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The mechanical engineer Maximilian Fischer had the idea of developing an operating system for factories. In an interview, the co-founder of the start-up company Actyx explains how medium-sized industrial companies benefit from this.
ITM: Mr. Fischer, your company is talking about establishing an "Android for factories". What does this mean? How can Industry 4.0 drive this forward in small and medium-sized enterprises as well?
Maximilian Fischer: Our software platform is a uniform infrastructure that enables apps to run on a wide variety of end devices from different manufacturers. The platform automatically distributes the data to the various devices and stores it there. Developers can therefore concentrate completely on developing value-added apps and do not have to worry about setting up the infrastructure. On our platform, apps for machines are programmed in the same way as apps for humans. This allows us to provide a consistent development experience across the entire factory, just as Android creates for different mobile devices.
This is particularly interesting for medium-sized companies, as it enables software to be developed much faster. Instead of programming a solution for months, it can be done on our platform within a few days or weeks. We are also currently working on a marketplace where providers can offer standardised apps. This will make software more accessible and, similar to the Google Play Store, you can easily buy and install ready-made solutions.
ITM: How important are RPA solutions in the industrial environment?
Fischer: RPA solutions create interfaces where there were none before, thus reducing the effort required for manual data transfer. This allows employees to concentrate more on the evaluation and analysis of data and, for example, to detect target deviations or inconsistencies. Employees become more productive and have fewer repetitive tasks to complete.
ITM: Industry 4.0 has become a buzzword, and large technology groups are also trying to develop solutions for it. So how can start-ups like yours score points and what do they have over the "big ones"?
Fischer: As a start-up, you can only score points if you offer a fundamentally different approach that enables significant improvements. Being five to ten percent better than established corporations is not enough for a start-up to survive. Our IT approach, where there is no central server and data and logic are exclusively decentralised, offers completely new possibilities. The solutions are more fail-safe, robust and scalable. In our eyes, software will only replace paper in the factory when it is nearly as reliable. Centralised IT systems are too fragile and complex in our eyes, so we take a different approach. For us, the software always runs as long as the end device has power: this approach is unique in the industry so far.
ITM: Will we soon all have our own bot?
Fischer: Job descriptions will change due to digitisation. If done right, that does not necessarily have to be bad. Especially in times like Corona, we realise how important factories are for our society, but we also realise that production processes are very rigid. Even a country like Germany, which probably builds the most complex machines in the world, has difficulties producing relatively simple products like respirators quickly in large quantities. Digital assistants can help people learn new skills and thus increase flexibility.
ITM: RPA and automation are fundamentally changing the world of work - at the expense of human labour?
Fischer: It would be wrong to say that professions will not change and that certain activities will disappear. Here, one must try to qualify employees with further training for other tasks. But we can also see that factories are finding it very difficult to find skilled workers. Some jobs cannot be refilled and companies are happy if they can increase the productivity of their employees through automation. By increasing productivity, waste can be avoided and more prosperity can be generated. A side effect can also be that the four-day week, as temporarily implemented in industry by Corona, can increasingly become the standard, naturally at the same wage as before.