We’re not selling an operating system
Ralf W. Dieter, chairman of the Dürr AG board of management, explains the importance of platforms for AI, why the cloud is losing its appeal and how to manage the complexity of machine data in the future.24 Jun 2019
Platforms are a hot topic in industrial circles ̶ Dürr is involved in Adamos. What distinguishes Adamos from competing platforms?
We are less interested in the issue of platforms or the business models behind them. Our thoughts are focused on cooperation in mechanical engineering in connection with Industrie 4.0 and IIoT.
How do you convince an SME to be part of this?
We openly exchange know-how. As a big player in mechanical engineering, it is our responsibility to help small and medium-sized partners. We transfer know-how, develop shared solutions and provide guidance in digitization.
An association could do that too…
Yes, that’s right, but we also have to develop applications for our clients in a very short space of time. We not only work with ideas, we need to deliver.
Does that also include standards?
We are working on how to standardize communication in order to interconnect machines and simplify the exchange of information. But clearly with respect to OPC UA specifications, for example ̶ professional associations such as the VDMA should also be playing their part.
AI and machine learning formed a focal point of this year’s Hannover Messe. Many SMEs find it difficult to get AI projects off the ground. Does industry need development platforms for AI?
Sepp Hochreiter from the Linz Institute of Technology has called for that and I completely endorse his opinion. For example, our engineers have developed an application with elements of AI which enable paint robots to immediately recognize errors in the painting operation. We can, for instance, analyze the paint dosage pump and air pressure, thus immediately spotting the anomalies in the amount of paint used. In other words, problems with quality standards are identified during production itself. We share this information with other companies: a small company with only three employees in the development department could never achieve this.
So you neutralize the errors in applications?
Exactly, and we then share this with Adamos members.
Let’s get back to the platform ̶ collaboration is important, but sharing data on the cloud tends to be viewed skeptically and the majority opt for edge applications. What’s going on here?
I think for years we continued to communicate the topic of cloud computing badly. The onus is on the big infrastructure providers to explain more about where the data is, what will be done with it. There is a lot of skepticism about cloud applications. And it’s true that edge computing is gaining in significance. In addition, in the recent past there was a lot of hype about Big Data. But today we don’t need much data in order to identify problems or improve performance. The edge is sufficient for this purpose. This has been an important learning curve for many machine manufacturers.
All the platforms are trying to gain members. But users seem wary about becoming dependent – do you understand that?
It is clear that in future there will continue to be different platforms available. We have a big client who is active in a competing platform but despite this we continue to support the applications and continue to supply this client. If clients tell us we have to conform to specific standards from platform XY, we do that as ADAMOS is an open platform. The thing is to learn from one another. We will not be selling any operating systems. That is something the SME sector is allergic to.
The platform must cover its costs, we don’t earn anything with the platform, but through the sale of the applications we supply to the members.
How are German platforms viewed internationally?
We lost the race on the B2C Internet market. But still have a chance in B2B. The eyes of our US and Chinese competitors are focused on us. The Chinese companies in particular want to be part of the platform. But it is in applications that most interest is being shown.
What do you consider will be the three most important issues in the coming five years?
Overall, the digitalization of our work, processes, whether it’s in management, in production or dealings with our customers. Secondly, the question how we can remain successful in China, how the domestic market is developing there and thirdly, the issue of a generation change in companies. I am not simply referring to management functions. The attitudes and demands of young people towards companies have changed completely. We find ourselves with two contrasting worlds – the one inhabited by skilled West Europeans who call for flexible working models, and in the other world colleagues who are driven by wanting to get to the top, for example in Korea.
Okay, tell me about the technology – looking a few years ahead, how will things be different?
The hardware has almost been perfected. With some applications we might be able to improve by up to a few percent, but it is the software, the usability and the user experience that makes the difference. We need good user interfaces in order to remove the complexity for users in the industrial nations and emerging markets. This is something that will be occupying us a lot in Europe.
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