As CEO of Siemens AG Digital Factory Division, what do you think industry will be like in the future?
Industry in the future will be 100% digitalized and networked via the cloud. It will be able to develop and manufacture new products many times faster than at present, and all perfectly tailored to individual customer requirements. This will be just as true for sneakers or smartphones as for cars or other products. And the amount of resources and energy needed will be much lower than today, without compromising product quality.
So it’s better to start the digital transformation now rather than wait?
Digitalization is the key lever that will enable companies to remain competitive into the future. This applies both to smaller operations and to major companies that are active around the world. Increasingly shorter innovation cycles mean that industrial enterprises constantly need to shorten their development and production times.
This requires seamless integration of data along the value chain, from the idea of a product to the real product to service. Making use of the opportunities provided by digitalization to respond faster and more flexibly to customer requirements will provide an advantage on the market. So that means the best time to enter the digital era is right now.
What can Siemens do as a partner with companies on the path to the digital enterprise?
We understand our customers’ world – and not just from outside, since we too are a manufacturing company. This means we know from our own experience how customers can get their products to the market faster, more flexibly, with maximum efficiency, and in top quality – in other words, by combining the virtual world of product development with the real world of manufacturing. We’re the only company on the market right now that combines the latest software for product lifecycle management with powerful automation technologies and services under one roof. Our Digital Enterprise Software Suite addresses and dovetails every stage in the industrial production process.
Can you provide an example?
Take our own company: many of our plants have already implemented end-to-end integration, from the product concept to the manufacturing process to the actual product to service. Our products take shape in the form of a digital twin on the computer and are simulated, optimized, and then manufactured using highly flexible processes on fully integrated automation systems.
Of course, we have already helped many customers to fully digitalize their value chains, for example, in the automotive industry. As a result, development times have been reduced by as much as 40% and manufacturing volumes have increased substantially, with no loss of quality. Remember that this is in an industry in which every product is unique, made to the individual specifications of the automobile buyer.
If we assume that all companies decide to follow the integration path, how will they be able to gain a further competitive advantage?
I think the industry is just at the beginning of the digital transformation in many areas, not least in data-based services and cloud solutions. Siemens is also optimally positioned in this regard: our operating system for the Internet of Things, MindSphere, is really taking off now. It gives both end customers and OEMs new insights into their systems and plants.
But many other providers also make the same promise. How do you differentiate?
Siemens is the only company to offer the total operating system, from connectivity, to the platform as a service (PaaS), to apps and digital services. That means customers can quickly and efficiently analyze the huge data volumes their plants generate, identify any weak points, and achieve even greater improvements in both production performance and availability. And, of course, all our knowledge of manufacturing processes and automation technology has flowed into the development of the MindSphere operating system right from the outset.
But even so, our customers know their own plants and their own machines better than anyone else. That’s why it was important to design MindSphere as an open operating system for the Internet of Things. Customers can select from an existing portfolio of applications and services from Siemens or, using the MindSphere platform, develop and market their own applications to suit their individual requirements. Our goal is for the MindSphere platform to support our customers – machine builders, for example – when they add new applications and services to their machines. It’s important for us not to find ourselves competing with them.
How does the road to the new world of data work, in reality?
With MindConnect, Siemens lets machines and plants connect to MindSphere quickly and securely. MindConnect Nano, for example, is a plug-and-play solution that records all data of relevance to the customer – such as status data from an individual drive or conveyor system – and transmits them to MindSphere at set intervals. The connection via MindConnect Nano can often be set up in less than an hour. The data are then analyzed in MindSphere using the appropriate apps. At the end of the process, customers receive clear recommendations on how to optimize their systems.
For which companies is a solution like this relevant?
Every manufacturing company, regardless of size, can benefit hugely from cloud-based applications. I’m thinking of areas like energy data management, resource optimization, and predictive maintenance, where a relatively small industrial plant can be connected to the cloud just as easily as a global manufacturing landscape. The appropriate apps and services can then draw valuable conclusions on performance from the data that are gathered. And if systems are enlarged or new analytical functions are needed, MindSphere can be expanded without difficulty.
Even so, many companies still seem a bit cautious. Concerns about data security are holding them back from moving to a cloud-based system.
Data security is our top priority. It goes without saying that we comply with the current legal requirements in the different countries involved. All data are comprehensively protected using the best technical means currently available to us, and they are always encrypted for transmission. With MindSphere we work only with recognized, experienced partners in the IT industry. The other important point is that customers alone decide who receives access to their data.
Picture credits: Siemens AG