Prof. Dr. Michael Weyrich
Hans-Jürgen Schmitz, Martin Wolczyk / Adobe Firefly (Composing)
2024-01-01 VDE dialog

A strong network

Measurement and automation technology is the key to a technological, but also sustainable future, says Prof. Dr. Michael Weyrich, chair of the VDI/VDE specialist society GMA.

What does GMA stand for?

In German, GMA stands for the Society for Measurement and Automatic Control within VDI and VDE. Our work is about the automation of processes, machinery and systems. This technology is used primarily in factories, but also in cars, for example, where it’s enabling autonomous driving. Our other main area, measurement technology, is largely about sensors and the correct use of measuring devices. It’s thanks to this technology that we can understand and influence our environment at all. To put it another way, everyone talks about the 1.5-degree target for global warming. Without us, we couldn’t even measure those degrees. 

Give us a picture of what it’s like working in the GMA.

Working in the GMA is always about taking things from areas like mechanical engineering, process engineering, car-making and the like and introducing processes from electrical engineering and information technology. We’re the glue among many different applications. We work together in an interdisciplinary way and as a network, but also beyond the boundaries of measurement and automation technology. Around 1,500 volunteers represent the heart of our society, and we have a very democratic structure. If someone at one of our meetings stands up to suggest an agenda item and they can convince the other participants, then onto the agenda it goes.

When was the GMA founded, and why?

The GMA just celebrated its 50th anniversary. It was founded as the GMR (Society for Measurement and Control Technology) as factories were undergoing the first big wave of automation. As the change in our name indicates, we’re constantly reinventing ourselves. That’s a byproduct of technical progress itself, which is obviously important to us as a technical society. With our technologies today, we’re simply in a very different place from where we were in the 1970s. To reflect these developments in the GMA, we also recently changed our structure again. With 53 active committees organized in five departments, we now cover the full depth and breadth of measurement and automation technology.

Video interview with Prof. Dr. Michael Weyrich

2023-12-18 Video

“We have the key to a technological future, but also to a sustainable future.”

Watch video

What big topics are you working on at the moment?

Everything is becoming more digital and more virtual: self-learning systems, autonomous systems, artificial intelligence, big data, automation engineering. The subjects we deal with are varied, and we’re right on the front line of technical progress. After all, we’re the ones who have to actually implement everything and develop the necessary rules and recommendations. At the same time, we can’t forget about our more traditional topics, which still have their place, of course.

What past achievements are you proud of?

There are many things that certainly wouldn’t have happened without the GMA; it's hard to pick out just one or two. There are some 350 valid VDI/VDE guidelines that wouldn’t exist without us. Our conferences are also worth mentioning because they offer a platform for discussion and bring people in our field together. This network is what defines the GMA. It’s where all the technical details come from that are needed for these technologies to work.

Are you succeeding in getting your voice heard?

At the GMA, we feel like we’re being listened to within the community and in academia and industry. Our events are well attended, and the texts we write get read. Our position as a leading society in measurement and automation technology gives us a certain amount of influence, of course. Sadly, we sometimes find we don’t get the recognition we’d like from politicians or the media. Our impact on society is also limited. Germany used to be known as a country of tinkerers and inventors, and for its interest in technology. Particularly among parts of the younger generation, this is being lost, unfortunately. That’s a big problem.

How serious is the shortage of skilled labor?

In measurement and automation technology, there’s a really dramatic shortage of specialists. We urgently need more young people to choose degree courses in our field. There are plenty of reasons to study engineering: First of all, there are the excellent career prospects, of course – once they graduate, students will have their choice of attractive and lucrative job opportunities. Secondly, the topics covered are extremely interesting and varied. We’re the key to a technological future, and to a sustainable one, as well. And thirdly, working on these topics is just a lot of fun. That’s an aspect we sometimes don’t emphasize nearly enough.

Why is the GMA a specialist society within VDE and VDI?

Since we have shared objectives, it makes sense to work on them together. We also want to develop this technology together. We want to promote safety through accepted engineering standards. We want to support the next generation. We want to tackle social problems. All that is true of VDE, VDI and our work with them. It’s also true of the collaboration among VDE’s different specialist societies. A network like this can be a tremendous force for good.

VDE talks about an “e-dialistic future.” How is the GMA contributing to this?

An e-dialistic future is one in which we maintain Germany’s prosperity and secure employment. That said, we’re also making a vital contribution to the big goals we want to achieve in society – whether it’s circular economy or reducing CO2. Without us, practically nothing is possible.

Interview by Martin Schmitz-Kuhl

Prof. Michael Weyrich heads the Institute of Industrial Automation and Software Engineering at the University of Stuttgart. He has been the chair of the VDI/VDE Society for Measurement and Automatic Control (GMA) since the beginning of 2022.

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