What do clothes, AI and coal have in common?

From left to right: Ingo Kufferath, Dr. Peter Janßen, Prof. Dr. Alexander Ferrein, Prof. Dr. Thomas Gries, Prof. Dr. Sascha Stowasser, Kai Gondlach. Copyright: © ITA

This was the question posed by futurologist Kai Gondlach at the opening event of the "WIRKsam - Shaping economic change in the Rhenish textile and coal region with artificial intelligence" competence center on the evening of March 29, 2022. After welcoming addresses from federal and state ministries, a distinguished panel of experts discussed issues surrounding the use of artificial intelligence to support work. Hopes and fears were just as much a topic as questions from the circle of over 200 guests connected online.


The moderator and futurologist Kai Gondlach summarised the central topics of the WIRKsam Competence Center by asking what "clothes, AI and coal have in common" and opened the event.

Changing the world of work

Prof. Dr. Sascha Stowasser, Director of ifaa - Institut für angewandte Arbeitswissenschaft e. V. (Institute for Applied Labor Science), described an optimistic future scenario for the Rhenish coal region in his welcoming speech.

Appropriately, Prof. Dr. Ina Schieferdecker from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) emphasized in her welcoming address: "There will be a change in the working environments of this region, which precisely does not have to lead to job losses".

Similarly, Prof. Dr. Andreas Pinkwart, Minister for Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitalization and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, summarized in his welcoming address: "It is clear that with the increasing application of digital technologies and artificial intelligence in companies, the world of work is also changing. The Competence Center Effective, with its focus on the design of new forms of work through artificial intelligence, is making an important contribution to bringing employees in companies along in this transformation process."

Prof. Dr. Sascha Sto-wasser, Prof. Dr. Alexander Ferrein, Director of the MASKOR Institute at Aachen University of Applied Sciences, as well as Prof. Dr. Thomas Gries, Director of the ITA – Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University, and Ingo Kufferath, CEO of GKD - Gebr. Kufferath AG, took part in the high-profile expert panel discussion. The experts discussed and answered questions contributed by the audience via interactive software on the screens, such as this one: "What are concepts to get employees, especially workers, used to AI systems or to create acceptance?".

Further information on the WIRKsam competence center

For decades, lignite shaped the Rhenish coal region, which is also one of Germany's traditionally important textile regions. Due to the approaching phase-out of lignite mining, the region is facing a structural change that represents a major economic, social and ecological challenge. This affects companies in a wide range of sectors and numerous jobs in the region. The WIRKsam competence center is researching how this change can be achieved with the use of innovative technology and how attractive, innovative jobs can be created. The technological focus is on the use of artificial intelligence, which is one of the fields of action identified in the "Economic and Structural Program for the Rhenish Future Region" of the Zukunftsagentur Rheinisches Revier.

Artificial intelligence is changing the world of work

AI will change human work. As a result, it will also create considerable opportunities in the working world of the future, for relief, further training and innovation. Because working with AI is not a technology-driven fate; rather, there is considerable potential for shaping it. This is where WIRKsam comes in. Together with various regional companies, research partners and IT enablers are developing prototype AI applications in an innovatively designed real lab in Hürth. Together with the technical development and testing of the AI solutions, the labor-science partners analyze and design the aspects of work for all people in the company. The basis is the MTO principle, according to which people, technology and organization are viewed holistically in their interrelationships.

Expert consortium ifaa, ITA, MASKOR and participating companies

Under the coordination of ifaa - Institut für angewandte Arbeitswissen-schaft e. V. (Institute for Applied Work Science), research and practice partners are working together for change in the Rhenish coalfield. Together with the ITA (Institut für Textiltechnik of RWTH Aachen University), they are investigating how work can be supported by AI and how both should be designed to do so. The ITA also contributes its expert knowledge in textile technology and textile mechanical engineering. The Institute for Mobile Autonomous Systems and Cognitive Robotics (MASCOR) at the FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences is responsible for the conceptualization and research of artificial intelligence. Three IT companies develop the AI systems, which are tested in the everyday work of various application companies. Currently, nine companies are application partners for the development and testing of the AI applications; another six companies will follow in mid-2024.

You can find out more about the WIRKsam competence center and all the partners involved at http://www.WIRKsam.nrw. Please allow us to point out that the event and the website are in German, as this is a funding programme for German companies.

The WIRKsam Competence Center is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the "Regional Competence Centers of Labor Research" funding measure and is supervised by the Karlsruhe Project Management Agency (PTKA) (funding code: 02L19C600).

Please notice that the event and all communications

Please notice that the event took place in German. Thank you in advance for your kind understanding.



Dr. Andrea Altepost

ITA Project Manager WIRKsam


+49 241 80 23400