Discover the Key to Success in IIoT: An interview with Sebastian Werler from FESTO

Sebastian Werler Product Manager Digital Business

Working as a Product Manager Digital Business at Festo since 2018, Sebastian is responsible for bringing digital added-value solutions to the market that enhance the Festo hardware product range with Industrial AI Solutions e.g. for predictive maintenance. A computer scientist by profession, Sebastian now enjoys converging latest technology of machine learning with Festo’s manufacturing know-how and automation technology to form a sweet spot for the customer: #higherproductivity.

1. How is FESTO involved in the IIoT industry?

As a leading company in automation technology, Festo has its spot in many industries across the globe. Industry 4.0 and IIoT are not only buzzwords for Festo, but are filled with products and solutions. As an equipment manufacturer, a huge amount of Festo’s range of hardware products acts as a data source for IIoT projects. With its ever increasing portfolio of IoT solutions, Festo is heavily involved in the IIoT industry: it starts with a broad portfolio of sensors and smart products that aggregate data on the lowest level. The offering is continued with IoT gateways (provided as hardware or software modules) that build a bridge between OT and IT world. This is especially useful in brown field scenarios where equipment usually lacks modern interfaces to acquire data.

The portfolio is completed with our AI based software solution Festo AX that e.g. predicts equipment failure or quality deviations and increases productivity.

2. What do you think are the key factors in driving this industry forward?

Openness is the key to success for Industry 4.0 in an increasingly heterogeneous vendor and solution landscape. Many different IoT platforms, the offerings of so-called “hyperscalers” in cloud computing and a multitude of ecosystems and alliances in edge computing: Those who want to have success in this space rely on open technologies and standards, such as OPC-UA at the field level, containerisation and microservices in the area of software architecture and, for example, ONNX for the distribution of AI models.

Openness and standards reduce investment risk for OEMs by avoiding dependencies on individual providers and prevents lock-in effects for machine operators.

3. What do you think are the most challenging aspects to working in this industry?

For companies offering solutions in this space, it is challenge to find the uniqueness in one’s offering. Many companies, from start-up to well-known industrial companies and the so-called “Hyperscalers” like Amazon and Microsoft are active in this industry.

Festo claims a unique spot by combining huge automation technology and domain know-how with comprehensive data science and AI know-how, thanks to the acquisition of a leading German AI company, Resolto Informatik, in 2018.

4. What do you think is holding some companies back from investing in IIoT?

Often, IIoT Services advertised lack a clear and easy-to-understand value proposition: what’s better after the investment in such solutions. Behind the buzzwords, a business case must be visible. This can be an increase in productivity, lower maintenance costs, more good parts or less energy consumption.

A lack of a business case and a clear value proposition is holding companies back from investing in IIoT.

A start must not be hard and expensive. A start into the world of IIoT and Industry 4.0 can be easy and low on investment. It can start with digital maintenance management, such as “Smartenance” or a pilot project with Festo AX to prove the value for a certain industrial application or process.

5. What do your customers say about your solutions?

Customers appreciate that Festo also contributes its domain know-how in the area of digital services. Customers also demand this expertise. In particular, customers also appreciate the fact that Festo also uses its digital solutions in its own factories and thus that a customer’s production also benefits indirectly from the experience gained there.

As Festo is a supplier to many manufacturing companies, Festo is also seen as having a connecting role – i.e. a function that can help to drive forward and establish overarching standards and best practices.

6. How do you think security concerns have been addressed?

Edge computing has lowered the barrier for IoT projects, especially with regard to cybersecurity and data privacy: data is processed locally, close to the process and does not (necessarily) leave the company network.

In order to counter reservations and risks at an early stage, it is advisable for the roll-out of IOT and AI in production to also involve the IT department at an early stage. For quick successes and pilots, however, the topic of edge computing and testing in isolated networks is also advantageous.

In IoT product development it is recommended to make security a first-class-requirement from the beginning – no matter if talking about a hardware product or software: security considerations should be part of every step in development, from the beginning to the release and the product’s life cycle.

Furthermore it is recommended to validate security considerations and measurements by external players, for example with penetration tests.

Festo’s digital products are regularly pen tested and we also have set up a Product Security Incidence Response Team (PSIRT) inside Festo to cover and manage the topic of our products, hardware and software products.

7. IIoT is very much a data driven industry, do you offer data services? How does this solution fair over other competitor services?

With Festo AX, we offer a data-driven solution. It is an end-to-end solution, starting from connecting machines and getting the right data in the right granularity. This is the Festo AX connectivity layer. Next we analyze and prepare the data. This is performed by data scientists. Afterwards then machine learning models are trained with the prepared data in Festo AX. These models do anomaly scoring and classification of data and predict equipment failures, quality deviations or leackages in industrial machines and processes.

This end-to-end solution, combining domain knowledge, shop floor know-how, data science as well as a modern software stack, is a sweet spot for customers. This deep approach is rarely seen in competitor services. Many of them for example lack connectivity to brown field systems or only run in public clouds. Festo AX on the opposite runs in customer’s preferred environments: on-edge, on-premises or in the cloud.

8. companies investing in IIoT solutions can be costly if not done right, what level of support do you offer your customers in adopting your solutions?

At Festo, we offer to support our customers from conception to roll-out. In order to be able to see rapid successes, it makes sense to concentrate on sub-areas of a production and to test concepts and strategies there first before carrying out large roll-out projects. Intervention and countermeasures are naturally much easier on a smaller scale. As a manufacturing company ourselves, we at Festo also offer customers access to experience from our own factories. This knowledge and the experience gained also flow continuously into the further development of IIoT products.

9. What do you think will be the main focus in IIoT over the next couple of years?

A main focus will be the establishment of further lighthouse projects. These successfully implemented projects have an impact on one customer but can also influence an entire industry. Increasingly, protocols and interaction models will also be further standardised, which will facilitate cross-company or cross-supplier collaboration.

Typically, the manufacturing industry is always a bit behind other industries. In the next few years, we will therefore probably see a further establishment of data-driven approaches, as they have been common in other industries, such as finance, for a long time. It will become more and more commodity to rely on data-driven decision making and virtualisation in the entire manufacturing area, i.e. from machine planning to commissioning and operation.

10. What are you the most passionate about working in this industry?

There is a lot of potential for improving processes, often even with simple tools and methodologies. For example, our “Smartenance” software helps to move maintenance away from pen and paper and towards a digital solution, thus significantly simplifying everyday routine tasks.

In addition, you experience new challenges every day and come into contact with the latest technology such as robotics and AI.

11. Is FESTO already looking towards Industry 5.0?

The term Industry 5.0 is associated with topics such as resilience, sustainability, human-centeredness and autonomy.

Naturally, Festo is concerned with all of these topics. First and foremost, of course, with measures and efforts to successively reduce the CO2 footprint and to make its own contribution to climate-neutral production. In addition, with its Festo Didiactic division, Festo is actively involved in the further training and qualification of the workforce for the working world of tomorrow. And in the field of autonomy, Festo is constantly researching and developing further technologies for autonomous machines and production processes.

12. What are your company’s current and future digital ambitions?

Festo wants to further provide customers with digital services as another building block on the road to higher productivity. On the one hand, digital services are intended to add functions and added value to core products, but on the other hand they are also intended to provide added value for customers as digital services in their own right.

In addition, Festo’s digital ambitions are also evident in the area of sales channels with the continuous expansion of the online shop and product configurators. In addition, the topic of digital Zwlling is also central to Festo. Individual, specific assemblies can already be obtained from Festo as a digital twin. This enables the virtual planning and commissioning of machines and processes and will be significantly expanded in the future.

13. The IoT industry has many manufacturers all working toward various standards or proprietary specifications, this prevents challenges when communicating between one-another. How open would you say your solutions are in the Industry? 

Festo is an active member of various organisations and committees for the development of standards, such as the OPC Foundation and the Industrial Digital Twin Association (IDTA). Adopted standards then find their way into product development.

In the area of digital services, Festo resorts to the use of standards wherever possible. However, the end customer who ultimately uses a digital service also has a decisive influence on its use: Festo is guided in particular by their requests and aligns to their specifications. End Users, such as automotive companies, food corporations etc. have a big influence on bringing standards to life.

14. What is unique about your FESTO technology in connecting all systems into one data driven solution?

Festo’s unique approach is the combination of comprehensive domain know-how in pneumatic and electrical automation, extensive industry and sector know-how and know-how in the field of AI, machine learning and data science. This combination is truly rare, even unique in individual markets, and is what sets the Festo approach apart. Many companies over some of the parts of the journey from machines up to business insights. Festo offers a complete approach, from OT into IT.

15. How do you support real-time data driven productivity?

The maintenance messages, anomaly detections and other events generated by Festo solutions can be immediately forwarded to other systems. Decision-makers can thus react immediately to malfunctions or possible maintenance events.

16. What is your latest innovation in driving Al automation? (real-time data collection, tracking, planning, control and solution proposals)

Our latest innovation in this field is “GripperAI”. It’s a software containing a trained neuronal network that is attached to a robot with a vision system attached, that perfoms pick-and-place tasks. GripperAI allows the autonomous grip into a box: that means a gripper can pick and place parts that are lying in a box, without the need to be trained on those parts in advance. This drastically reduces commissioning time and increases flexibility. GripperAI is used by customers in logistics applications with great results so far.

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