The industrial “Made in Germany” is getting on in years. For a long time, Made in Germany was a guarantee for values such as precision, solidity and stability, the quality guarantee of the German economy. For years, industry and small and medium-sized businesses have set themselves apart from the competition by price and level. But the old Made in Germany is an exhausted concept: globalization is entering a new phase, the information technology industry is advancing, in which the classic quality features of “Made in Germany” are receding into the background. The new, data-driven business models in the flexible digital ecosystems require different values, different speed and also a different financial and political-structural basis.
Most of the successful digital, platform-based business models so far have been developed in the USA, followed shortly thereafter by China, a country where 15,000 new companies are founded every day. One doesn’t need any particular ingenuity to predict that in the next few years a technological lead will be achieved in these technological fields outside Europe that Europe can hardly catch up in this form.
The inevitable reaction in Germany and parts of Europe is to catch up on what has been missed. We are talking about new networks and, above all, the connection between the physical world and the world of data. Since Chinese industry will be able (or already is) to produce equivalent excellence in industrial products and plants in the foreseeable future and, at the same time, can demonstrate significant advantages in terms of manufacturing costs in a large domestic market, hope is being shifted primarily to three strategic fields:
- New architectures for smart products, i.e. machines and systems developed specifically for the platform economy.
- New digital engineering and manufacturing methods that deliver massive manufacturing cost advantages
- Real-time analysis of operating data as a basis for higher profitability.
The new service-promise “Made in Germany”, which is being developed by management consultants in particular, is expected to result in solutions that significantly increase profitability — through the individualization and optimization of “Smart Products” in ongoing operations through software, data and services. One can go this way and will have to go it in many industries. But why is economic progress actually thought exclusively in terms of technology?
“Handmade in Germany” is based on its promise of quality inside the growing need for consumer change. Germany can completely reevaluate its production, which has always seen itself as quality production (not luxury production): as a production that aims at other qualities of life, that responds to the acute basal human needs, that is linked to questions such as the post-economy, climate change or the anthropocene. The question of how humans deal with the individual elements of their environment and the possible futures that arise from the shift in the patterns of thought and conventions that have been fixed so far has not been thought through in a sophisticated, concise model with regard to Germany as a production location.
This isn’t a romantic project. “Handmade in Germany” is not a sign of quality for special craftsmanship, for example in the sense of a nebulous “mastery”, but a program of requirements for products that set themselves apart from the high-speed, simultaneous and multitasking requirements of the digital.