This is such a significant story I have to share it, and it came courtesy of Mr. D.W. who brought it to my attention. It's in the category of one of those stories that doesn't seem too exciting, or significant, until you really think about what is being said:
There's a number of stunning statements here:
"The Internet of Things, Big Data, cloud computing and artificial intelligence are changing how we live. Germany has now adopted a development strategy embracing those trends that it hopes will lead a revolution in how things are made."
But what most caught visitors' eyes was a metal octopus that along with its exhibit embodied Germany's development plans for the next 20 years.
Much like rows of assembly lines, a cluster of factories or a string of supply chains, these robotic octopi can be linked together and with a central nerve center to be able to sense each other, communicate and make decisions together and work in unison.
Following an emphasis on hidden champions, this is Germany's new development approach. It has mobilized the private and public sectors and academia and fully invested the country's economic might in this new vision – to redefine the manufacturing sector and take charge of its future direction by becoming "the factory of the world's factories."
Germany's "octopus" plan has a formal name – Industry 4.0. Its objective is smart and fully networked manufacturing.
"We think our strength in Germany is the industry, so we think let's start the utilization of the Internet of things in the area where we are strong. And this area is industry," says Bernhard Diegner, head of the research department in the Industry 4.0 section of German electrical industry association ZVEI, one of three unions forming Germany's Industry 4.0 platform.
As the article later notes, Germany's approach here is going to be "the fourth industrial revolution." The essence of the strategy is simple:
The plan envisioned integrating the traditional machinery sector, the electrical and electronics sector and the information communications technology sector and creating an industry, academia and government collaboration platform, with big corporations such as Siemens, SAP and Bosch helping smaller companies along.
In the small southern German town of Kaiserslautern is hidden chemical giant BASF's innovation secret. Here one finds a plain-looking building that is the cradle of German smart manufacturing – the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and its first floor smart factory.
The smart factory is equipped with only one production line stocked with red, blue and yellow liquid soap materials, but it can produce customized bottles of soap concentrate made of different formulas at the same time.
As plastic bottles come down a conveyor belt, they are armed with a sticker featuring a barely visible embedded chip that contains detailed order information. One after another, the bottles are filled, sealed, and labeled automatically.
The sticker resembles the brain of the octopi, telling the production line what colors of liquid soaps to mix in what proportions in each bottle before it ultimately prints out a packaging label. All that's left for the factory's technicians to do is control the production process from in front of a computer.
Detlef Zuhlke, scientific director of the DFKI's Innovative Factory Systems division, says the factory can take customized orders and quickly turn them into production, a degree of flexibility he believes will be necessary in the future world of manufacturing.
In other words: one assembly line, but due to the "smart" nature of the line, many different products can be produced from it, on an item by item basis. Imagine, then, an assembly line producing first an airplane, then a special automobile to the purchaser's individual requirements, and so on. Imagine, similarly, the utility of such an approach for space, and indeed, its necessity for space, and for permanent human presence in space and on local celestial bodies, as spare parts and even whole machines required for that presence can be ordered to requirements and manufactured on the spot. Germany, in other words, means not only to lead this "fourth industrial revolution", but to drive it.