Wolf D. Meier-Scheuven: Mechanical engineering cluster in NRW strengthens location

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With around 200,000 employees in some 1,600 companies, the mechanical engineering sector is the biggest industrial employer in North Rhine-Westphalia. ProduktionNRW is the cluster of mechanical engineering ­

in North Rhine-Westphalia.

NRW Mechanical Engineering: Sights Set Firmly on the Future. North Rhine-Westphalia is an industrial state with a tra­dition and a future. About 1.2 million people are employed in the manufacturing industry and earn sales of slightly less than 340 billion euros. This not only makes North Rhine-Westphalia Germany’s top earning state, it also ranks near the top internationally. What’s more, there is hardly a greater sectoral variety or efficient industrially based research scene in such a small region.

This is the strong basis on which the companies here are able to function on international markets. The me­chanical engineering industry occupies a key position in North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy. With about 200,000 employees, it is the state’s biggest employer and earned sales of some 43 billion euros in 2014. Together with the chemicals industry, this makes it the highest-earning sector in North Rhine-Westphalia.

The mechanical engineering industry is characterised by some 1,600 mainly small and medium-sized companies whose equipment is aimed mainly at the export market; many of these companies are world leaders in their special fields.

North Rhine-Westphalia’s share of Germany’s production of smelting and roller mill equipment, armatures, mining and casting machinery is particularly large. Its po­sition as an international market leader – for example in drive technology or armatures – coupled with its many years of experience and inventiveness make North Rhine-Westphalia attractive for new companies to settle in and invest in mechanical engineering. Not only German companies choose North Rhine-Westphalia as an innovative state and the location of their choice in order to operate internationally. Numerous internationally active companies, particularly from Japan and China, invest in North Rhine-Westphalia in order to make use of the strengths and qualities of this location.

Traditionally Strong Together: Mechanical Engineering in North Rhine-Westphalia. As a key industry and systems integrator, the industry works on a wide variety of technologies and products which provide solutions to questions and challenges of the future such as resource conservation and efficiency, energy and climate protection, mobility etc. Taking into account such important factors as reproductive accuracy, product life-cycles, recycling, efficiency and complexity management, it develops solutions and products tailored precisely to customer requirements and which often exert a leverage effect on other sectors. As a tech­­nology leader, the mechanical engineering sector integrates the latest expertise into equipment and products and ensures its customers’ competitiveness.

The constant striving for innovation is today – and will be in future – the crucial factor for the top position of North Rhine-Westphalia’s mechanical engineering sector top position. After all, the challenges on global markets are not getting any smaller: competition in costs and technology is becoming fiercer again, product cycles are get­­ting shorter and customer requirements are getting in­­creasingly specialised. And last but not least, digitalisation is making increasingly great­­er strides at all stages of the industrial value chain. In this context compa­­nies in the mechanical and plant enginee­­ring industry are in demand as enablers and pro­blem solvers more than ever.

The success of mechanical engineering in North Rhine-West­­phalia is based on its strength of being able to net­­work in the right places with suppliers, manufacturers and customers and make sensible use of joint resources and synergies. And even the networking of business and sci­­ence and the concomitant knowledge transfer is daily prac­­tice in North Rhine-Westphalia”, says Wolf D. Meier-Scheuven, spokesman of the cluster ProduktionNRW, describing the sector.


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Cluster Formation as a Strategy for North Rhine-Westphalia.The state of North Rhine-Westphalia has recognised the importance of clusters and is reinforcing the industries of the future through cluster policies and a targeted in­­novation strategy. As part of the continued development of cluster policies, North Rhine-Westphalia is focusing on strategically important markets – the so-called leading markets – which have a particularly high potential for its economic success. The leading market of mechanical and plant engineering/production technology is one of these.

ProduktionNRW is the mechanical engineering and production technology cluster in North Rhine-Westphalia and is carried out by VDMA NRW, the state branch of the German mechanical and plant engineering association. ProduktionNRW started work in late 2008 as a joint project between the VDMA and the state of North Rhine-West­­phalia with the aim of supporting mechanical and plant engineering and production technology as a mainstay of the state’s economy and further expanding the leading market of mechanical and plant engineering/production technology. ProduktionNRW regards itself as a platform for dovetailing companies, institutions and networks with each other and along the value chain. Essential parts of services provided by ProduktionNRW are subsidised by North Rhine-Westphalia’s State Ministry of Economic Affairs, Energy and Industry.

Studies prove that cluster players gain significantly higher increases in employee numbers and sales than compet­­itors which are not engaged in clusters. At the same time, they are also more resistant to external negative influences. This success is attributed in particular to three factors: a close interlinking with suppliers, manufacturers and cus­­tomers, a larger market for specialised employees and the knowledge spill-over that develops through the exchange within the cluster – assets from which North Rhine-West­­phalia can benefit.

ProduktionNRW Presses On with Industrie 4.0 Thinking. To expand the sector’s position as the motor of North Rhine-Westphalia’s economy, ProduktionNRW is active in a wide variety of different areas and focuses especially on the mega-issue in the mechanical engineering sector: Industrie 4.0.

“Key innovations rarely succeed single-handedly,” Meier-Scheuven explains. “Networking within and outside tra­­di­­tional sector definitions – both in Germany and abroad – is an important extension of its own options, in particular in implementing an Industrie 4.0 programme.”

For one thing, this will require close cooperation with client companies, for example in the steel, automotive and plastics industries. For another, it is precisely the me­chanical engineering industry which not only integrates the latest ICT into its products but also makes broad use of nano-materials, new materials and innovative logis­­tics concepts. This requires close cooperation with the respective technology providers. At the same time, reservations must often be overcome – for example in protecting know-how – and the focus must be on the advantages of such cooperation.

New Resource Efficiency in Production. Cooperation of this nature between commerce and re­search and – respectively – providers, suppliers and po­­tential users is also necessary especially when the task is to implement an Industrie 4.0 programme. This new, de-centralised value-creation logic can not only make a considerable contribution to ensuring in­dustrial value creation and jobs in North Rhine-Westphalia but also to resource efficiency in manufacturing.

Integrated approaches in production technology, automation and mechatronics systems have long been part of company repertoires. And on the road to implementing an Industrie 4.0 programme, companies in North Rhine-Westphalia have developed an outstanding starting position which will now be expanded. As an integrator of Cyber-Physical Systems and the “internet of things”, the mechanical and plant engineering industry is assuming a crucial role and is one of the major drivers for a broadly based penetration by Industrie 4.0.

The North Rhine-Westphalian state clusters, such as Pro­­duktionNRW, are promoting this development and are providing the market with important stimuli, whether by supporting technology and knowledge transfer, pointing up options for improving recognition of challenges and – not least – by a large number of many different events that deal with the issue of Industrie 4.0 from various perspectives. In doing so, they are focusing on research and innovation, safety and security, norms and standards, people and work and production organisation and business models. With particular regard to the last area, Industrie 4.0 will change how the mechanical and plant engineering industry thinks and have a major influence on its mechanics. “My appeal to the industry is: get to grips with the issue of Industrie 4.0 early. Identify your opportunities and put them into practice!” Meier-Scheuven said finally.

Portrait-MS-aktuell-2014-kopierenWolf D. Meier-Scheuven
The author studied business administration and psychology in Bielefeld and Trier. In 1990 he was the assistant to the executive board of Dürkopp-Adler AG before taking over the marketing department of Weidmüller. He has been managing partner at BOGE KOMPRESSOREN Otto Boge GmbH & Co. KG since 1995.