Siemens had the ‘what’ and ‘when’, Agilion knew the real-time ‘where’ of an object at a given time. The stage was set for a union. Andreas Werner, former managing partner at Agilion in Chemnitz, and now managing director for Simatic RTLS, tells me why the takeover was such a natural match, and what it’s like to work for a multinational. Together with Michael Metzler (global sales) he answers my questions about business cultures, customer strategy, product and use cases, and future innovations.
Feel free to leave your comment and ask questions at the end of this interview.
From startup to multinational: What has changed at Agilion as a result of the takeover?
Andreas: Well, Agilion is not your typical startup. The company has been on the market for over 10 years. But it’s true. Two very different business cultures are coming together. That’s exciting, and, at times, challenging. We were surprised by the professionalism of our new colleagues. The sheer marketing power, the level of expertise, – their pull is just enormous. But, of course, there are a lot of new rules for stuff we weren’t even aware existed (laughing).
Seriously though: The market for real-time locating systems is growing considerably, and maintaining a leading position by ourselves was simply more than we thought we could handle. With Siemens, this is now absolutely realistic, because the necessary worldwide structures are present. Industrie 4.0. is the buzzword here. The digitalization of core processes is underway wherever you look. When a technology provider takes on such a central role as done with RTLS, customers want the company to be able to follow them without restraints all around the world.
Why did Siemens not develop the RTLS technology by itself?
Michael: With our RFID (radio-frequency identification) and optical code readers, we were already able to answer the “what” and “when”, that is, which object passed when through a particular machine or RFID gate. But for the digital enterprise we also need the “where” – in real-time. Real-time locating systems and their integration into the industrial IoT architecture will improve the way humans and machines work together. It paves the way to greater flexibility within production processes, and increases the efficiency of production facilities. For Siemens Simatic RTLS is an absolutely vital enabler for the digitalization journey of industrial companies. The time for the global roll-out has come. The demand for integrated IoT-connectivity of logistics and production processes is soaring. Everyone is seeking solutions that pave the way to the digital enterprise. In Agilion, an experienced RTLS pioneer, we found the perfect partner for our industrial digitalization portfolio. The takeover was the quickest and best solution to enter the market with RTLS.
Our goal is not to just offer RTLS, but SIMATIC RTLS – tightly integrated into the leading automation architecture.Michael Metzler, global sales Simatic RTLS
However, our goal is not to just offer RTLS, but SIMATIC RTLS, which is tightly integrated into the leading automation architecture, including the diverse Siemens automation systems – from the Simatic S7 controller to the software landscape to MindSphere.
Simatic RTLS is aimed primarily at automation customers, what are typical applications here?
Andreas: First we need to find and digitally locate an object within a production process. Then we need a continuous and automated documentation of its whereabouts and changes in state. Eventually, this leads us to the supreme discipline of automating, the ability to digitally operate and optimize industrial production and logistics processes. We want processes and activities that today require manual intervention to run automatically. Large manufacturing companies are often optimized to achieve economies of scale, and then struggle with smaller quantities – but it is those that are increasingly demanded by customers. With RTLS, such highly flexible production systems can be implemented. Ultimately, we tag real objects to supply the digital twin with the “where” – for the production control, material flow, intralogistics, and much more. The enhancement with information from other systems is crucial in this context.
Thrilling for me is the response from numerous Siemens production facilities. “We use what we sell” is an important motto among our new colleagues!Andreas Werner
Michael: However, Simatic RTLS is not just about individual applications, but a complete infrastructure. Once installed, a wide variety of applications in flexible manufacturing can be implemented on the basis of this locating infrastructure. This, for example, applies to the automotive industry, aerospace, and many other discrete productions. But in process industries, too, use cases can be successfully implemented, for example, in container tracking or the location-based support of maintenance staff. The feedback certainly has been very good – we were already able to excite a number of Siemens customers. These customers tell us that Simatic RTLS offers clear advantages for modern manufacturing concepts. RTLS ultimately increases the competitiveness of the companies.
Andreas: Thrilling for me is the response from within the Siemens Group. Numerous Siemens production facilities have approached us to discover the possibilities of RTLS for their own production, to test them and – of course – to then also implement them. When it comes to digitalization, “We use what we sell” is an important motto among our new colleagues!
So, is it all set and done, then? Where does Simatic RTLS go from here? Are there future innovations to expect for the real-time locating technology?
Andreas: We have a lot planned! Firstly, we want to drive the integration of Simatic RTLS into the Siemens portfolio, for example, into MindSphere. On top of that we are developing new features for enterprise-wide installations of RTLS. We support this through a platform for a variety of simultaneously running RTLS applications. This is where we really push through into the heart of Industrie 4.0. And at last there is a subject especially close to my heart. I feel fortunate to follow up on our cooperative partnership with our OEM customers within Siemens. These are system providers that integrate our components into their own offerings, for example, for locating vehicles in logistics or instructing service personnel. We will gladly strive to match the high pace of innovation of our partners.
Please feel free to comment, if you have more questions for Andreas Werner and Michael Metzler, or seek additional information on Simatic RTLS and its potential use cases. What are your thoughts about real-time locating systems in the Industrie 4.0? Share your experiences and get involved…