Whether it involves KUKA Connect, a new Accelerator team or young start-ups for new business models: The topic of networking is at the top of the KUKA agenda. In an interview, Christian Schlögel, Chief Digital Officer (CDO), and Rohitashwa Pant, Senior Vice President Industrie 4.0 Accelerator, spoke about their ambitious projects, KUKA’s advantages over established IT companies and the “pedigree” of our company.
Mr. Schlögel, Mr. Pant, would you say that KUKA Connect has already achieved the “factory of the future” in Hall 7?
Schlögel: The factory of the future is not something you accomplish in one go, rather it is an evolutionary process which will be realized over the next five to ten years. We have taken a step along the road with networking and connecting machines to the cloud and monitoring them. We intend to enhance the development in Hall 7 by regular additions of new functionalities and to learn from our experience.
So the installation of KUKA Connect in Augsburg is also a test run?
Schlögel: That is the huge advantage that we have over the IT companies: we have the ability to run our own practical tests on our developments. So we can see whether in day-to-day production they deliver real added value and make good on their promises. Colleagues such as our Head of Production are the best test customers. If they use it in their everyday work, we’ve done a good job.
Pant: For us this is also a good showcase to demonstrate to potential customers how they can build on existing structures. At KUKA we have not built a new line focusing on Industrie 4.0; instead we have incorporated our technologies into an existing line, connected the machines and thus had everything in the cloud relatively quickly. In this way we can show customers how we can help them in their existing production environment. If a customer already has thousands of robots in use, he doesn’t want to buy a whole set of replacement machines in order to link them to the cloud – though of course that would be very nice for us (laughs).
How do we ensure data security in this new world of networked production?
Schlögel: We host this system in encrypted mode. As you would expect, this is an aspect that we review constantly. And we keep strengthening it. In order to offer maximum security we have also sought out strong partners who contribute additional security software.
How does that software work? Can you give us an example?
Pant: For instance, there is software on the topic of recognizing anomalies. Typically, the robot communicates with our Nebbiolo box. If the robot suddenly starts to scan all the other devices available and attempts to contact them in some way, that would be such an anomaly. At that point the software would react. It detects this irregularity in the robot’s behavior and switches the systems into a mode where they continue to run but can no longer communicate.
As you know, we exhibited the Nebbiolo box and a prototype of KUKA Connect at Hannover Messe last year…
Schlögel: Exactly, in 2016 we built the first product variant that was strongly robot-based. Our colleagues from the KUKA Team in Austin did a really super job. We have now extended this to other machines. We have also connected other partners who have welding, adhesive application and riveting machines or the like. That all then interacts with our solution. We now intend to position ourselves strongly in this ecosystem environment in the near future.
Is KUKA now turning into a software company?
Pant: No, but we are acquiring additional software competence on a major scale. This doesn’t mean we have no further need for our expertise in mechatronics, process technology and systems engineering. In that case, we would become “only” a normal IT company and we would no longer have such good opportunities open to us. We have very good mechatronics specialists, engineers and great employees who design, master and implement production processes. We score heavily on the combination of automation and digitization competence.
Schlögel: In effect, we have always been doing Industrie 4.0, networking robots and analyzing data. Now we have new technologies and capabilities, make use of new sensors and can process more data. Our knowledge of production processes and mechatronics is of central importance to our capability of analyzing data and developing propositions. That’s not something an IT professional who has never seen a robot can deliver. It also gives us greater credibility. Our competitors come from an entirely different environment and lack this “pedigree”.
Small and medium-sized enterprises in Germany are often accused of responding hesitantly to the challenge of digitization. Your new Industrie 4.0 team is talking to many customers about this. What is you experience on this point?
Pant: I believe that at present there is no CEO in Germany who does not have Industrie 4.0 on his agenda. Every company must interpret the topic for themselves and find their way forward. But doing nothing for reasons of data protection is definitely the wrong decision. We have had countless meetings with other machinery manufacturers and have received great encouragement for our thoughts on ecosystems. Many of them recognize that KUKA is already well ahead here and want to accompany us on this path.