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Chapter 7

Lohr am Main, Germany

A cordless screwdriver for Snow White

Lohr is an idyllic town in the Spessart hills, characterized by halftimbered houses, the river Main and the legend nurtured successfully by the town’s tourist marketing office for the last thirty years that, according to an extremely questionable but absolutely endearing theory, Lohr was the birth town of Snow White. The town is also home to Bosch Rexroth AG. And that’s why we have come here.

The smart product that interests us is the “Nexo” cordless screwdriver, developed by Bosch Rexroth. It sounds very mundane, and at the end of the day it is. And yet at the same time the Nexo is one of those tools without which it would be impossible to put many Industry 4.0 concepts into practice. Nexo is a worker. The handheld screwdriver may appear unremarkable, but it is technologically complex and sophisticated. It offers integrated controls, memory, and connectivity, allowing it to be integrated into a superordinate system such as a factory cloud, with its operating software compatible with any popular operating system. The device can measure and store the most important action parameters like torque and angle of rotation and transmit them to a central server or cloud.

These functions give it major benefits in production, as they allow the screw-turning tasks in critical processes, for example in aviation construction, where tightening torque in the assembly of engine parts, wings, or windows is exactly defined and where it can vary considerably, to be precisely captured and documented. Nexo enables this process, where there is an extremely low degree of fault tolerance, to be greatly simplified and optimized with regard to fault prevention.

The electronics built into the screwdriver allow its position within the factory hall to be precisely determined, which brings a number of benefits. First, the superordinate monitoring system can determine where a specific screwdriver being used is located and what part or component it is currently working on. Second, the combination of position and action measurements also offers the possibility to determine how long, how often and for what purpose each individual device was deployed. This provides the basis for both proactive maintenance of the tools as well as for performing correlation analyses that give deep insight into production and service processes.

The Nexo cordless screwdriver might appear rather tame compared to a combine harvester or smart carbon sail, but that does not mean it is less effective. Intelligent tools fill a significant space in the overall concept of Industry 4.0. Participants in the “SmartTool” joint project organized by TU Darmstadt call the lack of information transparency in the tool cycle caused by missing or inefficient possibilities to capture data and to interconnect a “central obstacle that has so far prevented existing optimization potential from being achieved”. Smart products solve problems – sometimes those that are not considered to be a problem until the solution is available. In this respect, the Nexo cordless screwdriver doesn’t need to fear comparison – it is a smart product through and through.

The example of “Nexo”, however, shows a further dimension of the smart product economy. Competition in the digital economy is more and more frequently fought between platforms. Companies like Apple and Amazon are creating increasingly closed software systems where they embed their physical and digital solutions. As a consequence, users enjoy significant added value if they use as many of the products and services running on a common platform. In platform-based competition, those companies with both a full range of products and services as well as a rapidly growing community of users will enjoy enormous competitive advantage. The growth of the Internet of Things and the emergence of smart products is also transforming growing numbers of traditional industries into platform markets that resemble oligopolies. Vendors who do not have a full range of products (for example, all the tools required in a factory), or who do not have a successful platform, face existential pressures. The smart product economy offers fascinating opportunities. However, as with every revolution in the history of mankind, it only recognizes winners.