by step.
Thanks for the insights.