The E-craftsmen are coming!

Had recently image once again such a beautiful theme, which hung well on the big bell. “Germany in the plumber crisis” headlined the still leading tabloid on page one. What happened?

Some people had been waiting disproportionately long for urgently needed craftsmen, some up to two years, they were put off, dangled with water damage and deterred by expensive cost estimates. And what did the accused say? Above all, with two reasons, they asked for understanding: time and staff shortage.

The full order books could be worked off only with difficulty, because it lacked in many places to offspring. Young people are hardly to be inspired for the often physically exhausting work. In addition, there is an ever increasing pressure on prices, as customers often find bills exaggerated and allow themselves time with the payments.

Crafts: a quarter digitized already

All in all, the craft is under pressure. Traditionally one of the most respected professions in Germany, the changes in customer expectations brought on by the Internet age are now putting plumbers, carpenters, painters and installers under pressure. Fast service, low prices – online business models in the retail sector, but also in service industries such as cleaning, airlines and tourist platforms have increased the demands of end users enormously. And the craft gets it to feel.


But many companies react, do not insist on traditional structures. And more and more, as figures from the Central Association of German Crafts, are impressively demonstrating: “A quarter of all craft businesses in Germany implemented various digitalization measures last year alone,” says Stephan Blank, project manager at the ZDH Center for Digital Crafts Craft companies, among others, have begun to digitize work processes, to acquire computer-controlled machine tools or to communicate with their customers via social media.

Also interesting: Mobile First & Cobots: Which digital trends will change the craft

One of them is the Georg Ackermann GmbH in the Franconian Wiesenbronn. Founded in 1934, the company is currently managed by Frank Ackermann in the third generation. The first machines, which were controlled via a screen, installed the owner already in the early nineties and only a few years later, the computer control had already won the upper hand over the tools. Today, all processes and workflows in the company have been digitized.

Which does not mean that today fewer people work at Ackermann than before. On the contrary. The operation of the highly complex devices demands more than ever great craftsmanship. The result are many individual orders: a reception counter for the New York Stock Exchange, architectural models for the Louvre offshoot in Abu Dhabi, an acoustic model for the Hamburg Elbphilharmonie. Ackermann would not have received any of these major orders without his digital know-how. In the traditional way, the often curved shapes would not have been possible.

A visit to the Makerspace

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Photo: TUM Makerspace

There is nowhere as diverse and concentrated as digital craftsmanship is called today, as in the makerspace rental workshop on the Garching TU campus. Here are laser cutters that automatically cut wood, plastic and paper using computer programming, right next to 3D printers of different sizes, whose layer technology now makes almost completely smooth surfaces possible, CNC milling, where no hand is at risk and waterjet cutters , which even bring concrete into any shape.

In one corner, an electronic embroidery machine stings in seconds, which would take people hours. “The colorful mix of students, start-ups, employees of established companies and also all craft sectors, there is a unique, creative atmosphere in the Makerspace,” says CEO Dirk Rossberg. “The combination of disciplines creates completely new possibilities for realizing ideas and turning them into a profitable business model.”

The entrepreneur explains his approach: “First of all, we produce a 3D model of each project for exact definition on the computer in order to be able to show the customer every corner of the field in real life.” If the job is fixed, it goes to the implementation of the computer model. And here there is hardly a step that is not remotely controlled by a program. The material comes to grips with electronically controlled laser cutting machines and CNC machines. As if by magic, the tools mill, saw, drill and cut through the plates. All this does not happen by itself, the time required for the training of the employees is great. In addition, there are high investments in technology: The cost of laser cutters and CNC machines can easily add up to six-figure amounts.

“Many craftspeople see a danger in the digitization, while it offers the classic craft professions many new opportunities, both in the design and in the implementation.”
Dr. Dirk Rossberg, Managing Director UnternehmerTUM MakerSpace

Teeth from the 3D printer, drones over the roof

However, most craftsmen work in threes, four, maybe five. Large farms like Ackermann are rare. The digitization costs are correspondingly lower there. Laser cutters are available from 10,000 euros, smaller CNC milling from 3000 euros.

But where do you best start with digitization? For example, there is advice from the Competence Center for Digital Crafts, funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics. Specialist events and publications inform interested craftsmen of all disciplines, but all the digital miracle tools can also be viewed directly in so-called shop windows. 50 digitization consultants are ready to help and advise the craftsmen. “Digitization brings profound changes,” says Stephan Blank, “and is both an opportunity and a challenge for our craft businesses.”

So roofers could greatly facilitate their dangerous work with the use of drones, as well as orthopedic technicians who rely on 3D printers. But there are also new questions. “What happens to the dental technicians, for example,” says Blank, “when dental prostheses are no longer produced by hand in the lab, but come much cheaper from the dentist’s 3D printer, and will future independent auto repair shops still have all the necessary data from the car manufacturers to service or repair vehicles, or can motorists in the future only turn to contract workshops? “

There is still much that has not been decided yet, but in most industries there are great advantages for the consumer. If the heating technician comes into the house and repairs the thermostat in five minutes, everything else is already prepared on his mobile phone: two clicks and the bill is pending. No cumbersome emergence of assembly slips more, the time saved is clear in favor of the end user. Or just the above-mentioned topic house building: drones inspect the construction progress at any time, see from the top of every corner, without roofers or bricklayer personally have to check everything before the next step can be started.

Time savings: enormous. However, digitalisation also offers advantages thanks to the new information channels. For example, Max’s butchery in the Bavarian court recently managed to considerably increase her customer base by providing her with detailed information on animal husbandry and meat production on Facebook, as well as using it via an online shop over other routes.

“Digitalization has enabled us to increase sales so much that we even have two additional ones
Employees who only care about the online store. ”
Florian Köhn, Managing Director Max Fleischerfachgeschäft GmbH

Russian church organ is decorated in Chiemgau

The tremendous advantages of having an appealing presence on the net, and even more so in combination with good search engine optimization, is demonstrated by a joinery in Chiemgau, which relies entirely on computer-assisted woodworking. “I could not live on the district alone,” says Andreas Weinzierl, owner of 3D Holzdesign. The rural area is sparsely populated, complex carpentry services are rarely needed here.

For this Weinzierl can attract top-class customers with very special wishes from far away. Thanks to his computer-controlled milling technology, an art-historically valuable Baroque figure from the Munich Theatinerkirche could be repaired, and even eyeglass frames and watch cases are made of wood by Weinzierl himself.

Also interesting: How digitalization reaches the middle class

If Baroque church figures or New York stock exchange tables are not your world, you would rather have done a repair or a major renovation in your home without having to wait and do some awkward searches. The Internet can help here as well.

With Crafty, Christiane Wolff, ex-head of communication of the agency group Serviceplan and Jens Zabel, who has been successfully managing the Zabel Group for 30 years in Facility Management, recently founded the first craft company in Germany, which offers all trades from a single source. No complicated cross-over searches for fitters, master painters or tilers more: one call is enough. Crafty will soon be in every city from 100,000 inhabitants, always with on-site presence by their own craftsmen. Wolff and Zabel like to think big. Also a thing that has become much easier due to digitization.

Every year, I make half of my turnover with new customers who find my homepage online. ”
Andreas Weinzierl, owner of 3D wood design

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