The corona crisis has intensified the digital transformation in the process industry. Besides traditional topics such as data-based business management, we see more and more use cases for artificial intelligence - as was demonstrated at the CSB-Discovery Days, a digitization conference with about 200 participants from 26 countries.
“When a physical doors closes, a new digital door opens,” said Frank Braun, Head of Marketing at CSB and creator of the virtual event. “Due to the corona crisis, we shifted the conference to the internet. It was not quite the same, but was very informative.”
Which is in line with the central theme of the conference on 27 and 28 May: Digitization and its implementation in the process industry. Besides numerous CSB-System experts, several customers of the ERP provider had their say.
These were the three key messages of this year’s Discovery Days:
1. Digitization megatrend regains momentum - partly thanks to Covid-19
The process industry, in particular, has a strong interest in further expanding digitization and automation - predominantly, but not exclusively, with the aim to increase efficiency. The current coronavirus crisis has accelerated the strategic process adjustments in the companies, with hygiene, quality and traceability being strong additional motives. The overarching goal is to enable corporate management based on performance indicators.
“Digitization has allowed us to establish an entirely different basis for decision-making. Facts rather than intuition. Today, we speak about specific KPI instead of estimates, for example with regard to sales volumes or forecasts,” says Marko Markovcic, Technical Manager of the food companies Pivka and Delamaris based in Slovenia. And the initiative of two IT experts from the Belgian Colruyt group can pass muster against concrete facts. Gregory Messien and Mathias Bongarts succeeded in enhancing the freshness of the products while significantly lowering the losses in production. An innovation that quickly turned into profit.
These are the success stories that matter, as CSB Vice President Dr. Klemens van Betteray sees it: the economic added value must be right. “Every step towards Industry 4.0 ultimately is also a step towards more turnover or profit, whether it is through smart glasses in picking, robots in dairies, industrial image processing for the quality assessment of raw materials, or the blockchain.” The optimum basis for the digital transformation of the company is, and will remain, the ERP system, as it is the business management backbone controlling the company's data pool. “A digital transformation combining your ERP system with the data from other systems will put you in an ideal position against competition,” says van Betteray.
2. With small, quick steps you achieve your goals faster than by taking big leaps after a long run-up
The decision-makers do not dispute the digital transformation as such. Quite the contrary, to most of them it is merely a question of “how”. “Begin by looking for the quick wins,” is the advice of Robin Gremlich, who is responsible for CSB’s core business, consulting. Such quick wins with positive effects on turnover, profit, processes, or products should be further expanded. For example, online shop systems are not limited to selling products or managing subsidiaries. “One of our customers now controls the entire complaint management process via web interfaces. This is much more efficient than before, because the relevant data is entered directly at the customer's,” Gremlich reported. Other hands-on examples with real benefit for your daily business relate to product and price calculations that are highly relevant to food manufacturers. “Using digital solutions and simulations, you can identify the areas where money is gained or lost.” As Gremlich sees it, digitization is not a matter of company size. Every enterprise could do it. But how to find the right approach? “Ask your staff. They will know precisely in which processes there is room for improvement.”
3. Artificial intelligence is extremely promising for the process industry
Among the many technology trends, artificial intelligence has the highest potential. Dismissed as a delusion until a few years back, more and more new use cases for the process industry are taking form. Some of which even have reached market maturity, as Michael Zerbe, head of CSB's development department, explains. “Most of all, image recognition is taking the lead, simply because the AI makes nearly no mistakes - as opposed to humans. For example, in the quality control of fruit and vegetables, or in the recognition of reusable transport packaging.” Predictive maintenance helps to optimize the maintenance and to minimize the downtime of machines. Huge progress has recently been made in the calculation and forecast of raw material and product availabilities. “AI is able to interpret tremendous data volumes in a short time. This is what makes it so interesting for the process industry. As a prerequisite, processes have to be digitized to rule out analog data as much as possible.” Zerbe is confident, “AI will come in big steps - and now is the time to deal with this topic.”
Preparation of Discovery Days 2021 is underway
“We are planning now the next Discovery Days for May 2021,” says Braun. With a view to the surprisingly huge success of the virtual conference, a physical event combined with digital elements is planned. “With the Discovery Days, we aim to make the digital transformation tangible for the decision-makers. And it is a good opportunity to try out new channels in the event communication.”