Feel invited to a visionary talk with Markus Fournell, Vice President Digitalization & Service Products at ABP Induction
Open borders, globalization tendencies in society as well as in the economy, cross-border cooperation and research projects – the internationalization of services is tangible in many areas. Companies can no longer focus on just one regional or national market, but must open up to the world. But what is the best way for a service manager to do this? And how do you deal with the changes that are emerging, especially internationally, as a result of digitalization?
In this interview, Markus Fournell, Vice President Service Products & Digitalization at ABP Induction, shares his thoughts on globally networked learning and support environments in service and the lessons he has learned from the coronavirus pandemic.
ABP Induction has been a household name in the metalworking industry for years. And now, its name is also increasingly being mentioned alongside buzzwords such as digitalization, Industry 4.0 and sustainability. Can you explain this development?
Markus Fournell: Let me ask you a question in return: "Is sustainability even possible today without digitalization?" Sustainability in its two dimensions – ecological and economic – is high on the agenda of an ever-increasing number of companies. With a focus on a better ecological footprint, more efficient operations and a safe as well as appealing workplace, digital services are becoming the center of attention. Sales markets are changing as a result of price pressures resulting from energy prices, electromobility and global competition. If you want to remain competitive, you have to rethink your business model. This also applies to the fact that our products are so mature that we can hardly generate any performance improvements. Our answer to this is: digitalization or digital business models.
ABP is globally positioned in terms of the production and sales of machines and systems. Does this also apply to service – how are things organized at an international level?
Markus Fournell: In addition to plant engineering, ABP Induction began to focus on service at an early stage. Service is an important part of our business: It accounts for nearly 50 percent, which is far above the usual 20 percent as is common in mechanical engineering." And ABP has designed a comprehensive digital portfolio in this respect that enables companies to reposition themselves in the spirit of the fourth industrial revolution. We are firmly convinced that digital services only make sense for users all over the world if they are open, the user has data sovereignty and their benefit is clearly recognizable – and that worldwide. In addition to this, we see the digital business model as an independent entity: Our understanding is that the purpose of digital transformation is not to secure our existing business model, but to develop a new business model that builds on ABP's strengths. Consequently, our service business is being digitalized at three levels. This involves digital service products, partner management and digital marketing channels.
So what exactly does your international digitization strategy in service look like?
Markus Fournell: The benefit is the success factor that you have to keep in mind. Increasing system availability, productivity and quality while simultaneously reducing environmental impact and production costs are challenges that businesses are confronted with every day. Over the past few years, a large number of companies have addressed this challenge and developed suitable concepts for the economical and time-efficient use of the production factors operating resources: materials, planning and organization.
ABP Induction accompanies these processes with holistic support in the pursuit of its future-oriented strategies: Digital solutions bring ABP Induction closer to its users and supports them in their daily operations, maintenance and training of personnel. The focus here is on the myABP customer portal. The benefit for users in the manufacturing sector worldwide is fewer unplanned and planned downtimes. Plus, all important information such as plant data, maintenance planning, and the know-how database are available on the portal, and better training reduces repair times and energy consumption. These training sessions can be held in a virtual environment and can thus be conducted and accessed simultaneously from anywhere in the world.
What exactly can be used worldwide?
Markus Fournell: To achieve the fastest possible return on investment for us and our customers, we have focused on digital service solutions. It is a combination of maintenance planning aids, ticketing, knowledge management system, virtual training, augmented reality support, system overview and reliable service. This is how predictive and preventive services can be offered at a global scale.
What we have learned is that the digital transformation has to be approached holistically. To this extent, ABP has developed a comprehensive digital portfolio, which is based on the myABP platform I just mentioned, it consists of three pillars and is consolidated under the ENTERABP label. This includes the ABP Virtual Academy, which consists of the ABP Virtual Classroom and Virtual Training building blocks. In addition, the augmented reality (AR) service "digital Expert on Demand" (dEoD) was introduced to provide remote services, and the topic of M2M communication and artificial intelligence (AI) was also implemented in initial optimization applications. These digital services are bundled in the myABP platform, which customers can use to plan their training activities and also manage their entire system. The collection of tools is rounded off by an online store for spare parts.
What does the Virtual Academy do exactly?
Markus Fournell: The ABP Virtual Academy is where training and further education courses are available – in our case this currently predominantly applies to all technical areas of foundry and forging companies. However, all solution modules are also available as white label solutions, i.e. for all conceivable areas of industry. The offering is available online, worldwide. On the one hand, virtual sessions are combined with training measures and expert lectures, as we have already done with KVD Service Goes Live. With the 'ABP Virtual Academy', we are addressing the highly sensitive work area: Regular training and education of employees is essential, especially in the environment of a system.
Individual and current topics can be discussed and trained in the 'ABP Classroom'. This is where international ABP experts offer presentations on products and solutions, show new developments and best practices, and invite users to share their knowledge as well. The sessions take place in a virtual classroom environment, with participants and experts appearing as avatars in the classroom. The system is an exciting opportunity for users wishing to refresh their knowledge of an existing ABP system or for the onboarding of new employees. A digital session like this is enormously helpful as a kick-off when users are planning to modernize, expand or completely rebuild their system.
The exciting thing about it is that service experts from all over the world bring their knowledge together here and exchange ideas. There have already been international sessions where participants from North America, Europe and Asia have come together to work on common topics or to support each other. The feat of bringing these experts together in the real world would be a tremendously challenging endeavor. Besides the current travel restrictions, think of the organizational effort involved: The service experts would have to leave their regular work activities for days at a time to travel and be present. These are personnel and travel expenses that would make a company think twice about spending - especially when there are digital solutions that are much more cost-effective and offer a virtually identical learning and working experience.
What exactly does a New Learning or New Work setting look like?
Markus Fournell: Customers can send their employees to virtual training sessions, a "flight simulator for the foundry," so to speak. The training sessions take place in a virtual setting via a virtual reality environment complete with headsets. Work processes and emergency measures can be trained in the virtual environment that are not possible on the real product in live operation. This means that every employee can train on a digital twin in the virtual room if desired.
This makes it possible to simulate important operations, work steps and emergency measures that would not be possible on the actual site for safety reasons. The virtual training courses are also an offer for training new employees. These virtual trainings can be easily completed as a desktop application like a computer game or interactively in the room with special equipment. Gamification is the what it's all about.
How are these training programs created – do you develop them yourself?
Markus Fournell: Yes, of course, based on our experience, but also on feedback from our customers. This way, we can also develop special training for irregular maintenance and uncommon malfunctions. We also develop individual scenarios for very specific production environments, simply because the advantages of virtual training are so wide-ranging. Because of the abstraction factor, there is never any danger for man or machine, and at the same time, working on the system is extremely realistic because of the interaction it provides. On the other hand, the virtual trainings are particularly efficient. Production operations are not restricted, there is no need for cost-intensive melting, and time can be saved thanks to the accelerated simulation.
Can you give us an example of what a training like this looks like?
Markus Fournell: A very striking example is the training to prevent bridging in the induction furnace of our foundry customers. When melting in the induction furnace, the charge material can form a solid blanket above the active coil because the electromagnetic field no longer couples there. This can interfere with the actual melting process by causing this part to get stuck and prevent the scrap from sliding into the active part of the coil. The potential consequence: This results in severe overheating of the melt in the lower crucible section, which loses contact with the scrap suspended above it. This overheating can attack and damage the furnace lining. Failure to detect this in time can result in furnace blowout or explosion due to overheating. All in all, this is a process that can have a massive impact on safety and operation and must be avoided at all costs. We have developed a virtual training module designed specifically for this phenomenon.
It allows the scenario described to be simulated and then trained - on the digital twin of the system and thus not in a direct production environment, but in a highly practical manner while taking all safety-relevant aspects into account.
The employee trains all work steps virtually and is also able to experience hazardous situations in this special training that are impossible to train in the physical environment – and, in the best case scenario, should not ever occur at all.
So that's basically the learning and training domain - but you also set up scenarios for virtual collaboration?
Markus Fournell: Exactly. We do not only want users to be able to have an overview of the installed base in the myABP portal, but also to have the option of directly seeing which spare parts they would need whenever necessary. This is complemented by the 'ABP digital Expert on Demand' service – with which service technicians are always on hand when support is needed to ensure maximum system uptime. Using augmented reality, allows our support team to see the system through the eyes of the customer. This means that the technician on site wears smart glasses or uses a smartphone and receives a visual prompt of what he has to do and can also use the camera function to demonstrate the system and the work he has done on it. The expert is located at our central ABP office and can give instructions accordingly. Or the expert may also be in USA or China: So, thanks to our global presence, the sun never sets on the ABP world - and there's always someone digitally on hand to help users – across all time zones. This is an entirely new way of collaborating.
When presenting your digitization strategy at the KVD Service Congress 2020, you spoke of nothing less than a revolution. Why do you see it that way?
Markus Fournell: This is a major shift from a previously completely analog, production-focused industry to digitized companies that are combining products and services and developing solutions that offer added value for everyone. Our vision for the future of the metalworking industry is to establish a single platform where all suppliers and customers can collaborate, share information and create value.
After all: a revolution is not something that is done just by one person or company. We therefore rely on a network based on partnership – with customers, suppliers and other machine and system manufacturers, on partnerships with other companies and universities in order to continuously develop the platform. With this effective partner management approach, we see myABP as an open concept. All digital solutions can be used as "white label" solutions by other companies – by the way, not just in the metalworking industry. Because digital transformation is a process that all industries have to face.
The potential of our white label offering means that we can even address industries in which ABP has not been represented at all up to now. From the foundry, to glass, pharmaceuticals, building materials, food, and many other sectors; this is how we master diversification through digital transformation. This is a true change in culture that must be addressed jointly by operators and machine manufacturers, which is also why we call it a revolution – and rightly so.
Our Industry 4.0 service solutions bridge the gap between traditional services and a new level of connectivity between system manufacturers and operators. The hybrid concept of these service tools is to connect people, machines and processes across manufacturer boundaries and to lead them through the ongoing digital revolution with ever new and innovative services. Or – in line with our slogan "People.Technology.Success." – digitalization empowers people to succeed with new technologies, at all levels.
With thanks and regards to Markus Fournell and Michael Braun