Prof. Peter Burggräf

Holder of the Chair for International Production Engineering and Management at the University of Siegen and project manager of the KI.NRW flagship project “Cyber Production Management Lab”


“Companies that think, ‘That’s the way it’s always been done’ no longer exist.”

Prof. PhD. Peter Burggräf holds the Chair of International Production Engineering and Management at the University of Siegen and is CEO of the management consultancy DRIVE CONSULTING in Aachen. As project manager, he is responsible for the activities of the KI.NRW flagship project “Cyber Production Management Lab”. The aim of the research project is to seamlessly integrate pioneering technologies such as AI and 5G into the manufacturing industry in order to achieve resource efficiency and energy savings. For the project consortium, the University of Siegen and the Chair of International Production Engineering and Management have joined forces with RWTH Aachen University

Portrait Prof. Peter Burggräf
Prof. Peter Burggräf is the project manager of the KI.NRW flagship project “Cyber Production Management Lab”

Prof. Burggräf, the “Cyber Production Management Lab” was launched last year with the aim of supporting manufacturing companies with challenging changes in times of digital transformation and ensuring their long-term competitiveness. Where do you currently see the biggest challenges for companies in the digital transformation?

In my opinion, a certain problem already exists in the name, namely understanding digital transformation as a process that companies and their employees only have to go through once. In reality, however, there is no such thing as ‘one’ transformation. The big challenge is that we are dealing with a multitude of powerful digital applications that are rolling towards companies at an ever-increasing speed – and this process will not stop. Quite the opposite: it is progressing at an exponential rate, with no end in sight. Companies must therefore anchor a permanent innovation mindset in their culture. This is also how the concept of transformation should be understood.

The region of South Westphalia is known above all for its strong SME sector. What feedback do you get from companies about the transformation processes you work with as part of the project?

Contrary to some preconceptions about SMEs, the companies are characterized by their great innovative spirit. It is not without reason that these companies are able to hold their own against the global competition as so-called hidden champions. Most companies are even world market leaders. These companies only do what is really directly useful. There are no supposedly strategic initiatives, as you might be familiar with from large corporations that are driven by a technology push. Companies therefore expect us to develop solutions that generate noticeable added value. The companies tell us that we have succeeded in doing this so far.

Your office is located on the campus of Achenbach Buschhütten GmbH & Co. KG – one of the oldest owner-operated companies in the region. What influence does a company’s history have on its transformation goals?

The continuity of many family-run companies in the region is the result of a continuous will to change. Companies that think, ‘That’s the way it’s always been done’ no longer exist. Traditional companies in particular are especially open to innovation because they have learned in the past that innovation is the only way to keep a company alive. Achenbach Buschhütten has proven this and is therefore also a very important partner and role model for the entities on the campus: the Smart Demonstration Factory, the Learning Factory, the Chair of International Production Engineering and Management at the University of Siegen as well as the Machine Tool Laboratory and the Aachen Center for Additive Manufacturing at RWTH Aachen University. Without the commitment of Achenbach Buschhütten, this place, where teaching, research and production intertwine and together advance the industrial transformation, would not exist. Achenbach Buschhütten is both initiator and user here. The company has made a clear decision to continue its future on the basis of its extremely successful history. This includes being open to new technologies, expertise and ideas.

Demonstration factory sounds exciting. What exactly do you do there?

The SDFS Smart Demonstration Factory Siegen offers a real production environment for research operations. Prototypes and small series are produced here under real conditions so that the latest technologies and innovations can be experienced and researched in a real application. This means that research and application partners work directly together here. That strengthens networking and exchange with companies in the region and beyond. The Buschhütten campus is therefore the ideal location for the KI.NRW flagship project “Cyber Production Management Lab”.

Talking about “exchange with the companies”: Is there a specific procedure or methodology that you use to identify use cases and get their implementation off the ground?

We get a lot of impulses from direct cooperation with companies that approach us with specific questions. But we also identify potential in our own production and try to realize it.

To do this, we usually start with a process analysis of the production processes. We then determine which areas are suitable for digitalization. We always make sure that the costs and benefits are in balance so that the digital changes can be implemented sensibly and sustainably. We have also set up so-called micro labs that are explicitly designed for different areas, such as food production or metal processing.

What happens in the Micro Labs?

All Micro Labs reflect different industry foundations and each has its own focus. From a production technology perspective, the Micro Labs are Minimal Viable Production Systems (MVPSs) that are capable of fully processing a production order. The corresponding solutions for digitalization and AI are then also tailored to their individual needs. We also supply the server infrastructure, including 5G connectivity, which is needed for the exchange between the Micro Labs.

Another key element of your work is the transfer of the acquired knowledge to companies in the region. You have created two transfer hubs for this purpose. What do you offer there?

The “Lifelong Learning” transfer hub develops, offers and carries out various training and further education courses on topics related to the project. The target groups are not only students and trainees, but also the companies we work with. We are also networked with other training institutions, which in turn bring the content to the companies. The second transfer hubTransfer Circle” is specifically aimed at the transfer to the manufacturing industry. Companies can take part in various events and working groups. We also use supra-regional platforms such as KI.NRW to share and communicate the knowledge from our project.

How important is the exchange with other regional funding projects, such as the “Denkfabrik digital” and the “Metall+Daten” cluster, for you?

I think that the importance of a joint exchange has been underestimated so far. The exchange of experience and sharing of best practices offers great synergy potential. You can’t and don’t have to reinvent the wheel everywhere. Of course, every project has its own regional characteristics and individual level of maturity. Nevertheless, exchange platforms offer a useful opportunity to become faster together and benefit from each other.

What do you think: what results of the digital transformation will we see in the manufacturing industry in one, five and ten years’ time?

Investment in digital transformation always depends on which technology offers the best cost-benefit ratio at the time. This is different for every company. There are pioneers for whom it pays to implement technologies early on.

However, it is unlikely that technologies will be used that are not yet known. I think that driverless transport systems, for example, will certainly find a broader application soon. In the next five years, AI will play an increasingly important role in administrative activities, such as work preparation or production planning and control, and in ten years’ time perhaps humanoid robotics. Looking at these time periods, we are dealing less with technological revolutions than with evolutions.

Prof. PhD. Peter Burggräf Project manager of the KI.NRW flagship project “Cyber Production Management Lab”. The funded research projects of the CPML aim to develop innovative solutions to optimally prepare manufacturing companies in the region for the challenges of digital transformation. In 2019, Prof. Peter Burggräf was named “Professor of the Year 2019” in the Engineering/Computer Science category by the Unicum Foundation. As an expert in production management in the area of factory planning, he also works in the private sector and supports companies as a founder, entrepreneur and consultant.