© Ralf Baumgarten



Sweden sees itself as a pioneer in the industrial digital transformation. Agile and collaborative styles of working go back a long way, while new companies are connected with industry, politics, and science across the country. A visit.

By Holger Paul

When a train shoots past at 120 kilometers per hour, its wheels are scarcely visible to the human eye - let alone the bolts that keep them attached to the train. A special camera for industrial machine vision, however, can capture an image of the train as it rushes past - and that is not all. Thanks to special programming, it can create a 3D color gradient image of all external train components, thus showing whether or not the bolts are still tightly in position, even on speeding trains. Maintenance on the go, almost in real time. "To make this possible, we have to install special apps in the sensor technology and the industrial camera," explains Mats Gökstorp, member of the Executive Board at sensor manufacturer Sick AG in southern Baden, Germany. While this application example is extremely useful to train operators, the principle is intended to reach much larger dimensions. "Our goal is to use sensor technology and sensor intelligence to organize the factory of the future," says Gökstorp.

Companies, business, science and politics

Around 15 years ago, German company Sick AG took over the machine vision specialist IVP, a start-up from the local university, based in Linköping, two hours' drive south-west of Stockholm, Sweden. Gökstorp was one of the first employees at IVP. Today, the Swedish unit employs around 90 people and has grown into the Competence Center Machine Vision for the entire Sick Group. The Swedes have global responsibility for the development of 3D imaging technology, image analysis software, and robot vision solutions. Research into artificial intelligence and sensors also takes place in Linköping. "We have a strong IT and automation industry here," says Gökstorp, explaining the motivation of the German company. "But we also have an innovative environment and a lot of software expertise," he adds. And then Gökstorp mentions something that all Swedish managers enthuse about when asked about the benefits of their country: the collaborative spirit that defines work within companies, as well as between business, science, and politics. "We have been practicing agile working here for a long time," says a smiling Gökstorp.



Sweden and its culture of collaboration - this feature of the country pops up time and again on the informational trip organized for journalists by Hannover Messe in advance of this year's industrial trade fair. Sweden is the partner country for 2019. Be it Trade Minister Ann Linde, the Bosch manager responsible for Sweden, Sven Radmann, or Managing Director of ABB in Sweden, Johan Söderström - "collaborative working has a very different tradition here from in Germany. Given how sparsely populated the country is, collaboration is part of everyday life. You have to be innovative to survive here," explains Radmann. "Collaboration coupled with digitization," is what Söderström considers the core of Swedish industry. Even German Ambassador Hans-Jürgen Heimsoeth, who is not slow to point out the failings of current Swedish development - such as the worsening health service - says approvingly: "The Swedes stick together when they plan something to benefit industry. And they see themselves as pioneers of digitalization."

So many unicorns

Science Park Mjärdevi in Linköping © VDMAThat is why the country is also promoting its strong start-up culture. Nowhere else outside of Silicon Valley is home to so many unicorns - young companies valued at more than a billion dollars. It is a fact that is often quoted, not least by the Swedish government. Targeted location of science parks or incubators, in which young companies can test and market their ideas close to universities or industrial zones, is one of the factors that makes this possible. The country already has more than 30 science parks and more than 40 incubators, explains Lena Miranda, Managing Director of Science Park Mjärdevi in Linköping. Together, these facilities account for 5,000 small companies and 70,000 employees - Mjärdevi is home to 400 companies and 7,000 employees, she says proudly. Most science parks are generally not funded by the government, but by local authorities and companies hoping for early access to new ideas and talented young staff. "Our role is matchmaking," says Miranda. "We help get developments moving and find and connect the right people in this war of talent."

This enthusiasm for trying out new ideas is paying off for the country. "Sweden is playing a pioneering role in restructuring the economy as a digital economy," confirms Yvonne Heidler, Europe Expert at VDMA Foreign Trade. The country spends more on research and development than any other country in Europe - an impressive 3.3 percent of gross domestic product. Germany is just behind with 3.0 percent. The two countries are closely linked in other ways, too. For example, Germany is by far the largest supplier of machinery and systems. Sweden imports 27 percent of all machinery from Germany, followed by Italy with just under eight percent. The two countries are keen to work together much more effectively when it comes to digitalization, too. To do this, they agreed an innovation partnership in 2017 and established the German Swedish Tech Forum.

Two different mentalities

However, the differing mentalities of the two countries are also clearly on display: "The Swedes see the issue of data protection, for example, much less critically than the Germans and are quicker to provide their data," explains Ambassador Heimsoeth. "The German Swedish Tech Forum is going well, but there is still room for improvement," he sums up. The Northern Europeans are therefore hoping that their appearance at Hannover Messe will stir up greater enthusiasm for collaboration in the digital transformation. The partner country’s pavilion at the trade fair is named "Sweden Co-Lab - Innovate with us!"

Further Information

VDMAimpulse 01-2019: "Industrial Intelligence" - The next big step   |   VDMA - Hannover Messe   |   Hannover Messe