On December 10 and 11, 1982, at the invitation of then Chancellor Dr. Helmut Kohl, representatives from politics, science and business – including over a hundred top managers from German companies – gathered for the 3rd Berlin Economic Summit, the decisive deliberations of which took place in the Reichstag building in Berlin. With the economic conferences, the German government pursued the goal of strengthening Germany as a location for research and industry and, in particular, the city of Berlin. With regard to Berlin, the aim was to bring about a change in awareness among companies in what was then Germany and to initiate corresponding decisions in favor of the former capital. Last but not least, a certain optimism for the future was to emanate from the conference, which was also supported by the trade unions and the SPD candidate for chancellor at the time, Hans-Jochen Vogel, and kept out of the election campaign for the Bundestag, but not out of the East-West confrontation: the Soviet news agency TASS at the time called the conference a “provocation”. Helmut Kohl countered (quoted in the Berliner Morgenpost of December 12, 1983): “We came here to help Berlin and to do a work of peace.” The conferences were also a reference to Berlin’s already strong scientific base. Its “intellectual capital” was to be used even more, and in addition Berlin could boast slight advantages in the qualifications of its workforce. In this way, Berlin’s research results were to be translated into high-quality industrial products in the sense of technology transfer. The declared goal was to attract innovative industries and create “nuclei” for further high-quality jobs. The results of the 3rd Business Conference exceeded expectations: Over a thousand potential new jobs were projected. At the time, for example, Volkswagen was even considering relocating its own production of robots – at that time still referred to in part as “handling equipment” – to Berlin. In fact, not only positive declarations of intent, but concrete decisions were made at the conference and initiatives to establish companies were announced. One of these was the founding of inpro.
The companies Daimler-Benz, BMW, VW and Siemens signaled their interest in a company in which joint research and development would be carried out in the field of future-oriented production processes. At the conference, the chairmen of the board of management, Dr. Carl H. Hahn, declared (Volkswagen AG), Dr. Karlheinz Kaske (Siemens AG), Dr. Eberhard von Kuenheim (BMW AG) and Dr. Gerhard Prinz (Daimler-Benz AG) solemnly told the German Chancellor that they wanted to make joint efforts in the field of innovative production technology and to establish an innovation company in Berlin for this purpose. In the period that followed, the project was driven forward by Prof. Günter Spur and by representatives of the companies involved. At a founding meeting on January 20, 1983, the name “Innovationsgesellschaft für Maschinenintelligenz”, or IMI for short, was initially discussed for the company. In the end, however, it was decided to use the company name “inpro“. The Robot Institute of America, the Hudson Institute (New York, USA), the RAND Corporation (USA) or the MITI (Tokyo, Japan) were mentioned as comparable institutions worldwide. It was emphasized that the German automotive industry can only survive in competition if technological excellence is achieved. Technological innovations in production engineering were seen as the key to the “automotive factory of tomorrow”. The “development of modern production systems” was seen as a cross-sectional task which, although it would have to be solved by each automotive company, contained sub-tasks to be worked out jointly. Here, the reference to Japan was decisive, where especially at this time technology development was realized by private companies, but could count on government support with high quality standards and with which industry-related basic research was advanced. About the technologically oriented “think tanks” in the U.S., the table presentation for the founding discussion stated that they “focused on future models in an extremely industrialized, intellectual way of thinking.” Using state-of-the-art computer technology, these societies would also work on optimizations and simulations of complex problems. These, he said, are areas of work that have so far been neglected in Germany. The first proposed name of an “Innovation Society for Machine Intelligence” in particular referred to the emerging potential of microelectronics in industrial production – with opportunities to design new or future factories through “machine intelligence as a structuring element of modern production technology.” In addition to process automation, decentralized information processing for planning or new areas of application for industrial robots were also discussed. The goal was to achieve “systematized solutions to problems with complex technology” through the joint efforts of manufacturers, users, research institutions and government agencies. In the spring of 1983, it was emphasized once again that the emphasis should be on the production technology sector, but that “spillovers into the field of the product” were in part unavoidable. In addition, securing the competitiveness of the participating automotive companies was emphasized as a central objective.
Finally, on June 15, 1983, in the presence of Governing Mayor Richard von Weizsäcker and Senators Elmar Pieroth (Economics) and Gerhard Kunz (Finance), the founding of the “Innovationsgesellschaft für fortgeschrittene Produktionssysteme in der Fahrzeugindustrie mbH” was announced by representatives of the companies Daimler-Benz, BMW, VW and Siemens. The significance of the company’s foundation for the shareholders was made clear by the composition of the first supervisory board: The automotive groups sent – according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of June 16, 1983 – “their heads of production”: The Daimler-Benz AG the board member Prof. Werner Niefer, die Volkswagen AG the board member Günter Hartwich, die BMW AG the board member Hans Koch and the Siemens AG chief representative Dr. Siegfried Waller. Professor Günter Spur, a renowned university lecturer, production specialist at the Technical University of Berlin and director of the Fraunhofer Institute IPK, was appointed as the founding managing director. July 1, 1983 marked the official start of the new company’s activities. inpro was thus one of the “key projects” realized at the 3rd Berlin Economic Summit held at the end of 1982 and was also intended as an initial spark for further activities in Berlin. Designed primarily as a “think tank” rather than a development laboratory, the structure was without precedent – at least in Germany. The company was to carry out research and engineering work, but not be a production company itself. The shareholders expected impulses for their own R&D, which otherwise would not achieve a breakthrough for various reasons. The cooperation was to generate technical know-how that would otherwise be impossible or very difficult to obtain. The most important task or the central topic of the company was to be the development of production technology and production systems for the “automobile factories of the 1990s”. The Berliner Morgenpost ran the following headline on June 16, 1983: “Research company founded: Innovations from Berlin for Automobile Manufacturing.” Sensor technology, robot programming, simulation of production systems and expert systems were initially defined as the focal points of the work in 1983. In keeping with the spirit of the times, expert systems were even understood in some press publications as “a dialog-enabled summary of existing knowledge in the field of automotive engineering in a computer.” The shareholder companies decided to work together on these four focal points in the foreseeable future. In the first minutes of the project committee of March 2, 1983, the topics of system reliability, integration systems for production control, assembly automation, and computer-aided design and work planning were mentioned in addition to the four focal points.
In addition to the processing of cross-sectional tasks in production technology, the rapid and qualified implementation of research results in practice was emphasized as a principle. In the private-sector work of the company, there was to be intensive cooperation with universities and other research institutions, but no integration with existing institutions. In the public and among the shareholders, various focal points of the work were emphasized during this period: In addition to the provision of “artificial intelligence (AI) systems for complex manufacturing processes,” the “shortening of planning time in automotive manufacturing,” on which the “competitiveness of companies” would be decided, was frequently headlined in the press. In addition, the “focus on the development of advanced assembly systems” was mentioned. It was repeatedly mentioned that inpro should “think about the factory of the future” and “drive forward new, creative ideas”.A gradual build-up of the new company to initially around 25 employees began. Project managers of the focal points were to be technical specialists from the participating companies in order to establish a link to the practice of automobile production. From the outset, close ties existed with the nearby Fraunhofer Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology (IPK), which was headed by Professor Günter Spur and which at that time was also concerned with expert systems for production engineering tasks, as was the Fraunhofer Institute for Automation and Organization (IAO) – at that time headed by Professor Hans-Jörg Bullinger. Initial links were established with other research institutions. The actual productive work was started at the beginning of 1984.