Fraunhofer IMW

Actively shaping industrial transformation via socio- and techno-economic expertise

News | Leipzig /

This year’s board of trustees meeting at the Fraunhofer IMW was driven by one central topic; namely, industrial transformation— an initiative distilled within the hashtag #WeKnowTransformation. On June 24, board members discussed the development of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s socio-economic institute and the contribution of the Fraunhofer IMW to the resilience of work, companies and regions in a world characterized by digital change and the current pandemic. As summarized within the key term “industrial transformation,” the Fraunhofer Institute in Leipzig conducts research on different facets of regional structural change in industry, economy, society and science and positions itself as a key institute on these topics. The digital meeting was led by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, founding director of The New Institute and former Secretary General of the Volkswagen Foundation, Dr. Wilhelm Krull.

First, Professor Dr. Ralf B. Wehrspohn, Fraunhofer Board Member for Technology Marketing and Business Models, and Institute Director Professor Dr. Thorsten Posselt presented joint projects and initiatives—for example the tool Corporate-Match, which links Fraunhofer research services and the matching companies. Professor Wehrspohn also made the connection to the role of the Leipzig Fraunhofer Institute to investigate questions of regional structural change. Subsequently, Professor Posselt summarized the current research at Fraunhofer IMW on transformation processes in companies, regional contexts and the digitization of the world of work.


Value creation for the future


The basis of industrial change is still technological progress. Nevertheless, natural drivers - climate change, natural events and pandemics - accelerate changes in value chains and industries, according to Professor Posselt. "Companies have to rethink their previous business models and often have to develop them further," he said. Above all, the value of data is becoming an increasingly important asset in a digitized world. For example, the British daily The Guardian recently wrote that Apple's stock market value is currently $ 1.5 trillion, indicating the high value of data in today’s technological landscape. In comparison, Germany's entire gross domestic product in 2019 was around 3.4 trillion euros. In a collaborative project with the University of Leipzig called, "Data Mining and Value Creation", Fraunhofer IMW is investigating the potentials of data-based value creation models for small and medium-sized companies in Saxony. In pilot projects with companies, for example, the research team tests how the company's data can actually be evaluated. The team is currently developing an index that will make this entrepreneurial decision easier in the future and above all to support medium-sized companies in the targeted, economic use of their data.


Opportunities created by regional structural change


In regions, with energy-intensive companies and corporate networks, the decision to phase out also increases the pressure for transformation. This is where the "Center for Economics of Materials CEM" in Halle (Saale), which has been assigned to the Fraunhofer IMW since the beginning of the year, focuses. The unit previously based at Fraunhofer IMWS analyzes systemic interactions in energy and material networks. The research team complements the Fraunhofer IMW with techno-economic knowledge, for example with economic modeling. In one project, the team of experts is currently simulating political decision-making proceses based on the example of the coal phase-out or a new technology such as green hydrogen will affect a dependent value-added network such as the chemical industry in Central Germany.

In recent years, the Fraunhofer IMW has already issued several expert reports on the success of structural change processes. For the Federal Government's "Growth, Structural Change and Employment" commission, a research team from the Innovation Policy and Transfer Design Unit examined, for example, international success factors and key processes through which sustainable structural change can succeed..

An interdisciplinary team of Fraunhofer experts in Leipzig and Halle (Saale) is now developing a "Structural Change Toolbox" to support regional decision-makers and entrepreneurs in the design of their structural change processes, to show diversification paths and potential for a climate-friendly supply of energy and raw materials.  Director Dr. Michael Brandkamp, ​​General Partner of ECBF Management GmbH, said “Let us use the crisis not to restore everything as it was before, but to promote more sustainable developments, for example on the circular economy.”


Digital change in the world of work


The focus of the cooperation project "Center for Digital Work" is that transformation processes do not only directly affect companies and systems, but also people. There, a team from the Qualification and Competence Management Unit  at Fraunhofer IMW and the Chair for Innovation Management and Innovation Economics at the University of Leipzig combined research findings on managing digital and demographic change processes in companies. Together with the project partners, a digital pool of knowledge is being built that links research results with practical experience from five regional centers of future development. The corona pandemic has highlighted the urgency of this issue. Working digitally has become an everyday occurrence in many companies. In its research, Fraunhofer IMW will “think about what new models of work and vocational education and training can look like. We are discussing starting points on how investments in the qualification of our own employees can be quantified, which can be the "return on education" for the company,” said Professor Posselt, Head of Institute and Chairman for Innovation Management and Economics.


Promoting resilience


Finally, Professor Posselt, who has directed the Fraunhofer IMW since 2008, presented current facts and figures on the development of the Fraunhofer IMW in the 2019 financial year. In the past year, the Fraunhofer IMW was able to develop not only in terms of content but also in structure. It remains to be seen what effects the current pandemic will have. Despite the expected reluctance of many companies to invest and carry out research and development projects, every crisis can also open up opportunities. While the operational work in companies has paused, this space offers the opportunity to specifically gain new knowledge, think new business models and services and strengthen the responsiveness of your own company. Professor Posselt said, “We would be well advised to see the resilience of companies, organizations and systems not only against the background of the corona pandemic, but also generally against the background of disruptions. Basically, scientific solutions are already known- so it is important to test research findings in pilot projects in order to overcome implementation barriers.”

The range of skills and developments to date allow Professor Posselt to look optimistically into the future: Together, the scientists at Fraunhofer IMW are able to actively shape questions about industrial transformation and provide support to medium-sized companies.

Dr. Krull underlined the proactive support provided by the Board of Trustees for the process of encouraging  Fraunhofer IMW to become the key institute of the Fraunhofer Society focusing on Industrial Transformation and certified that Professor Posselt and his team were on the right track on behalf of all the curators. “They actively help shape industrial transformation through their socio-economic and techno-economic expertise.” The next board of trustees meeting is expected to take place in June 2021.