Fraunhofer Future Work Lab makes ‘Work 4.0’ Tangible

What is work becoming? In what directions is it developing? How can we best harness the potential of new technologies for our work? As digitalisation transforms processes and services as well as factory floors, many new questions arise. The recently opened Future Work Lab offers answers and innovative approaches to these issues.

In the innovation laboratory for work, people and technology, the Fraunhofer Institutes IAO and IPA and the University of Stuttgart Institutes IAT and IFF have pooled their expertise in the area of Industrie 4.0.

See our previous post on Future Work Lab, here.

“We want to shape the transition to Industrie 4.0 by contributing new ideas based on our conception of good work. The Future Work Lab is an ideal place to do this. We need a public dialogue between the public, politics, science and business about this fundamental transformation in the world of work. For this reason, my ministry is planning to make ‘The Future of Work’ the focus of Science Year 2018,”

said Federal Research Minister Prof. Johanna Wanka at the opening event.

“Germany managed to bend the previous waves of industrialisation to the welfare of all. I’m confident that we’ll succeed in doing the same with the digital transformation. A decisive factor here is the need to combine technological and social innovations at an early stage in our research policy.”

Via the next industrial revolution-–Industrie 4.0–-the physical and the digital world are increasingly fusing together. New value chains and worlds of work are emerging along with a host of opportunities for companies and their employees. Fraunhofer is driving these changes forward with key innovations such as 5G, machine learning, cognitive systems, greater resource efficiency, safe human-robot collaboration and the sovereignty of sensitive personal and business data. In the Future Work Lab, the institute is working together with the University of Stuttgart to show what industrial work could look like in the future, what this means for people, and how new technologies can be implemented in practice. In this way, it actively contributes to the successful further development of Germany as an industrial location.

Industrial work is changing. Digitalisation and the intelligent networking of people, machines and objects are coming to knowledge work, manufacturing work, services and the interfaces of all these. As a response to this development, socio-technical work systems are also changing, as are work organisation and design. There is a growing need for flexibility and mobility. New forms or work organisation are already emerging when it comes to the division of work. For example, shift workers can coordinate with each other at short notice via smartphone, as demonstrated by Fraunhofer IAO’s “KapaflexCy” project, which has already been implemented. Moreover, companies are seeking new ways both of training and qualifying their employees for the digital workplace, and of fully harnessing the potential of new technologies. New technologies not only offer the opportunity to manufacture faster and better and with greater motivation, they also often bring disruptive innovations and completely new business models with them. Only businesses that systematically address their innovation processes and anchor them within the company’s overall strategy are capable of surviving and thriving in this dynamic market environment over the long term.

With hands-on demonstrators, offers for skills development and further training, and a platform for scientific exchange, the Future Work Lab is targeted at industry, trade unions, politics and science – and very much at the production workers of today and tomorrow. They can all use the services of the Future Work Lab in three ways, which were presented during lab tours at the opening: “Stuttgart Exo Jacket,” (an exoskeleton for lifting work), “Fit for Future Work” (a learning programme), and “Work in Progress” (a platform for dialogue).

The “Future Work Lab” research and development project receives funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) under the “Innovations for the Manufacturing, Services and Work of Tomorrow” program and is supervised by the Project Management Agency Karlsruhe (PTKA).

Photo credit: Material used in the preparation of this article has been drawn from Fraunhofer IPA.


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