Karlsruhe is known to many Germans as “the home of the law” because it’s the seat of Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court and its Federal Supreme Court. But it’s not the first city that comes to mind when people talk about digitization. However, in this relaxed city in southwestern Germany, IT start-ups are booming. For years, Karlsruhe has held the title of the top location for start-ups in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, consistently beating the Stuttgart metropolitan area.
Part of this technology community is located in a rather typical ex-old-industry-building start-up area east of Karlsruhe’s city center. The area features a mix of traditional brick architecture and new office buildings. Here you can also find the headquarters of connyun, a company specializing in IIoT technologies, which has been part of the Körber Group’s Business Area Körber Digital since June 2018. The main focus at connyun is on the Industrial Internet of Things, especially the topics of machine connectivity, cloud software, and data science.
The products and services from connyun can boost the efficiency and flexibility of machines and equipment, and thus of entire production and logistics systems.
Unfortunately, the practical problems that crop up when you’re connecting production machines are in many cases still being incorrectly assessed.
Stefan Kusterer, CTO at Körber Digital
“At Körber, the topics of Industry 4.0 and digitization, and the smart factory are central aspects of the corporate strategy. The new environment has given us a real boost!” says Dr. Stefan Kusterer, the CTO of Körber Digital. “Karlsruhe is the home of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), which is the result of a merger between the Karlsruhe Research Center and the University of Karlsruhe. The Institute, together with other universities, is enabling us to hire well-trained young software experts. Of course this is an ideal situation for us.”
Another benefit is the Business Area’s close cooperation with other Business Areas of the Körber Group. “As part of a technology group with 70 years of experience in mechanical engineering and core business operations in the areas of production and logistics, we can very easily understand the mindset and the operations of manufacturing companies and machine builders,” Kusterer adds. “This is one great difference between connyun and competing companies whose background is solely in the field of software.”
For the past year, the team has been driving the development of the “I4_Station Optimizer,” because this IIoT application provides production employees with direct added value. It enables them to monitor the effectiveness of installations in real time, react immediately to problems, and quickly bring non-functioning machines back into the production process. The program is based on industrial standards and uses predefined settings and visualizations.
This application is being introduced step by step at a Körber subsidiary in the Business Area Logistics Systems. The complexity of such processes should not be underestimated. “Unfortunately, the practical problems that crop up when you’re connecting production machines are in many cases still being incorrectly assessed,” says Kusterer. “On the one hand, some production companies are worried about security risks that actually can be avoided by means of modern technology and careful handling of the data. On the other hand, many theorists underestimate the challenges presented by a large number of connected machines.” This means that only companies that really know where to tackle the problem and which solutions are required can offer added value for customers. In such situations, the data and insights gathered through in-house projects are a valuable additional basis.
At Körber, the topics of Industry 4.0 and digitization and the smart factory are central aspects of the corporate strategy. The new environment has given us a real boost!
Stefan Kusterer, CTO at Körber Digital
Many machine parks stay in service for decades. In addition, most of them are heterogeneous and simply lack the sensors and software interfaces that are the essential prerequisites for connectivity. Several million machines are in this category in Germany alone. There is a huge need for retrofit solutions that can equip these machines for connected manufacturing. That also applies to companies that are part of the Körber Business Areas and, in turn, their customers.
Thanks to the unique “I4_Plug & Work” approach, connyun is eliminating many of the obstacles involved. “Plug & Work” can utilize “OPC-UA,” the leading standard for data sharing between production machines and software solutions from various companies. This offers tremendous advantages for customers. Instead of having to repeatedly reconfigure the connectivity of individual devices such as robots, machines, and grippers, “Plug & Work” performs this task within minutes after only a few clicks. After onboarding, the relevant data are immediately available.
As a result, most special machines, modifications, and innovative equipment can be reliably connected. If production machines do not yet support “OPC-UA,” they can still be connected to the connyun IIoT applications via “Plug & Work” with almost the same degree of efficiency. The additional cost is manageable.
connyun has already tested a possible expansion of the “I4_Station Optimizer” with Amazon Web Services (AWS) in an investigation of how production employees interact with the Alexa voice service. The aim is to enable Alexa to answer current questions about status and help to solve any problems that occur. Together with a Munich-based company called “brabbler”, connyun is working on a service that uses push messages to send information about incidents directly to an employee’s smartphone or tablet.
Data science is another work area of the experts in Karlsruhe. connyun is running a project that supports a company in the Business Area Tobacco as it evaluates sales, warehousing, and materials data in order to optimize the management of replacement parts. Through data analysis, it aims to find out, among other things, whether it’s possible to simply manufacture non-available components by means of additive manufacturing — in other words, via 3-D printing on site at the customer’s location, instead of coping with long production times and transport paths. To this end, the entire catalogue of replacement parts, which contains 150,000 items, is being carefully examined in order to initiate improvement measures step by step.
This work is worthwhile, because the in-house experience that is being gained through the project is simultaneously improving the company’s offerings to its customers.