Industry 4.0: The license to digitise

Everyone is talking about Industry 4.0. The Karlsruhe-based company connyun is implementing it. But how do manufacturing companies and mechanical engineers benefit from digitisation? We talked to connyun about it.

Dr. Kusterer, you are the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and Managing Director of connyun GmbH in Karlsruhe. For those who do not know your company yet: what exactly does connyun do?

Let’s start with the name: “conn” is an abbreviation of the English “connected”, and “yún” is the Chinese word for “cloud”. The name symbolises our focus on device connectivity, cloud software, big data technology and data science. We bundle these competencies to develop standard IIoT software for industrial production. It is particularly important to us to take the perspective of manufacturing companies and mechanical engineers: How can they connect a wide variety of devices to a single platform with little effort? How can they increase availability and transparency in production? How can manufacturing problems be identified and solved more quickly? How can existing data be used to sustainably improve production forecasts and processes? Since the middle of the year, connyun has been part of Körber Digital, Körber AG’s business unit for digital innovation and new digital business models.

Although Industry 4.0 has been talked about for years, many companies are still reluctant to tackle the issue. Why do you think that is?

The flood of content around the topic of Industry 4.0 has really swelled. In my opinion, decision makers - entrepreneurs, production managers or lean managers - are often left alone when it comes to concrete implementation! Very often, there is no clear orientation. In addition, the number of IIoT providers is constantly increasing - whether they are project companies, consulting firms or solution and platform providers. These factors make it increasingly difficult for entrepreneurs to decide what the right course of action is. We want to give our customers a very clear roadmap for implementing Industry 4.0.

On your website, you write that you are rethinking Industry 4.0. What exactly do you do differently, and to what extent do your customers benefit from it?

connyun brings together two things that cannot be reproduced in the same way: a deep understanding of the needs of manufacturing companies; and software competence with a focus on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). This is due to the fact that we originally emerged in 2016 from KUKA AG, known for robotics. You cannot develop industry 4.0 solutions that really add value without also understanding something about industrial manufacturing. In this sense, connyun is very different from other providers in the consulting business or IT. It’s easy for us to empathise with the thinking of manufacturing companies and mechanical engineers, because we have lively exchanges with them and carry out many joint projects.

By “re-thinking Industry 4.0”, we mean that our solutions truly meet the requirements of manufacturing and are quite real, i.e. far from being abstract concepts, but ready to use, easy to connect, useful and economically attractive.

"With the I4_Suite, you maximise the availability of your production and save, for example, on high investments in new production facilities." - How do you imagine this in practice?

It is important to understand that our software solutions do not intervene in manufacturing facility control. We intervene “non-invasively”, so to speak. We make the best possible use of existing structures and develop their technology together with the customer. Our software is not “mission-critical” and does not affect production, but shows the current state of the machines and production cells, the main KPIs, and minimises downtime due to the faster problem-solving process. We can do this through the targeted support of workers and foremen.

Of course, basic prerequisites for automation technology and connectivity must be created so that it is possible to embed older machines in a modern IT environment. But one thing is clear: many small and medium-sized companies simply cannot manage new acquisitions financially. They are more concerned with optimally using existing plants with state-of-the-art technological advancements. And that’s exactly what we do with our I4_Suite, so that IIoT not only remains technologically, but also economically interesting for companies that want to use data-driven processes in their production in the future.

How have your solutions so far been received by industry?

Right now, we are going two different ways: On the one hand, we are strongly supporting the digitisation of the Körber Group itself. With Körber, we have found a new owner who has put digitisation at the top of their agenda with the clear goal of making it an integral part of the corporate culture. Of course, we also offer our SaaS applications to external customers, but it must be said that connyun is still very new to the market.

However, we’ll soon be able to name specific names, because we are currently talking to potential customers from very different industries, all of whom are very interested in a standard IIoT solution or targeted data science analysis. We are currently in the process of clarifying the prerequisites and scope of a successful implementation of Industry 4.0 with them.

Actual implementation is preceded by intensive discussions, but the key to success lies in cooperation, openness and the reduction of reserve: IIoT is advisory-intensive, but that also makes it so exciting, diverse and interesting.

Cyber security plays an important role in Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. How does connyun deal with it?

We build our software applications completely on Microsoft Azure. The Azure platform already provides a good foundation in terms of security and privacy. To quote our partner Microsoft: The Azure Security Center makes Azure the only public cloud platform to provide ongoing security status monitoring. This also applies to threat management in Azure, where Microsoft uses technologies and processes that consistently strengthen Azure's defence mechanisms and reduce risk. Microsoft Azure customers are globally well-known companies. In this sense, it’s safe to assume that the security standards are at the highest level. In addition, we have security experts in our development team who constantly keep our own solutions up to date in terms of security.

Industry 4.0 is only at the beginning of its development. What awaits us in this area in the coming years, and how will the manufacturing sector change in the near future?

The pressure is getting stronger, even if mechanical engineering is doing very well right now. However, for this to remain so in future, companies must actively engage with digitisation. New business models based on digitisation and increasing automation will change the market. There will also be some new market players, especially from Asia. Human-machine collaboration - the so-called Cobots - are on the rise and will permanently change the way we manufacture, as well as our understanding of the role of humans and robots.

And there will have to be much more collaboration and cooperation, because companies can no longer control the dynamics alone, and speed and time-to-market are increasingly in demand. That’s why software companies have been joining forces in alliances for decades. German mechanical engineers will have to do the same: co-innovation, i.e. building better solutions together. Incidentally, we should not underestimate the influence of politics either. We need a clear European position, or a strengthening of this position to be able to hold our own against the competition, above all from China.

What significance does the location Karlsruhe have for you?

Karlsruhe is one of the most important European locations for information and communication technology. Karlsruhe has numerous engineering and manufacturing companies in the immediate vicinity, which is very important to us. There is a diverse corporate, research and science landscape, such as the Fraunhofer Institute, the Research Centre for Computer Science and, of course, the KIT, which is very important for our recruitment. We also have the support of strong associations here: these include the CyberForum, with whom we exchange ideas, or the Karlsruhe TechnologyRegion, with whom we will have our first exchange in September. connyun profits from this infrastructure. The commitment of our multinational team to Karlsruhe as a location is also very strong, and our Berlin colleagues are impressed when they visit us.

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