Anyone wanting to preview the digital future mechanical engineering should pay a visit to Bremen, Germany: in the Horn-Lehe district, close to the University and Technology Park, the future is now not just being imagined but created. Surrounded by everything from start-ups to Big Technology firms, over 200 tech-savvy employees from encoway, logicline and Lenze are now working here on digital business models for Industry 4.0.
On the way to the Lenze Group’s Innovation Lab, visitors pass by modern, purpose-built offices. Glass walls flood corridors with daylight to create an open atmosphere. Conference rooms have names reflecting the lingo of maritime trade – such as ‘buten un binnen’, the motto of Bremen’s merchants that even now adorns the facade of the city’s Chamber of Commerce. In its long form – ‘buten un binnen – wagen un winnen’ – it means “At home or away, a venture often pays”. It’s a saying that’s as relevant as ever.
The motto also applies to DOCK ONE, an unconventional thinking space of around 280 sqm in size on the first floor. A windowed facade and exposed concrete set the tone. There’s a breakfast bar, comfy furniture, multipurpose movable walls and pinboards covered in post-its – plus the obligatory foosball table. So far, so ‘New Work’. And another must-have: a table with a cat’s cradle of network cables and ports, with laptops, tablets, mobile devices and technical gizmos all jostling for space. Like a VR headset for example, which lets its wearers dive into a virtual 3D world. To test drive a prototype for a new product, for example – and from a menu of different perspectives. And here’s another example of the contemporary human-machine interface: Amazon’s voice assistant. The quick-fire question “Hey Alexa, what’s up with the engine?” could soon become a reality in many departments.
DOCK ONE is a place where ideas are developed and prototypes are built, tested and rejigged. If they don’t work, it’s back to the drawing board – or into the bin. The next idea is already waiting in line. It’s fast, matter-of-fact, follows no formal processes – and no concept is too crazy to be considered. For encoway, which is headquartered here in Bremen, this start-up mentality has served it well. Not for nothing has Lenze selected its IT subsidiary as the flagship for its digitalisation campaign. https://dock.one
The IT experts are specialists in configuration and variant management for the capital goods industry. They develop and market software for configuring products, calculating prices and preparing quotes – typically known as Configure Price Quote (CPQ) systems. In this highly specialised niche market, encoway is the European #1. Now a proven solution in the field, it started life as a research project. In 2000, a team headed by founders Klaas Nebuhr and Christoph Ranze at the University of Bremen’s Technology Centre for Informatics and IT worked with Lenze to develop a drive system configurator. This gave Lenze’s mechanical engineers a tool with which they could simply ‘click together’ a gear motor from innumerable parts, features and options – and a motor that was tailor-made to the customer’s individual requirements. There’s a matching variant for every application area. This saves time, avoids faults, and creates the environment needed for exchanging uniform sets of data between Sales, Procurement and Production. Even 18 years ago, Lenze saw the huge business potential in this technology and promptly bought a stake in encoway – and so the first customer became a strategic investor and sparring partner. And a long-term partner who has, then and now, always given the digital pioneers from Bremen the freedom they need to pursue their business – which is probably one reason why the founders are still on board.
At the opening, the guests had the opportunity to take a look at the first successful projects of DOCK ONE. Virtual reality glasses, for example, provide a completely new perspective when it comes to the configuration and development of products.
Both companies are very successful in their respective markets. Recently, the links between the two companies have been multiplying: Lenze and encoway are growing closer together. Historically, their value propositions, business models and cultures have differed – the large, traditional corporation with increasingly complex processes versus the small, unconventional and agile software start-up. That too is now changing: for several years, the software specialists have been tightly integrated with Lenze’s corporate strategy and have taken on a leading role in the area of digitalisation. And that 18-year-old investment is now proving to have been an extremely smart move. Thanks to the know-how now offered by its IT subsidiary, the engineering firm can stay well ahead of the competition. Both for activities aimed at accelerating the digital transformation within its own company and for projects designed to break new ground in its markets. Conversely, the Bremen-based business benefits from the process expertise of a manufacturing company with decades of market success: the synergy effects are therefore mutual. There’s also been some cultural cross-pollination: the former IT start-up is now an established SME with over 200 employees and an impressive roster of customers that continues to grow. And Lenze has managed to preserve its identity as a typical German company – mid-sized, family-owned – although it does business worldwide and posts steady growth. Lenze’s corporate DNA also includes qualities like open-mindedness and a readiness to explore new horizons. Perhaps that’s the secret ingredient for the success of this partnership.
The two companies are now working together to expand the diversity of the in-house mechatronic product portfolio by including digital added-value services. Customised manufacturing based on encoway’s technology and offering Lenze almost infinite variance, is now part of day-to-day business – which means customers can already simply order their made-to-measure product online.
In the digital era, the real challenge consists of providing demand-driven, application-focused product data for a specific product, while the source for this data is effectively infinite variation during machine manufacture and across the entire machine lifecycle – via the Internet and without any waiting time. Ideally, customers shouldn’t even need to make inquiries but can merely click their individual solution together themselves – saving time and speeding up their business processes.
The environment needed for this has been being built up in recent years: master data has been completely reorganised, and existing product configurators enhanced and linked to others. With a tool as complex as the Lenze configurator, the digital organisation of the extreme range of variants it offers is a challenge all its own. Theoretically, the Lenze product portfolio could be used to produce 1028 solution variants. The encoway software is used to store structured data and information about the product components in a database, while logical rulesets are developed that specify optimum strategies for combining them together.
For the kinds of custom machinery and mass customisation now being increasingly demanded by customers in the Industry 4.0 era, the configurator is therefore an essential tool because every machine today is as individual as the application for which it is constructed.
How can manufacturers offer maximum customisation for products and yet still stay profitable? What is the best way to showcase product variants for customers? And which kinds of digital business model are able to offer Lenze’s own customers new revenue streams alongside improvements to efficiency? These are the questions businesses are asking – and the answers can be found by attending workshops with encoway consultants at DOCK ONE. On offer is in-depth expertise in the modular strategies and business models of manufacturing companies across the entire value chain. And it’s an offer that’s been made good use of since its launch in May 2018. Big names from IT and industry have paid a visit, and staff from Hameln or Extertal also enjoy using the site to host strategy or team workshops in a different set of surroundings. Bremen offers them a new and creative approach to teamwork – and one soon to be seen at the Mechatronic Competence Campus in Lenze’s home town of Extertal.
One topic that’s been shaking up the industry is the management and use of machine data. Every component has its own set of technical documents and warranty agreements, for example. Since keeping track of them is hard for owners of larger machines, this makes unexpected component failure a major problem. Much of the time – and hence costs – for unplanned downtime could be saved by simply storing these files in the cloud. A barcode on the offending component could then be scanned to track down the relevant document. This model can then be expanded to support condition monitoring and preventive maintenance by enriching the documents in the cloud with data – e.g. runtimes – taken from the machine itself. Data from the ERP systems the company uses for resource scheduling is also useful, since it provides information about when and where a component was purchased and installed.
These are exactly the kinds of Digital Asset Management solutions Lenze can now offer. In early 2017, the Lenze Group added to its expertise in the field of digitalisation by acquiring an interest in Sindelfingen-based logicline – a software firm whose 30-strong team of employees are established specialists in cloud applications, mobile apps and IIoT technologies. Since then, customers have benefited from tools and services for end-to-end digitalisation – from the shop floor to the desktop. www.logicline.de