In the lead-up to K 2022, the German Mechanical Engineering Industry Association, VDMA is conducting a series of interviews with leading businesspersons in the industry, under the title Way2K. In this interview, Lutz Busch (CEO) and Maik Krüger (Head of Business Development) at Kampf Schneid- und Wickeltechnik GmbH & Co. KG talk about the advances in and need for digitalisation and connectivity in the industry. "To exploit the full potential, we need a circular economy based on data exchange and transparency along the entire life cycle of plastics."
How has digitalisation gained momentum at Kampf?
Busch: Seven years ago, we conducted a survey to find out what significance Industry 4.0, at that time the term for digitalisation in industry, held for customers. We found out that our customers were very interested in getting more data about the production process and receiving earlier information about necessary maintenance or the replacement of parts, in order to be pro-active regarding any disruptions to production. Back then, we’d already developed a digital tool that could be used to generate up-to-date status reports of machines. Since then, we have initiated further developments, and now have a complete IIoT platform that helps us operate with our customers and also with our suppliers.
Krüger: It’s becoming increasingly important to connect systems with one another if we want to survive and stand one’s ground against the competition. Towards K, we will present another stage in our IIoT platform. Digitalisation continues to develop; products are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and technological leaps are occurring at ever shorter intervals, which always results in new applications and opportunities.
Where is that coming from, the customer or Kampf?
Busch: In order to even enter the discussion, we have to communicate to our customers that we offer solutions in the area of digitalisation. But customers also approach us. This goes so far that, for example, we have developed a prototype for a completely new highly automated machine with a customer, to whom we have now been able to sell ten of these machines. We have entered a new business field, so to speak. High automation and digitalisation go hand in hand in these projects. The more a customer is looking to automate, the more necessary digitalisation becomes.
Can digitalisation in production lead to alleviating the skilled labour shortage?
Busch: That's where we're facing a dilemma. Automated processes will gradually replace personnel in simple repetitive activities. At the same time, quality and process analyses and optimisations are becoming increasingly crucial when it comes to competitive advantage. In our experience, people need to receive better training for this, and the level of qualification must be higher because the tasks will become much more complex in order to fully utilise the potentials of digitalisation.
How is digitalisation changing customer communication?
Busch: First of all, it must be made clear that the data we collect is of course the property of the client. They decide how it is used, and that data is collected at the machine and remains in the company. But the customer can also make them available for a cloud-based solution, where we process them anonymously. This is our preferred solution, because you can only develop targeted algorithms with the largest possible amount of data. If we have as many data as possible on the operating states of our machines, we can, for example, identify any regularities in error situations that occur. From this, we can derive recommendations for action from which our customer benefits.
Krüger: In addition to higher operational reliability, digitalisation can also help in the creation of new efficient contact options such as customer portals. In our daily lives, we use digitalisation as a matter of course. We simply order many things on the Internet. This can be transferred to the B2B sector. Processes can be simplified, and important information and solution offers around the products used can be shared. Important spare parts, upgrade options or training content can be quickly identified, availability and costs can be checked, and orders easily processed.
Many companies are still reluctant when it comes to data exchange. Can you understand them?
Busch: That's like saying we'd rather not build cars because they are involved in accidents from time to time. All the advantages of the car, the mobility, would be completely negated by that. It's true, the danger of hacker attacks is real. We see that here, too. Just a few years ago, we would have said: What could possibly happen to us in the event of a hacker attack? That has indeed changed completely. You simply have to invest more in security. But I would not be able to make use of technical progress if I said that cybercrime was so very suspicious to me.
How does digitalisation help with the goal of operating more sustainably?
Busch: For example, it is an important prerequisite for the circular economy. It can only be achieved if everyone works together and networks. Let's take the example of the digital product passport. This is necessary so that plastic products can be traced, and we know exactly what they contain. Only in this way is sensible recycling possible. To make a film, material is first melted, then it is stretched, cut and often also printed. There is information in every step. This can only be collected and made available as information if everyone contributes their data. Years ago, we developed a digital roll protocol together with cooperation partners from the value chain. Today, we are an active partner in a large industry initiative for the realisation of digital product passports.
Krüger: Already today, widespread, high-quality packaging, such as bags for crisps, can be produced with a high recycled content and high quality. We do not yet know how many cycles such a bag can actually undergo but we are convinced that plastics are a valuable material on our way to climate neutrality. To exploit the full potential, we need a circular economy based on data exchange and transparency along the entire life cycle of plastics.