User-friendly software helps with data analysis
Paolo Salvagno is the manager at B+R Automation. The company, which is based in Frauenfeld, invests around 15% of its turnover in the development of new products. It develops not only hardware products for machine and plant manufacturers but more particularly user-friendly software programs aimed at enabling SMEs to intuitively evaluate the system data that has been accumulated. "When it comes to developing new programs for production plants, mapp technology, i.e. with modular software building blocks, can enable SMEs to work much more efficiently", argues Salvagno.
The serial number of an electronic device used in production can very easily tell us when it was produced or when it needs maintenance. If this information is gathered appropriately then it can help SMEs to avoid production downtimes or expensive repair work. "What's more, the networking of the devices makes it possible to identify whether a product could be made in a way that consumes fewer resources if specific processes are optimized", says Salvagno. For SMEs, these sorts of savings are reflected directly in the company's figures.
Data in the cloud - available regardless of time and place
Production processes give rise to huge amounts of data that need to be stored appropriately in order to then ideally be available when business decisions are made in future. Yet for SMEs the question quickly arises of whether it's cost-effective to set up an in-house IT infrastructure for this and develop the relevant expertise internally. Any businesses that choose not to undertake this themselves can call upon providers of cloud services. The advantage? The data hosting is outsourced, i.e. no in-house IT infrastructure is required, but the data can nevertheless be recalled regardless of time and place and with no risk to security. This also means of course that any IT problems do not need to be resolved within the SME.
Balz Märki, CEO at Phoenix Contact AG, knows that with cloud solutions in particular IT security plays an important role. "The servers for the Profinet cloud solution are located at our premises in Germany. The data are protected by effective firewalls and we make sure there is no unauthorized access to the data", explains Märki. "With Industry 4.0 applications specifically, IT security is hugely important and should not be taken lightly by SMEs. In order to embrace the digital transformation as a small company, I recommend remaining open to the topic on a fundamental level and seeking out contacts among competent providers of Industry 4.0 solutions and universities, who will be able to pass on knowledge on this subject."
Employees also need to be involved in the digital transformation
Even if an SME is able to outsource its own IT department, technical innovations should not pass the company by. Frédéric Riva, CEO at WAGO Contact AG in Domdidier, openly addresses this very issue: "I can have the best and the latest PC, but if I don't have any employees who are able to use it then it is of no benefit to the company to have cutting-edge technology. The management has an obligation to equip employees for the digital transformation." WAGO also deals with data and its secure transfer in particular. The company is itself an equipment supplier for Industry 4.0 and has 500 employees in Switzerland alone.
The full interview with Frédéric Riva:
More information in our dossier Industry 4.0