“FUTURAS IN RES – Biological Transformation of Manufacturing"

Welcoming Address by Georg Schütte State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research at opening of the Event in Berlin

Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, says: 'Digital technology plays a key role in this process and is part of an overall process of transformation.' © BMBF / Hans-Joachim Rickel

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Commissioner Oettinger,
Professor Neugebauer,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very warm welcome also from me to the first event in Fraunhofer’s new conference series entitled “FUTURAS IN RES” under the motto of “Biological transformation of manufacturing”. This event which will take place today and tomorrow will be about the future of science and industry and how the increasing use of biological resources, processes and principles will change the way we work and live over the coming years.

Another equally important question is why do we need a biological transformation at all given that we find ourselves in the middle of a digital transformation?

Over the course of the past centuries, solutions for the manufacturing and design of products have become ever more efficient and tailored to human needs. In the past, these products served humankind to procure food in particular. Today, they enable the vast majority of the global population to live in relative prosperity. At the same time, however, we are seeing an increase in side effects that do anything but benefit the environment, our health and society as a whole. We are depleting natural resources, driving species extinction and polluting the environment with plastic litter and electronics. Germans produce an average 22.5 kg of electronic waste per person per year – that’s more than the United States, the mother of all consumer nations! Germany’s annual consumption of resources exceeds their availability and Earth’s ability to renew these resources by far. If we just continue doing business as usual, our resource consumption will double by 2050. Demographic change, the advance of globalization, a changing world of working and learning and digital transformation are other great challenges facing society and industry. And I am sure the list does not end there.

Constant progress in the development of technology has helped us to find solutions to almost every problem. But we need to be asking ourselves more often whether what we are doing now is also in the interests of the coming generations. Or whether new findings gained from Mother Nature and the modern life sciences can help us find novel, creative solutions with regard to industrial value creation.

It has become very clear recently that conventional technological solutions alone cannot help us address the new and pressing issues of our time. That is why the biological transformation is not only about deploying biotechnological processes or applying the principles of bionics to components and processes, or even using renewable resources in the interest of the bioeconomy, but about making use of this transformation to find solutions also to the great challenges I have mentioned and to integrate these solutions into industrial value creation chains.

The biological transformation of the value chain is about the consistent application of natural resources and principles, with all the objects, processes and systems nature has to offer. This requires the combination of existing knowledge and known technologies with new, also digital methods and instruments based on biological principles. The integration of the bioeconomy, bionics and biotechnology on the one hand and nanotechnologies and production technologies on the other – against the backdrop of information technologies – is creating entirely new opportunities for the development and manufacturing of products. We need to integrate the resulting new operating principles into the industrial value chain so that we can reap the benefits of these principles – that is to say for example: sustainable materials for long-term use, innovative resource-efficient products and services, and new medical treatment options that are based on the application of biological mechanisms.

The term “transformation” usually evokes the image of an existing status quo being replaced by new, changed circumstances. Where the focus was once on profitability through mass production and high levels of standardization, greater flexibility and stronger customer orientation now ensure the competitiveness of businesses – thanks to digital technology and Industrie 4.0.

In the future, production will be measured against the requirement of regional and local production in modular and scalable units within a “breathing factory”. In this way, production will be flexible and able to adapt to up-to-the-minute volume requirements, thus becoming resilient towards changing production conditions. Individual customer orientation and on-demand manufacturing are both technically feasible and profitable. All the data required with regard to products, their manufacturing and life cycles will be stored on a digital twin. Products and services will merge into new hybrid packages. New methods of product development, business models and approaches to logistics are needed to ensure that this development will be sustainable. All of the aspects that I have mentioned must be taken into account in the biological transformation as they will also have a major impact on the operation of businesses.

The biological transformation will also have an impact on labour markets, education systems and socio-political conditions. Sustainable – that is to say environmentally compatible and socially just labour – requires new strategies for how we plan and structure work processes. Value creation systems based on biological intelligence must be designed in a way as to support humans in overcoming their weaknesses and help them make full use of their strengths and skills to create value and make a difference. This requires knowledge of biologically inspired processes and aspects of sustainability. Inter- and transdisciplinarity will be the defining features of future job profiles and taught within the framework of lifelong learning with adapted forms of learning.

A study funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research identified the potentials and demands of the biological transformation and painted a vision of the future combining all these aspects. The project involved six Fraunhofer institutes under the leadership of Fraunhofer IPA and Professor Bauernhansl. The results of the preliminary study were presented yesterday at the closing ceremony of the conference here in Berlin at the Fraunhofer-Forum on “Biological intelligence – A new perspective for value creation”. The study includes inspiring new scenarios for a successful transformation based on biological intelligence with time horizons up to 2035. Digital technology plays a key role in this process and is part of an overall process of transformation. We have already laid a good basis for this by supporting the implementation of new Industrie 4.0 technologies in manufacturing companies.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Federal Government will continue firmly on and support the path towards using biological resources, processes and principles in value creation. In their Coalition Agreement, the governing parties agreed to put the principles of Mother Nature to good use and draft an interdepartmental agenda entitled “From biology to innovation” in cooperation with industry, science and civil society. The objective of the Federal Government is to strengthen the integration of the potential of biological systems and principles as well as of biotechnological processes and services in all areas of life and industry. This interdepartmental agenda will provide a new political framework for the urgently needed change towards a bio-based and sustainable economy.

Research is one of the key factors for the success of the envisaged transformation. However, it is first and foremost up to society and policy-makers to weight research findings and put them into practice. We are aware that such a radical change of the value creation system can only be successful if society demands this change. We believe that the time has come.

I am delighted that so many interested experts have come together here today. I wish you inspiring discussions and very much hope that we will forge links between research policy and economic policy that will make our world liveable also for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.

Thank you very much!