The future is set to bring connected machines, intelligent factories, and smart workers. There’s talk of disruptive changes – things that have never previously existed are reshaping entire industries. Small wonder then that Industry 4.0 applications are such exciting territory for start-ups. Those that succeed will have a good chance of quickly working with the really big industry players.
Speedboats are more flexible and agile than supertankers. Admittedly, the comparison has been used many times, but it’s an apt one. When it comes to developing and using new technologies, small start-ups have it much easier than large companies with long-established structures and processes. The global start-up scene is pinning equally big hopes on its role as a supporter of the digitalization process and the establishment of a real Industry 4.0.
9.1 percent of start-ups in Germany are developing technologies for industry and production, another 12 percent are involved in software-as-a-service solutions, and 19.4 percent in IT and software development in general. Accordingly, four out of ten start-ups have at least some kind of link to Industry 4.0. In the USA, the figure for tech start-ups is as high as almost 70 percent. Many have realized that Industry 4.0 is a market worth billions at the interface between IT and production. They are working flat out on their solutions and emulating successful role models – like Uptake Technologies, for example. The Chicago-based company was founded in 2014 and has developed a platform for analyzing machine data for predictive maintenance. By 2015 it had already been named “Hottest Start-Up of the Year” by US business magazine Forbes, ahead of competitors such as the communication service Slack and the mobility firm Uber. Founder Brad Keywell, who previously also helped set up the online discount service Groupon, explained in Forbes magazine: “What we are doing here is not e-commerce. We are providing predictive insights that offer real benefits – equivalent to higher profit, savings, and security.” Uptake provides machine-learning algorithms in the form of software as a service that is capable of analyzing machine data as well as handwritten entries in shift and maintenance logs. They derive the typical pattern of normal operations fromthis and can then identify imminent faults at an early stage.
Keywell is thus pursuing one of the three big Industry 4.0 trends in the area of maintenance: condition monitoring and predictive maintenance. However, when it comes to actual work on the plants – such as with the aid of “wearables” for collecting and handling machine data – there are many other good and potentially lucrative ideas, as these examples show:
The start-up iTiZZiMO supplies a technology that is set to become part of major mail-order companies’ day-to-day warehouse operations – if its founder gets his way. The core product is a piece of software. In conjunction with smart glasses such as Google Glass, among others, it is designed to help pick parcels and can also be used in the area of maintenance and turnaround projects. During shift operations, the software informs the smart glasses’ wearer about new orders, for example, and displays the type and weight of the item required. It can also display work orders or repair jobs, faulty unit components, or similar. “In any situation where employees have to keep their hands free,” says company founder Christopher Boverat. The start-up has already managed to win over a number of wellknown customers and has set up pilot projects with Airbus, Bayer, and E.ON.
The product with which Thomas Kirchner wants to revolutionize the industry looks like a work glove from a home improvement store. The founder and CEO of Workaround has developed the ProGlove, an
electronic glove designed to help industrial workers accomplish much more in less time, while making fewer mistakes. Originally conceived for assembly line work – in the automotive industry, for example – the glove, which is dotted with sensors, shows whether the right part is being used during the production process and whether a work step is being completed correctly. An integrated vibrating motor and small LEDs on the seam warn the wearer in good time. The gloves are also suitable for preventing erroneous repairs during maintenance.
Trend: Data entry and management
The French start-up ermeo has not only developed an app and a terminal for industrial maintenance, but also a new term: augmented documentation. The promise is that companies can use ermeo to manage process documentation, maintenance handbooks, checklists, worklists, and suchlike quickly and easily in an app installed on a tablet, turning it into a digital toolbox for workers in the field. The application allows all kinds of paperwork to be accessed swiftly and digitally while mobile. In addition, ermeo automatically creates, reports, and displays key figures on maintenance activities on a dashboard. An initial proof of concept has already been run at a Total plant in France.
Trend: Condition monitoring
Like Uptake Technologies, this start-up from Baltimore sees itself as a solutions provider for predictive maintenance and status analysis of industrial plants and units such as pumps, compressors, and electronic components. So far, so familiar. The special thing about MachineSense’s approach is its founders’ promise to be able to retrofit all kinds of old components with its equipment – and actually make Industry 4.0 affordable. The sensors measure parameters on components such as gears, bearings, and pumps that are already available, including vibrations, temperature, and power consumption. This data is sent to a cloud server via Bluetooth and WLAN, where it is processed and clearly displayed on a dashboard on a PC, tablet, or smartphone – along with the corresponding maintenance recommendation.
Munich-based Konux develops and manufactures sensor solutions on the basis of optoelectronic measurement technology. In 2017, the start-up was awarded as one of 30 most promising technology pioneers, recognized by the World Economic Forum. With Konux sensors, users can record a number of mechanical and geometric parameters such as torque, pressure, power, and angle on the basis of this measuring principle. The Konux solution helps to minimize the length of time that equipment is out of action. With the help of sensor fusion, artificial intelligence, and predictive analytics, Konux makes it possible to conduct needs-based planning and servicing work as an alternative to reactive servicing after machine or material failure or cyclical inspections. As a result, it helps to optimize machine running times and improve system availability.