Q&A: Why GRANITE’s German-Japanese research cooperation on the future of work is demanding but also promising

Small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany and Japan alike lack individual strategies to master the digital transformation – yet these will be particularly important in ageing, highly industrialised societies.

Dr Reiners, on 4 October 2019 GRANITE will travel to Japan for the first time. What highlights are scheduled?

We will visit a number of interesting people, companies and research institutions in three prefectures over 14 days. We will start in Tokyo and move on to the port of Takamatsu in Kagawa prefecture. Then we will travel to Nagano prefecture in the Japanese Alps. Two major events are planned there, among other appointments:  The well-known Desk Top Factory forum and the SUWA Area Industrial Fair 2019 with more than 25,000 visitors to which we have been invited as GRANITE research ambassadors.

From an academic perspective, my personal highlights are the two planned symposiums at Shinshu and Kagawa universities: together with Japanese colleagues we will discuss the different approaches in Germany and Japan towards the topics of Industrie 4.0 and Society 5.0 from an academic but also entrepreneurial perspective.

What are you looking forward to in particular?

We are particularly looking forward to getting to know our partners and colleagues in Japan better and to gain inspiration. After all, despite all that German and Japanese research and development have in common, there are fascinating technical and socio-cultural differences.
Japan enjoys trying out new things; the entire society is technology-oriented and focuses on the advantages of new technologies. Older workers can benefit, for example, from exoskeletons or from automation and remain happy working at the same company for a long time. Concerns about data privacy are perhaps not as high since people have greater trust in the regulations.

We in Germany also enjoy trying out new things, but there is always a 'but'. We are often anxious believing that new technologies and optimisation will make staff obsolete and cut jobs. I find it very satisfying to take a fresh look at the way I think about things, to overcome blockages and to consider the problems related to our future simply from a different angle.

How can researchers, developers and entrepreneurs in Germany and Japan support each other in terms of digitalisation of industry?

Both societies are facing similar problems and will have to address similar future challenges. As in Japan we also have an ageing society in Germany, and the world of work is changing noticeably. Small and medium-sized enterprises in the Far East as in Europe are very much lacking in individual strategies to recognise and exploit opportunities provided by digitalisation – and yet this is particularly important in ageing, highly-industrialised societies.

We at GRANITE bring from Germany, for example, a specialised human-centred engineering method as well as success stories of SMEs which have been successful in choosing an individual approach in their digital transformation – and which are highly appreciated by their staff precisely for that reason.

Thank you very much for talking to us and have a successful trip!


Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT
User-Centered Ubiquitous Computing
Dr René Reiners
Schloss Birlinghoven
53754 Sankt Augustin
+49 2241 143715
Twitter: GRANITE-Ambassadors