Fourth industrial revolution on the banks of the River Lahn

Industry 4.0, meaning the networking of the Internet and industrial production processes, is the order of the day. In Limburg the vision is already a reality. Limtronik operates one of Germany’s most cutting-edge factories.

“Historical, vibrant, worth visiting.” This is how the Town of Limburg on the Lahn Tourist Information Office whets visitors’ appetite to explore. The first route leads through the maze of narrow alleyways in the Old Town with its medieval half-timbered houses. At Neumarkt regional products are on sale. And visitors can enjoy canoeing along the picturesque Lahn Valley, with the Westerwald and Taunus hills in the background. Above all of which towers the mighty cathedral with its seven spires. Life in the town of 35,000 northwest of the FrankfurtRheinMain metropolitan region is so leisurely one might be forgiven for thinking the ICE railway station is the only connection to the modern world.

You’d be very wrong. Indeed, you’ll find one of the most cutting-edge factories in Germany in the commercial park behind “Werkstadt”, a shopping mall ensconced in the old halls of a former railway engineering works. Here, Limtronik manufactures electronic components and customised systems for the auto industry, the medical and security technology segments, as well as industrial controls. All in line with “Industry 4.0”, meaning the fourth industrial revolution, where industrial production gets interfaced with modern ICT in order to optimise the value-added chain from the product idea through to the after-market phase. “Vertical and horizontal networking with clients and suppliers is a lived practice here. We are currently at Industry 3.8,” comments Limtronik MD Gerd Ohl with a smile, and takes us round the 10,000 square metres of the Smart Electronic Factory (SEF). “It’s now a tiny step for us to reach Industry 4.0.”

In the hall, almost devoid of humans, high-tech machines hum, all closely networked and at work almost independently. The omnipresent abbreviations at the workstations only reveal to insiders what actually goes on. “Circuit boards for surveillance cameras are just being assembled at the SMT line,” says Ohl. SMT stands for surface-mounted technology. To exclude errors, the boards then progress to other lines, such as the AOI (automatic optical inspection) system, before the laser labelling machine readies them for delivery to the customer. “This component will be used in smart homes,” comments Ohl, taking a small green box from a package. “It just caused a real stir at the Light+Building, the world’s leading trade fair for lighting and building technology in Frankfurt.” Other electronic components are integrated into cars, high-tech medical appliances, or become part of the supply chain, one client being a US manufacturer of electric vehicles.

The Smart Electronic Factory only produces under contract; consumers will never be able to discern that the groups of components then delivered to customers are Limtronik products. This does not mean that Limtronik is an unknown company. On the contrary, the SME has a superb international reputation. When Gerd Ohl presented the Smart Electronic Factory in a film in 2015 at the Hanover Fair, the world’s largest industrial trade fair, a crowd swiftly gathered round the screen and staff from the largest competitor worldwide filmed the entire presentation. The following year, a delegation from Japan visited Limburg. And in 2017 Samsung came knocking at the door. The Tourist Information Office could thus easily add another adjective to its list when fielding the corresponding enquiries: innovative!

Photocredit: Limtronik