PETER MAČUŠ: It’s simple. “Innovating” means “surviving” in industry
More than a decade ago, he witnessed the birth of driverless robotic tractors, which for a long time became a flagship of Asseco CEIT’s technical innovations, bringing the business into the company of important Slovak players in the field of the modernization of industrial plants. Peter Mačuš, technical director of Asseco CEIT, explains that yellow trucks for automated material transport are now only one of the components of the mobile robotic system, which has gradually become a complex smart logistics solution. Such logistics, in turn, represent an important part of the entire smart plant. As the right partner for industrial innovation, Asseco CEIT is building its own concept of smart factories. It builds on strong foundations, since in addition to the aforementioned technical innovations and automation, it is also a pioneer in digital enterprise tools and a leader in optimizations of various kinds. What does a smart business look like in the eyes of Asseco CEIT? Why is it actually important for an industrial plant to become a smart plant? Why should we keep innovating and responding to technological progress? According to Peter Mačuš, the answer is very simple. Innovation, he says, is a necessary condition for ‘survival’ in fierce competition.
If this conversation had taken place a year ago, we would definitely have started with a question about Industry 4.0. Today, however, it is as if this term has died away or lost its buzz. Some have even referred to it more as a trend than a real industrial revolution. Do you agree? Is it “old fashioned” to deploy Industry 4.0?
I would say that the term Industry 4.0 has been spread so massively that we may have become oversaturated by it to some extent. There was a lot of discussion about it, many people wanted to “be Industry 4.0” or, as you mentioned, “deploy” Industry 4.0, often perhaps without it being entirely clear as to what exactly was going on. We at Asseco CEIT have never seen this term as some kind of badge that can be obtained or as a destination to reach, if the plant meets the specified conditions. Do you have automated logistics? Are you collecting data? All right, it’s done, you’re already Industry 4.0. That’s not how we think it works. You can take the Industry 4.0 route.
This means constantly responding to technological progress. Reaching for innovation. Introducing always the latest technologies and procedures. It is clear that rapid technological developments have radically changed and are constantly changing the face of industry. The only ones who can succeed are those who do not ignore this development, but rather react promptly to it and take a vivid interest in it. They know that this is essential if they want to achieve ever greater productivity and performance, move forward, develop and stand up to increasing competition. Industrial companies must reach for digital enterprise tools, automation or artificial intelligence. We have been developing these topics in Asseco CEIT for decades. So this is only a confirmation that the solutions we bring to industrial enterprises are truly progressive and may occasionally be ahead of their time. That, after all, is our job. As the right innovation partner, we must be at least one step ahead.
So can we say that the wave of intense debates about Industry 4.0 underlined the importance of new technologies?
That’s right. Whatever we call it, the technological progress just mentioned and the need to respond to it have come to the fore. Today, no one doubts that this is key in efforts to increase productivity. Because that’s what it’s always about. Being productive and efficient. Industrial companies think pragmatically. They would hardly introduce new technologies just because it is “in”. First of all, they ask: what will it bring us, what will we gain? They need clear answers to these questions.
Is that why Asseco CEIT came up with its own concept of smart factories?
As I mentioned, we want to be a reliable innovation partner for industry. When the debates about the Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 began to intensify in Slovakia, they also brought with them many questions and ambiguities. Many people asked. What should we do? How do we proceed? It was our job to offer an answer. Because these were the topics we felt comfortable in, whether it was a digital enterprise, robotics, automation, process innovation, virtual and augmented reality or advanced data collection and processing.
Based on the ideas of one of our company’s founders, a recognized expert and visionary, Professor Milan Gregor, our concept of smart factories is a combination of three worlds: digital, real and virtual. It is followed by the comprehensive Digital Twin solution, which is to help build gradually and systematically a modern business environment in the spirit of Industry 4.0. Digital Twin, which is actually a synonym for the smart enterprise of the future, represents in our understanding a complex cycle, from digitization through implementation itself, to autonomous control and self-optimization.
For each of these phases, Asseco CEIT has a set of specific solutions. If you mentioned that industrial plants always look at them primarily from the perspective of pragmatism, what benefits can Digital Twin bring them in this regard?
First of all, it must be said that each industrial enterprise must be approached individually, depending on the type and volume of production, on the level of automation or the degree of standardization of processes, and on a number of other factors of which I could name dozens.
Digital Twin is the extension of a digital enterprise. If we look just at this concept, the tools of a digital enterprise bring huge benefits to industrial plants. Thanks to a set of modern technologies (such as 3D scanning, digitalisation), digital models of all elements of the business can be obtained, be they parts, products, technologies, production processes, people or management systems. If an enterprise has a digital or parametric model, any changes can be planned more easily and quickly, and especially more efficiently. Dynamic simulation and 3D visualization tools then help fine-tune all the details. As an example, I will mention our interactive Twiserion Design Manager, which is an excellent helper in creating new production or logistics concepts. Just change the layout on the touch panel and the system immediately evaluates the pros and cons. Benefits? Again, saving time and money. Many industrial plants (not only) in Slovakia have experience with digital enterprise tools, their importance probably does not need to be emphasized. However, we have gone further and we have expanded this digital world, the digital model of a real business, into a virtual environment. It is created by data collected from ubiquitous sensors in a real business, creating a fact-based image of the real environment, important for further optimization.
The question of how to work with the acquired data is probably faced by many industrial companies today …
The added value of this data is enormous. Again, collecting, monitoring and visualising is only the first step, to be followed by an analysis of facts and statistics. If we move towards a real-time response, we are already talking about autonomous management. This will be followed by the ability to predict, i.e. automatic problem prevention. By deploying artificial intelligence, we are getting into a phase of self-optimization, self-organization and re-configurability, which we believe will be the theme of the coming years.
What is Asseco CEIT going to do in this regard?
In developing the Digital Twin concept, we established a successful collaboration with Sewio, specifically in the field of RTLS (Real Time Location System). I can reveal that Asseco CEIT is already preparing specific sophisticated sensor systems to collect data from those parts of the production system where this is not yet possible today. However, it is a necessary precondition for autonomous management.
We mentioned the digital world and the virtual world. Where they meet is the real, actual world. Here, despite technological progress, people still play an important role. Does Digital Twin count on them as well?
Of course. However, it is clear, and I will be saying nothing new here, that industry needs people ready to work with advanced technologies, people ready and, above all, willing to cope with the changing industrial environment. The preparation itself can take place in a modern, innovative way, using virtual or augmented reality. For example, a virtual simulator can be used for this purpose, enabling the development of employees’ skills and competencies in an original experiential form.
Digital Twin is a complex and very comprehensive concept. Can you give a specific example of its deployment in practice?
It is a complex and very sophisticated solution, built on sub-stages, each of which is important. Digital Twin is a response not only to current, but also to expected technological developments and is a unique “made in Slovakia” approach. In developing this concept, we are once again taking into account not only current trends, but we are also looking to the future. As far as real industrial practice is concerned, perhaps the best example is the Digital Twin version for reconfigurable logistics. Our smart logistics system implemented in the largest automotive plant in Slovakia has also won the prestigious European Automotive Logistics Awards, which we are very proud of. At the same time, it is a challenge for us to continue to develop our own approach to the revolutionary transformation of today’s production.