April 14th 2020 by Maximilian Fischer
Marcell Polley, general manager of focus Industrieautomation, provides first hand insights on how a very successfull, SME, Industry Automation and IT service provider thinks the manufacturing market is changing, why edge- and cloud-computing will play a key role in this change, and and why they decided to use the Actyx platform.
Note: the interview was orginially done in German, scroll down to see the German version.
Actyx: What is your position at focus Industrieautomation?
M. Polley: I am one of the general managers at focus and work in project management and am responsible for sales.
Actyx: What is your personal background?
M. Polley: I did a classical apprenticeship in the electrical trade, and shortly after that a state technician for energy and process automation. After that I worked for nine years as a programmer in the automation environment and then went to evening school to become a technical business economist. Finally I changed to the company focus, where I have been working for 9 years now.
Actyx: Which services do you offer to your customers?
M. Polley: We are a service provider for IT and automation solutions, with a classic background in automation technology. We are deeply rooted in the Siemens ecosystem, but we are now quite independent of the equipment manufacturers. We recognized early on that IT would be an essential part of automation, and therefore we started training and hiring IT personnel more than 20 years ago. Now, at least a third of our people are IT specialists or computer scientists.
Actyx: Who are your typical customers?
M. Polley: We service many different industry verticals. We have customers in the pharmaceutical, chemical and process industries, machinery and equipment manufacturers, as well as public authorities in the water and sewage sector.
Actyx: What has been the most exciting project so far?
M. Polley: One highlight was certainly the Porsche Design Tower in Miami Beach. It has a parking system in the tower where you drive your car into the underground garage and the car is then driven fully automatically to your living room on the 56th floor. Galileo from ProSieben has even made a video clip about this. We designed and programmed the system together with a German engineering company.
Actyx: ... this is really an impressive project.
M. Polley: ... definitely. The owner was very proud to have developed the most expensive car parking system in the world.
Actyx: What are the biggest challenges for you at the moment?
M. Polley: The biggest challenge is clearly that the complexity of projects is increasing, in particular, more and more IT integration is now required. Security requirements in OT and IT are also getting higher and higher. In addition, the topic of digitization is becoming increasingly important, all customers want to digitize more and more. At the same time, many customers don’t yet know what they actually want. Our strength is certainly to make the added value of digital solutions easy to understand. For example, it's not enough to simply explain that digitization gives you access to data, but what you can achieve with it - better quality, higher output or higher plant utilization.
Actyx: How do you think the factory will change in the next few years?
M. Polley: I strongly believe that they will become much more digital. Production processes will be much more dynamic, batch sizes will decrease and products will be highly customized. This requires intelligent cyber-physical systems that are able to make independent decisions. Plants will optimize themselves through AI and more and more robots will come into factories. Finally, automated intralogistics systems will be intelligently linked to production processes in order to guide the material optimally through the factory.
Actyx: How does this change your business?
M. Polley: For us, it is important to keep up with recent developments, with new concepts and to offer this to our customers at an early stage. It is always easier if you are the first in the market and not the latecomer who offers the same solution that everyone else already has.
Actyx: Which concepts are the most important topics for the future for you?
M. Polley: For us the future topics are edge computing and the cloud. We clearly see the need to process data on the edge, to control processes and production orders there and to control quality. The cloud is then incredibly powerful at creating data consistency, analyzing data, and making data accessible anywhere in the world. For the cloud we rely heavily on Mindsphere from Siemens and on the Edge we use the Actyx platform. We're increasingly putting more focus on developing apps for these areas.
Actyx: How important is it for you to standardise your offer? So far you mainly offer customer specific solutions.
M. Polley: That's right, although we have always focused on standardization. We build our solutions mostly with a library of building blocks, which we developed ourselves. What is new for us is that we can suddenly make apps available to a much wider audience. For example, we are currently developing an app to analyze the behavior of a pump and detect anomalies and errors. We built the app in a very generic way, both for the cloud and the edge, because we know that we can now make the app available to a broad mass via the Siemens and the Actyx marketplace. This is possible only since very recently and it’s really exciting for us.
Actyx: What was the main reason to choose the Actyx platform?
M. Polley: We are simply very convinced of your concept of decentralisation, which allows you to run a solution without a central server. This is really new for us, because we have always been very centralized, with a database somewhere on a server. Up to now, we collected the data from the machines, sent it to the server and then pushed it back to the machines from there. The problem is that you are always dependent on the connection to the server; if it's not there, for example because the network is down, then the production process stops. This is of course catastrophic. It's much better if I can record and process the data directly at the machine and then send it later, if necessary, to a central server. I was really enthusiastic when I first heard about your approach. Everyone I told about this, confirmed that this is actually a much better way; a pure centralized approach is really non-sense.
Actyx: How expensive is such a network failure for a factory?
M. Polley: I recently read a study by MicroNova AG. On average one minute of downtime costs about 5'000 EUR, i.e. 300'000 EUR per hour. Only 2% of the companies manage to repair a network failure within one hour, on average it takes 5 hours, that's a lot of money. Even if the failure occurs only once a year.
Actyx: How should 5G be evaluated in this context?
M. Polley: Getting LTE, 5G or WLAN into the last part of the plant is incredibly difficult; there's just a lot of steel and concrete in a factory. With 5G it is actually even more difficult, I need more masts because the range is shorter.
Actyx: Why didn't you use a decentralized approach before?
M. Polley: Because I didn't know of any solution that could do what your system does. I don't know of any comparable system that works like the Actyx platform.
Actyx: How do you plan to use the Actyx platform in the future?
M. Polley: We see a huge potential, especially for customers who want to have more knowledge and control over their processes and assets. I see the need for data processing on the Edge with the majority of our customers. After all, digitization has only just begun, and with the cloud solution from Siemens and your decentralized Edge platform, I think we are very well positioned.
Actyx: Many thanks for the interview!
M. Polley: You are very welcome!
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