How machine tool builders as well as big data and digital twin users can benefit

by Oliver Hagenlocher
Technology Forum - Interview Prof. Michael F. Zäh

Discussions at the EMAG Group’s 2019 Technology Forum
Part 1: How Machine Tool Builders, Big Data and Digital Twin Users Benefit
A guest presentation by Prof. Michael F. Zäh from the Technical University of Munich

Over the next few weeks, this four-part series will explore the contributions of the guest speakers we have presenting at the EMAG Group’s Technology Forum, which will be held on May 15 and 16 in Salach, Germany.

In this first edition, we’d like to introduce you to the contribution by Prof. Zäh from the Technical University of Munich. Prof. Zäh has held the Machine Tools and Manufacturing Technology chair at the Technical University of Munich since 2002.

Prof. Zäh, what is the current focus of your research at the Institute for Machine Tools and Industrial Management?

The three main pillars, Metal-cutting Machine Tools, Joining and Separation Technology, and Additive Manufacturing, which are still my responsibility. Within these areas, there are smaller fields of research, specifically geared towards current trends. Presently, prominent topics include conservation of resources on machine tools and, more specifically, its correlations with the energy transition, joining and separation of fiber composite materials, innovative joining processes such as FSW and—last but not least—biomedical and other sophisticated applications of additive manufacturing. Add to this both areas under my colleague Gunther Reinhart’s responsibility, that is Factory Planning and Logistics, and Assembly Technology. I also believe in the use of artificial intelligence as a cross-sectoral task and battery manufacturing for mobile and stationary applications are of particular importance for the entire institute.

Which of these specific focus areas have you identified as questions for the future that the industry will need to grapple with in the coming years?

From my perspective, all the areas that I’ve mentioned are extremely seminal both with regard to research and to the industry. Our ambition has always been to conduct our research in line with the requirements of the industry. In doing so, we want to contribute to making Germany a competitive business location and that is precisely why we’re working in close collaboration with businesses. This also helps to secure jobs for our students. I’d like to give the industry a few pointers that I’ve been preaching time and again, like a prayer wheel, for a number of years and that can be summed up in a few keywords: For industry 4.0, carefully ponder what is appropriate for your own business and then implement it step by step, not all at once, but rather proceed one step at a time; regarding the impact of the energy transition, seek to find out how the more volatile energy supply as well as increasing power prices in the future can be absorbed by making machines and installations more flexible in terms of energy and possibly through self-power generation; keep your eyes open to approaches in AI and let them inspire you; foster close relationships with universities, because the efficient German industry-oriented research infrastructure in engineering sciences is unique to the world.

What are your expectations for these subjects?

I anticipate an international competitive advantage for the German industry from the measures taken in the course of the energy transition. I feel that we’re missing the point if we complain about high energy prices. The self-imposed withdrawal from nuclear energy was an exceptionally bold step that forced us to innovate in the energy sector on the basis of our political economy. This will lead to the emergence of cutting-edge technology that will develop into top exports when other countries follow suit. When it comes to artificial intelligence, in my opinion, the available approaches and algorithms from mathematics and computer science are sufficient. I’m convinced that the machinery industry must first focus on drawing advantage from these and consistently implement condition monitoring and predictive maintenance features, before any further resources for AI can be expected from policy makers. Among others, I expect this to lead to cost reductions in the operation of machine tools. There is still a lot of untapped potential in this area.

To what extent will you shed more light on these subjects in your presentation at the EMAG Group’s Technology Forum?

I will address exactly these points and I will also include the digital twin. I will use project and case examples to illustrate this and try to draw as clear a picture as possible. Despite all the justifiable hopes with regard to new technologies, one thing or another is always being hyped up in current discussions. I aim to buck this trend with a very objective viewpoint.

Prof. Zäh, thank you for your time and the exciting insights into your work and your upcoming presentation.


Digitalization as a Megatrend at the 2019 Technology Forum

In addition to the exciting guest presentations, participants at the technology forum will have numerous other opportunities to acquire knowledge about digitalization in the machine tool industry. As a complement to presentations, participants will be able to exchange views extensively on the topics addressed by Prof. Zäh with experts from the EMAG Group within the themed area.

You will find all the relevant information about the event and how to register under the following link.

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