“Transfer-X” paves the way for SMEs into the data economy

Karlsruhe /

The digitalization of value chains is advancing very rapidly. For the automotive industry in particular, Catena-X and similar projects are creating new data ecosystems with the associated services, apps and connectors. Such data ecosystems only scale if many participants provide or use data. In this case, the focus is on SMEs as Germany's industrial backbone. To ensure that the transformation gains momentum along the entire supply chain and not just among OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers, SMEs must be more closely involved. Transfer-X was especially launched for this purpose: Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action with around 8 million euros, the transfer project will create a web-based knowledge platform for easy-to-understand information and training materials - with the aim of motivating and empowering SMEs to participate in the digital transformation of value chains.

© Fraunhofer IOSB / M. Zentsch [M.]
Everyone is talking about the digitalization of production and supply chains. But what does it bring, is it worth the effort, and if so, how does it succeed? These questions are obvious for SMEs.
Logo Transfer-X
© Projektkonsortium Transfer-X
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The supply chains of products like cars are complex and interconnected. Disruptions can even lead to car manufacturers having to shut down production because individual components are missing. Consistent digitalization can make supply chains more resilient and help avoid such failures. In addition, digitized value chains promise better traceability and greater sustainability: they can potentially provide information about compliance with environmental and social standards along the supply chain, about the overall carbon footprint, or about recycling options for the product.

Bridging the gap to practice - building competencies for digital transformation

The goal of projects like Catena-X is to leverage the considerable potential - and at the same time, despite global data interfaces, to protect the know-how, interests and data sovereignty of all participants. However, “While the technological challenges are comprehensively addressed in R&D projects like Catena-X, there remains a 'missing link' with regard to practice”, states Dr. Olaf Sauer from Fraunhofer Institute IOSB. This is because the emerging data platforms and ecosystems could only become a success if a critical mass of potential users actually joined in. “In this case, that affects countless small and medium-sized enterprises, which naturally struggle with the necessary, thoroughly disruptive transformation toward a data economy”, Sauer continues.

The new transfer project Transfer-X, which Fraunhofer IOSB is leading together with DLR, aims to fill this gap. Building on Catena-X and other projects funded under the Economic Stimulus Package 35c, a transformation hub is being created that will drive and actively support the transfer of R&D results to SMEs. Olaf Sauer: “To put it in a nutshell: We want to motivate and enable as many companies as possible to participate in the data ecosystems as quickly as possible. Because that's the only way the solutions developed can scale.”

Multimedia platform for executives and other decision-makers

To this end, multimedia and onboarding information content, so-called transfer modules, are to be created and published on an easy-to-use web platform. According to Sauer, these easy-to-understand motivational and knowledge ‘snippets’ are to be tailored to very specific target groups within SMEs: “For example, we want to show a managing director what immediate benefits his company will gain if it becomes part of the data/services ecosystem, contributes its data and receives data from other companies - but also what requirements he has to fulfill in order to do so.” On a more advanced level, the same person might learn how digital tools can be used to sustainably reduce the company's carbon footprint or how it could potentially tap into new business models in the context of the data/services ecosystem. “A procurement manager, on the other hand, learns, for example, how to be supported in finding new raw material suppliers and how to ensure that suppliers comply with social and environmental standards.” Likewise, he said, transfer modules are being planned that are aimed at production managers, schedulers or IT specialists.

A project consortium has now begun to develop this transformation hub and the content for it. It is coordinated by a tandem of the Fraunhofer Institute of Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB (Karlsruhe and Lemgo) and the Institute for AI Security of DLR, the German Aerospace Center (St. Augustin). ARENA2036, Catena-X Automotive Network e.V., Ostbayerische Technische Hochschule Amberg-Weiden, Automotive Agentur Niedersachsen, the Fraunhofer Institutes for Material Flow and Logistics IML and for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU, and the Fraunhofer Academy are also involved. The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWK) is funding Transfer-X for 33 months with a total of around 8 million euros.

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