Digital transformation is a challenge for companies in asset intensive industries. To keep up, many of them consider external providers. Decision makers have recognized that start-ups react faster and more flexibly to new requirements and developments. Especially when it comes to development of technological innovation, start-ups are at the forefront. In our series on innovative start-up solutions for Industry 4.0, we present three young companies that support asset intensive industries in cost reduction and operational efficiency.
Text: Kaessra Schneeberger
Many companies evaluate cooperation with small, agile and innovative start-ups. Structural conditions make digital change a challenge - especially in Germany. In emerging markets such as China or India, new plants fully equipped with sensor capacity and relevant interfaces are designed and constructed at a rapid pace. The new plants already incorporate digital capacity in the design stage whereas in Germany we are dealing with a large existing asset base of EUR 2.2 trillion. The focus with existing plants is on retrofitting and modernization.
Innovative digital systems help to reduce costs, optimize production quantities and increase work safety. From the unmanned inspection to the automation of work permits or quality controls to the sensory monitoring of the asset health: start-ups are working on new potential in all of these fields of action. We present three companies that provide interesting solutions:
COMPANY: SEMIOTICLABS, LEIDEN (NETHERLANDS)
The start-up, founded in 2016, supports industrial companies in optimizing their condition monitoring. The goal: By collecting and analyzing data in a targeted manner, failures and wear should be determined before they happen. The company's motto: "Sense the future, act before assets break."
The SAM4 is supposed to make this possible, a fully integrated hardware and software solution that relies on machine learning through modern sensor technology. The IoT sensors send the data continuously to the integrated analysis tool. In a learning phase, the software first gets to know the typical properties of a machine and uses it to develop algorithms that act as the standard. All connected assets can be checked on the dashboard, for example for performance, energy consumption or condition. Noticeable deviations are recognized in real time and transmitted via alert. The start-up's previous customers include ArcelorMittal and Tata Steel.
COMPANY: COMPANY42, MUNICH (GERMANY)
While new production plants are popping up like mushrooms, in Germany many companies are currently retrofitting their machines and systems in order to survive in the international competition. This is exactly where box42 comes in. With their retrofit solution, older machines should get fit for Industry 4.0 - at least that's what the company slogan promises: "Bring your machines into the digital age - in 10 minutes!"
In order to keep the promise, the makers of box42 installed a camera that automatically reads different types of machine displays and measuring devices. The displayed values are recognized via a neural network and forwarded directly to the control system or an ERP system. Company42 takes the topics 'Data Safety' and 'Data Governance' very seriously - the founders even guarantee data security in the product description. The box42 offers a wide range of applications: it works autonomously, but can also be integrated into existing environments using OPC-UA or REST if required. The result: The relevant operating data is digitally available at the end and can be used for process optimization.
COMPANY: KOPTERFLUG, BREMEN (GERMANY)
Product (s): Industrial drones and cameras
Although Kopterflug was only founded in 2017 and has been on the market for over a year, the start-up already has a large network. Covestro, ArcelorMittal, BASF and Siemens are among the cooperation partners. Kopterflug's offer is particularly interesting for companies from asset intensive industries, whose systems are sometimes difficult to access. A whole range of drone models and 360 cameras facilitates the maintenance of containers such as tanks or boilers, chimneys, high-bay warehouses, turbines, roofs, as well as pipe systems and ventilation shafts. Air measurement and volume determination are also part of the offer. Thanks to their innovative technology, the founders promise to save their customers time and reduce costs. “Downtimes are significantly shortened by inspection using a drone or camera. In addition, almost no scaffolding is required on systems and machines that are difficult to access, and the staff can also be used for other purposes and thus more efficiently”, says Christian Engelke, founder of Kopterflug.
The three start-ups present technological sound solutions. However, technology is not the most critical factor. The practical application and smart integration into the daily operation is the decisive success factor. Whether a solution can be implemented in practice depends on two factors. First: The organizational requirements (training, skills and willingness to change) must be in place. Second: The business processes need to be evaluated for change requirements.
Further, the potential benefits should be calculated in advance in order to manage expectations. For this reason, one should start with a manageable amount of the plant inventory during the implementation - ideally focusing on the "critical equipment" where efficiency gains translate most quickly into hard cash.