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German Automation Companies Focus on Market Development

Some companies seem very unimposing, but if you take a closer look they show an enormous potential for innovation.

Aw 220 1108 News07 M Buchwitz

Among the automation manufacturers in Germany, you can find a lot of those companies. Management consultant Hermann Simon would call them “hidden champions.” One of these companies is Festo, specialist for automation. Actually the company is mentioned several times in his book of the same title.

At the beginning of June, I had the opportunity to get to know Festo better at an international press conference. I want to take up some topics Dr. Kriwit, board member of Festo, pointed out as future topics that the company obviously is working on.

Automation will get employed outside of industry more and more, said Dr. Kriwit. Besides controlling home, traffic and infrastructure, this also affects robotics. Currently there is a project in which the cluster of excellence CoTeSys (Cognition For Technical Systems) demonstrates the capability of robots preparing a Bavarian breakfast (search for “Bavarian breakfast robot” on YouTube). Robots are used in medical technology, farming, handcraft and housekeeping. Automation comes across outside of production halls more than ever.

Food production

The constant increasing of the world population demands new strategies concerning food production. This development gets even more important with the growing food requirements by people in emerging countries. New types of food production call for automation: to measure, to control, to regulate a process and to integrate information technology systems. A small foretaste is given in “Precision Farming,” which aims for a significant increase of productivity in farming. With the aid of technology like global positioning systems (GPS) for example, planting is optimized, disease treatment is automated, and the whole process gets documented.

The continuing importance of energy efficiency leads to further movement in the technical landscape. The importance of mechanics and hydraulics will decrease dramatically. Pneumatics will also lose market shares to electronics, but not as fast and not to the same extent as mechanics and hydraulics.

Controlled electrical drives with high efficiency will displace inefficient technologies more and more. When I visited the SEW, I was told that it worked to save 50 percent of energy on an implementation by using modern automation. In my opinion, this is a clear signal for the existing potential. Consequently, conventional pneumatics manufacturers like Festo turn to automation for growth. Evidence is found in Festo’s increasing sales figures.

Software growth

The complexity of technologies and their interaction will rise. This complexity is only manageable with a technology that hides the complexity from users. This affects all types of technology, but software in particular. This is a main reason for the success of Apple. When the iPhone came on the market, other producers were years behind in user experience. The increasing impact of “usability” is the reason why you will read more about this subject in future issues of the SPS Magazin.

The topic of usability has already had a big impact in the process industry. That is why I mention food production and printed electronics as practical examples. The entire domain of pharmacy will also grow. I live in a region where many manufacturers produce packaging machines for the pharmaceutical industry. They are doing great, and many of them noticed the economic crises in 2009/2010 rather incidental.

In five to ten years, the successful automation manufacturer will be active in completely different markets than they are today. The market of manufacturing automation will be one of many then. The future shines bright, especially for manufacturers who already have a wide product range. Provided they already start to deal with these future topics and gear their companies towards the future. Festo seems to be like that. It will be exciting to follow the development of this company during the next years.

Martin Buchwitz, mbuchwitz@sps-magazin.de, is editor of SPS Magazin in Germany.

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