Should we write to Germany instead of Santa Claus?

What is the age-old dream of engineers? Perpetual motion machine. Time machine. Germany. All of the above, although only the last option actually exists and functions. Until the 1970s, German was the language of nearly all high-quality mechanical engineering textbooks used in Sweden and Finland. Germany is admired by engineers particularly because the country has the capability to manufacture products that are quantifiably the best in their fields (for example, Miele washing machines boast superior drying cycle stability compared to other brands and, statistically, last longer than others without repairs) and organise the efficient production of these machines and items (children are taught how products work and how they are made through TV and books from early childhood).

During the past few years, Germany has introduced another new strategy, Industrie 4.0, that aims to secure the nation’s pioneering position and, most likely, higher productivity than before. This is a response to the need to ensure that the famously efficient production machinery can utilise all the data that can now be collected through digital connectivity. Industrie 4.0 is a comprehensive strategy backed by the federal government of Germany, its public RDI investments and global standardisation goals, educational and research institutes, and a sizeable pool of businesses of all sizes. One of the special characteristics of the Industrie 4.0 strategy is that the public sector is allowing the private sector to manage the implementation and using public investments to leverage systemic change and entice the private sector. As such, the implementation continues the tradition of German efficiency: it identifies the true drivers of companies and research facilities, sidestepping unnecessary bureaucracy between authorities.

Where, then, do Finns stand when the digital train of an industrial superpower leaves the station? Did we already miss the train or will we get left behind at some point? Unfortunately, Finland has, since 2014, suffered from a lack of systemic change programmes due to the political cutbacks targeted at our innovation system. That being said, we still have the time to hop on board thanks to our first-rate expertise in digitalisation and our traditionally good relations with Germany. We have three global trump cards that we can lay on the table to carve out our own niche in the Industrie 4.0 development.

First of all, the German Industrie 4.0 strategy largely focuses on factory production and the workings of the manufacturing and production mechanisms. In Finland, we have an excellent opportunity to focus on the properties of the end products manufactured by these factories. We primarily produce investment goods, i.e. work machinery, for example. Networking them could lead to the development of autonomous work machine systems, which we could sell, regardless of the ultimate number of machines.

Other examples of Finland’s special strengths are agility and flexibility. Based on history, Finland is faster than its competing countries to test new methods and experiment with things that do not yet exist. Our decision-making system has slowed down due to the growth of the public sector but, as a small country, we still have the opportunity to revert back to our lot as the “rapid response troops” of industry.

In addition to this, Finland possesses enough high-level expertise in certain areas of digital technology, such as cybersecurity, signal processing or camera technology, that foreign companies are drawn to invest in the country. Offering this expertise for the development of industrial products and processes could lead Finnish companies to becoming involved in the Industrie 4.0 development through direct customer-supplier relationships.

In other words, the foundation for reinventing Finnish industry based on Industrie 4.0 is in place. The most efficient way would be to begin with a systemic change programme following the Private Public Partnership model to bring various actors together and, through it, commit to hosting a stand at the Hannover fair for the next 10 years, for example. After all, Germans do not value short-sightedness.

Harri Kulmala, CEO, Dimecc Ltd.