Let’s Start (Up)!
Oct 2, 2020
Facebook, Paypal, Airbnb—long-established corporations and global players, but each began as a small start-up with a spark of an idea. Start-ups are young companies that harness courage and an innovative spirit to transform a business idea into a reality. In the industrial sector, innovative automation technology is crucial in many such ideas and visions. That's why Pepperl+Fuchs uses its expertise and solutions to help start-ups and young companies get off the ground.
Celine Mehrle and Daniel Möst sometimes have no idea what new business models and topics they will encounter over the course of a work day. They both work in Pepperl+Fuchs' New Business Developments (NBD) division, which is responsible for identifying new customers and advising on automation from various locations around the world. While Pepperl+Fuchs is best known for its standard products and solutions in numerous markets and industries, there are many unique applications that can be solved and optimized using the automation specialist's portfolio. The NBD teams must recognize and utilize this potential.
Mehrle and Möst have a special focus within German sales: They concentrate predominantly on start-ups and young companies that have new ideas and are looking for the right sensor technology partner. As digitalization and automation increases in both the industrial sector and throughout all areas of our lives, start-ups are developing business models and applications that offer new approaches for Pepperl+Fuchs products and solutions. Neoception, Pepperl+Fuchs' own start-up, and the 3D.aero joint venture with Lufthansa Technik are excellent examples. These types of collaborations demonstrate how sensor technology can become an important source of data at the interface between real plants and virtual reality, enabling data analysis and the generation of results and three-dimensional images.
Every idea, and therefore every collaboration, is completely different and requires a new approach.
Mehrle and Möst work with young companies on a variety of applications because each start-up deals with different sectors, application areas, and solutions. "Every idea, and therefore every collaboration, is completely different and requires a new approach," says Mehrle. That's why openness to new concepts and creativity are just as important as comprehensive automation expertise when working with start-ups. "Thinking outside the box" is in demand because projects often involve applications that Pepperl+Fuchs, a specialist in automation technology, is not yet familiar with. This makes it even more important to develop a clear understanding of the idea and the application.
From Vision to Reality
Mehrle and Möst support young entrepreneurs once automation technology expertise is required to implement an idea. "Even start-ups that are still in the early stages of development can benefit from collaboration with us," explains Mehrle. The two NBD team members contribute the necessary automation expertise, drawing on an extensive product portfolio and the powerful network of the Pepperl+Fuchs Group. This allows start-ups to concentrate on their ideas while Pepperl+Fuchs handles the appropriate hardware in the field of sensor technology and automation. "But of course, early involvement in developing the idea makes it easier for us to find a solution," adds Mehrle.
In initial conversations—by phone, video call, or in person—Mehrle and Möst try to understand the start-up's vision. "We want to find out what the idea is, what the company's aims are, how sensor technology is involved, and what task it should perform" says Möst, describing the initial stages of the collaboration." "If we have a good overview and if the chemistry on both sides points to a collaboration, the next step is to consider which Pepperl+Fuchs products and solutions will best support implementation."
Depending on the application and requirements, Mehrle and Möst will involve other colleagues and companies from the Pepperl+Fuchs Group. This is because Pepperl+Fuchs often provides the young companies with an engineered solution or development that is tailored to their needs instead of a standard product.
It is important to us to develop the ideal solution together, as equals, thus making the idea a success.
In a project team, skills from different areas such as sales, product management, technical support, and development are combined to meet the requirements. "We don't simply want to sell a product and cease involvement with the start-up," explains Möst. "It is important to us to develop the ideal solution together, as equals, thus making the idea a success." Mehrle adds: "We want to use our innovative technologies help start-ups progress. Together."
A Perfect Match
The newest project that Mehrle and Möst are working on is a collaboration with the Dresden-based start-up Symate. Founded in 2012 based on research projects at the Technische Universität Dresden (Technical University of Dresden), the young company developed the AI system Detact®. As an infrastructure for using AI in heterogeneous process chains, Detact® merges data from all sources into a single data set suitable for analysis. Apps automatically deliver analysis results to plant operators and communicate with plants in real time. "To detect the required parameters from our customers' plants, we need the right hardware at different points in the process to provide us with this data," explains David Haferkorn, Product Manager at Symate. "Although many of our customers are already using some of the relevant sensor technology, the comprehensive analysis performed by Detact® generally requires more." To be able to offer its customers a complete package of sensor technology, interface, and software in the future, Symate has now involved Pepperl+Fuchs—through Mehrle and Möst. "In Pepperl+Fuchs we have found an automation technology expert who can really support us with selecting the right hardware," says Haferkorn.
Pepperl+Fuchs also benefits from the collaboration: "By partnering with Symate, we’ve combined expertise in the areas of sensor technology and artificial intelligence, making this a perfect match for developing business models geared toward the future," explains Möst. "By using AI to automatically process the parameters detected by our sensors and clearly visualize them according to the needs of our customers, the collaboration with Detact® offers us brand new experiences and creates new possibilities."
In Pepperl+Fuchs we have found an automation technology expert who can really support us with selecting the right hardware.
Throughout the project, the two companies are maintaining close contact to discuss progress. Currently, various industrial sensors with IO-Link interfaces, RFID components, IO-Link masters, and the associated connection technology are being used in the test phase at Symate. "We were very pragmatic in our first attempts. We began by simply connecting the sensor technology to our coffee machine and receiving the data via the IO-Link master and the cloud. "Our Detact® software now detects fill levels and other relevant parameters in the machine environment and analyzes our coffee consumption and user-specific preferences in correlation to the machine parameters," explains Haferkorn, smiling. "This can provide very interesting insight. But of course, the plan for our next step is to use the sensor technology in a plant to gain practical experience." If necessary, Symate and Pepperl+Fuchs will test other sensor technology with Detact® to find the right solution for the application.
The relationship with Symate was established via "5-HT Digital Hub Chemistry & Health," a network that links established companies such as BASF, SAP, and Pepperl+Fuchs with young start-ups and promotes collaboration on digital innovations in the chemical and health industries. For Mehrle and Möst, such networks are an ideal platform for connecting with start-ups and potential partners and for exchanging ideas and opportunities with them. They also use a range of additional communication channels. Whether it's via classic emails and phone calls, trade fair attendance, on social media, or at networking events, the two NBD team members are always open to new connections and people with new ideas, using solutions from Pepperl+Fuchs to help start-ups and young entrepreneurs realize their vision.