Interview Stefan Lorenz, Beckhoff

Beckhoff1At the ITQ joint stand as part of IT2Industry@AUTOMATICA, the company Beckhoff presents products and solutions for the Industrial Internet of Things. In an interview with the IT2Industry blog, Stefan Lorenz, Head of Sales for South Bavaria, explains why Beckhoff has been among the pioneers in the subject “digitization of industry” for many years.

IT2Industry Blog: Mr. Lorenz, Beckhoff has ranked among the leading companies in automation for many years. To what extent did you already set your course towards digitization before all the “Industry 4.0 hype”?

Stefan_LorenzStefan Lorenz: „Beckhoff didn’t have to set a course towards digitization and Industry 4.0. Since the time our company was set up in 1980, it has developed products with open, digital system architectures. As early as 1986, the first PC-compatible machine control was launched on the market. Ten years later came the automation software TwinCAT as IEC61131 PLC real-time control under Windows (NT). With Lightbus, digital communication technology in automation was already a component of the technology since 1991. As the first supplier of a modular I/O system (presented in 1995 at the Hanover Fair) for various fieldbus systems, Beckhoff became a pioneer in the modularization—and ultimately the digitization—of machinery and plant. With the presentation of further technologies in recent years such as the embedded PC controllers and the real-time Ethernet system EtherCAT as well as the introduction of TwinCAT 3 as a logical development of the automation software, our customers now have a complete set of tools to meet the challenges of the coming years. With EtherCAT as communication level in the field and through the EAP (EtherCAT Automation Protocol) at control level, the world’s most widely distributed industrial real-time system is at your disposal. So the future that many people speak about has already been put into practice by us.“

IT2I: What products and solutions for the Industrial Internet of Things will Beckhoff be presenting as part of the ITQ joint stand at IT2Industry@AUTOMATICA?

Stefan Lorenz: “ We will portray Industry 4.0 and IoT by taking the example of communication with the MI5 demonstrator. For this purpose, we plan to implement a cloud linkage to our stand in Hall B6, Stand 320. In concrete terms, the cloud communication with MQTT and the accompanying connection between the exhibits are to be presented.“

IT2I: What in your view are the biggest challenges for companies with regard to Industry 4.0?

Stefan Lorenz:    „THE paradigm shift!

Many of our customers implemented classical PLC control technology in the past. This technology from the 1990s is today shrouded in new topic areas—but on closer inspection, it has essentially remained almost unchanged. The end customers of the various machine manufacturers are asking for more and more technology in their production environments. One reason for these end-customer demands is new legislation and EU directives (DIN EU ISO 5001 = energy data management; EN ISO 13849-1 and -2), which make more complex requirements on the machinery and plant manufacturers. Here, the established ways of thinking and the familiar implementation mechanisms take effect no longer or only with great financial expenditure regarding hardware and software engineering. Many companies do not yet want to recognize this change—which is already at the transitional stage—in the structures and methods in engineering, and they try to react to the expanded requirements as they previously did. In this respect, Dr. Stetter is the “missionary in the machine manufacturing and engineering world”; he is trying to make it clear that the shift in the proportions of software and hardware within a machine manufacturing or plant project is already obvious. The “5S of manufacturing” are obligatory in the workshop, why are there no “5S of engineering”?“

To sum up, the greatest challenge for companies as I see it is at management level, to motivate their staff to play an active part in this change in order to keep the company competitive. But I see positive signs for these companies too, because tertiary education is increasingly producing young engineers who deal exclusively with these technologies in their training.“

IT2I: How will the Industrial Internet of Things affect the working environment?

Stefan Lorenz: „I see two working environments here.

  1. The environment of the developers and engineers from all technical faculties. Here, new fields of study are being generated; in the coming years, these will call for other qualifications to follow the new tasks which are to be solved too. You can roughly compare this with the change from hard-wired programmed logic control to PLC (programmable logic control) over 25 years ago. At the time, there were dissenting voices too: “What happens to our electricians? We still need them today”. But the programming of the logic was set in software, which gave Germany a headstart in the world. The same thing is happening NOW and I hope the German (and European) technology companies recognize this and cooperate so that Germany continues to play a leading technological role in the world for the automation of machinery and plant.
  2. The environment of the users. This change will take place far less rapidly than many people are now threatening. To apply a key message from IoT, it’s all about machines communicating with each other. So, for instance, the packaging machine is to report to the supplier’s production machine that further material of the type xy is needed in the time period t. At big companies today, this is already happening “indirectly”. The machine reports the need to the inventory control system, which checks the stock on hand and initiates the order automatically when required.

Another scenario in the users‘ working environment involves “flexible” production lines. Here the product “asks” which station is currently available for the next processing step. This calls for flexible transport systems such as our XTS (eXtended Transport System), new logistic strategies and “somewhat” more intelligent machines. So I don’t see any significant effect on this area of the working environment because the number of persons necessary for the plant are already available now in this setting. Activities that put a strain on persons are undergoing change; however, this is not directly connected with IoT but with the increasing degree of automation (e.g. MRC—man-robot cooperation).“

IT2I: How far will German industry be in five years’ time in the area of IoT, Industry 4.0 and digitization?

Stefan Lorenz: „As I see it, a great deal will depend on how our central branches of industry put this subject into effect—or have it put into effect—in the coming years. I’ve been around this market for over 20 years and I see a distinction between big SMEs which have already got moving and will certainly be exporting leading technologies in their machines out into the world in five years’ time. To some extent, I see domestic producing industry as still following a rather more conservative path. Outwardly, a lot is communicated about new technologies; but in innovation on production level, this still doesn’t often look like the future. There are sufficient ideas and concepts and the young generation of engineers and technicians are already in the starting blocks—but since “many things have always been done this way ……”

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