After changing from an agricultural country into an industrial country in the previous century, the Free State of Bavaria in the 21st century faces the next paradigm shift towards being a “Digital country” – actually Bavaria is already in the middle of it all: As a digital production location, robotics and automation have already penetrated all economic sectors. Beginning with pioneers such as the automotive industry, robots are now also conquering less traditional areas such as crafts, agriculture, health, service, household and leisure.
This development was recognized by the Bavarian government in a government declaration on 12 November, 2013 and the “Bavaria digital” strategy was proclaimed. This government declaration was the signal for Prof. Dr. Robert Grebner, president of the FHWS, to ask himself and the entire university the question: What does this mean for us and for the region Mainfranken? What should our strategy look like? The answer to this is “intelligent manufacturing”. A custom-fit solution for the cluster of automotive suppliers in the region Mainfranken which makes the region and their people fit for the future.
The plan to reinvent Bavaria as a digitization country meant for the Universities of Applied Sciences a strengthening of their infrastructure and more technology transfer through research projects with companies. It quickly became clear for the FHWS that the future desire for skilled workers for robotics could not be covered by the traditional paths of training and education. This resulted in many years of lobby work to convince the Bavarian government to set up both a new degree course for robotics and finance the associated building as the centre for robotics as components of intelligent manufacturing in Schweinfurt.
The plan could count on support from business and industry: Both large regional companies such as ZF, Schaeffler and Siemens and the member companies of the economic advisory council supported the foundation of a new bachelor’s programme for robotics. The chamber of industry and commerce Würzburg-Schweinfurt, the chamber of crafts Unterfranken and the regional group of the “vbw – Die bayerische Wirtschaft” association saw the importance of robotics for the future of the region and supported the plan.
With the cabinet decision on 17 July, 2018 the confirmation was there: The Free State of Bavaria announced its decision to invest in 19 jobs and 33 million euros for the associated building to establish the bachelor’s programme for robotics. The new Ledward Campus therefore houses not only the bachelor’s programme but also the “Centre Robotics” (CERI). CERI has taken on the task of addressing the requirements of regional companies in the area of robotics through applied research. Automation and partial automation ensure that production can remain in high-wage countries such as Germany and that manual tasks for which no worker can be found, can be taken over by machines.
This investment decision was further underpinned by the government declaration on 10 October, 2019: With the Hightech Agenda Bavaria and an overall investment volume of two billion euros, the Free State, in addition to robotics, also supports artificial intelligence and other super tech fields as a key competence for Bavaria.
With the robotics bachelor’s programme the FHWS supplies an important building block – it is the first undergraduate degree for robotics in the whole of Germany. The new degree course starts in October 2020 in parallel in English and German. By creating the fifth congruent degree course both in German as well as in English, the University is responding to a further challenge – internationalization. Up to 1,000 students will become “robotics specialists” at the new campus in Schweinfurt. This term is not yet common in the current language usage, but the President of the FHWS sees bright future prospects for this job description – and in case of common usage maybe even an entry in the dictionary of the German language.
Characteristic for this job description is that the robotics specialist – similar to the computer scientist – is not responsible for building the robot but for its programming. To this purpose, robotics specialists require competence in the classic area of mechanics which as a rule is taught in engineering studies. In addition they require high competence in the area of artificial intelligence so that robots can master more and more complex tasks.