By Dr. Eric Maiser
From machine learning to open source hardware - more and more unconventional solutions for the machinery industry are appearing at a fast pace. That's why mechanical engineering companies nowadays need experts with unconventional skills: digital thinking and creativity. And the startup scene is full of these digital-creative folks. VDMA has seen the need of bridging the gap between the mechanical engineering industry and startups and has therefore founded a new platform for this purpose: the "Startup Machine", which is part of the VDMA Future Business Competence Center.
Finding the right talent
It is hard to track the exploding number of solutions and players in the startup world. Self-learning systems push automation to higher limits. Open source platforms, where users share data and ideas, create new forms of participation. Speed and user experience have disrupted strictly planned project management and exaggerated exactness. These approaches are particularly interesting for the implementation of Industrie 4.0. However, startup scouting and startup services have not yet been specialized for the mechanical engineering sector. With the Startup Machine, VDMA has created a single entry point for members and startups to promote "matchmaking". This happens systematically, strategically and with the certainty of finding the right partners, technologies, working methods and products in a targeted manner.
A Startup Radar and new cooperation concepts are the tools employed by VDMA. The goal of the Startup Radar is to provide an overview of the relevant players and their products for the mechanical engineering industry. Compact information and easy access allow a jump start for both sides.
With new cooperation concepts machine makers can dive deeper into technology, new ways of working and unconventional thinking with selected startups. An example for a successful new format are hackathons. Over a limited period of 48 hours, startups develop working prototypes with new technologies, such as smart data, cloud platforms or gesture control, specifically designed for a mechanical engineering use case on site. More important than the technical experience are the different philosophies and development strategies which are particularly attractive for Industrie 4.0 applications. Other examples for formats initiated by VDMA include digital innovation journeys, startup speed dating, elevator pitches or skunkwork projects.
Open to new ideas
There are some good reasons the investment goods industry traditionally views things from a different perspective than e.g. the consumer goods industry. Supplier networks are global with highly specialized players, the products have a lifespan of decades rather than years, and the investment risks are very high. Correspondingly, the business models have to be very robust. However, following customer needs, the industry always had to be proactive and flexible to stay competitive. Machine makers are willing to prepare for disruptive change. Moreover, the companies should even recognize disruptive change as a chance, not a threat. Openness to new ideas has always been a driver in the machinery industry. The VDMA Startup Machine lowers the barriers for introducing this new culture - paving the way for new business opportunities.