What is the end goal of automation

Ultimate goal of digital services: How ZKSystems makes machine builders fit for Industry 4.0.

With their software, two young Berliners want to support machine manufacturers in exploiting the full potential of production and differentiating themselves from the competition with digital services. Because: In the future, it will not be decisive who makes the machine, but how the service is.

What has long been standard in the service industry, also leads to it in Industry 4.0. no way around.

According to a study by the Business Innovation Observatory of the European Commission, 70 percent of all mechanical engineers believe that services are becoming a decisive competitive factor. Those who have already adjusted their offerings accordingly see five to ten percent growth. 50 percent of sales come from additional digital services. “Whether it is manufacturer x or y is - in relation to machines - not decisive. Service around the machine is important, ”confirms Diana Rees, co-founder and CEO of the Berlin start-up“ ZkSystems ”in the NTV podcast“ So techt Germany ”.

The 31-year-old knows what she's talking about. As a location consultant for European companies in China, she has visited numerous factories, got to know various production processes and is convinced: "In the future, machines will not be offered as pure hardware, but rather in conjunction with digital services that enable customers to automate," she says Business Insider to the point. The share of the machine in the package is getting smaller and smaller and “at some point it is actually a service package in which the machine is only part of the sales offer”. Supplementary services, such as the automatic reordering of spare parts or the predictive planning of your own maintenance by the machine itself, are becoming more and more important. The rental of the systems as "Equipment-as-a-Service (EaaS)" and the reliable billing via pay-per-use are also among the promising additional services of innovative machine builders.

Scalable and integrable blockchain
However, until recently, the latter was easier said than done. "The problem so far has been that the usage data cannot be sufficiently verified," says Diana Rees. Manual data entry in particular often leads to errors. "If you use a suitably designed blockchain solution, you get a track record of validated usage data." However, previous blockchain variants did not scale sufficiently and were not fast enough for applications in the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) area. Enormous hardware resources had to be set up, which made the use of the blockchain in the IIoT very complex, expensive and in fact impossible. In order to remedy this situation, Rees founded the start-up ZkSystems (Zero Knowledge Systems; the Zero Knowledge Protocol describes a process in cryptography in which one party of a proves something to another party without disclosing the data).

The first coup of the women entrepreneurs: the development of their own blockchain infrastructure that can be scaled up to 5000 transactions per second and is therefore perfect for IIoT. Another advantage over previous versions is that the blockchain is seamlessly integrated into existing ERP and enterprise payment and billing systems. This in turn enables automated billing based on the IoT sensor data. A test project with Bosch Rexroth proved that the innovative solution works at the end of 2019. The usage data of the Cytro Box hydraulic unit, which, for example, sets machine tools in motion, was recorded in a forgery-proof manner on the basis of the ZkSystems blockchain. This enables Bosch Rexroth to offer a pay-per-use solution in which customers only pay for what is actually used. In addition, the manufacturer receives reliable information about the use of the machine and can offer other data-based services - such as predictive maintenance of the system or performance-related guarantees.

Robot-controlled process automation instead of a mess of paper
With the blockchain software for EaaS, Rees and Ünal are, but not enough. "We are now focusing on robot-controlled process automation (RPA) in production, where blockchain is only used as an option," says Diana Rees, describing the agile development of the start-up, which has already grown into a team of eleven.
Because: There are still a lot of processes in the service area that are largely manual and are therefore time-consuming and error-prone. "RPA has the advantage that it works faster than humans and does its job without errors and around the clock," she argues. In their opinion, these processes “behind the machine”, such as the creation of checklists or service reports, must be automated before the machine is connected to the network and can provide data for additional services. “It's also about moving away from the paper mess,” says Diana Rees. With the ZKSystems software, the synchronization of Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and other IT systems using Robotic Process Automation (RPA) scripts ensures that this transformation takes place without costly interfaces. With this, the start-up promises its customers real-time transparency in production and an overview of production progress.

Efficiency as a competitive advantage
In addition to enterprise clients such as Bosch or Siemens, Diana Rees and Amine Ünal, who met at a workshop, were also able to attract medium-sized mechanical engineers. “Little by little, competition is getting tougher and manufacturers are under pressure to become more efficient,” observes Rees. Many are currently working to full capacity, but the industry cannot rest on its laurels: “In order to be prepared for the increasing international competition, it is important as a German mechanical engineering company to recognize emerging trends early on and then with innovative solutions like ours to react, optimize the manufacturing processes and make them more efficient. It won't be long before end-to-end digitization gains speed in mechanical engineering too. " Investors such as FinLab EOS Fund, Brandenburg Kapital and EnjoyVentures were able to convince the young entrepreneurs. Recently, the two women were able to book a million euros for themselves with Carsten Maschmeyer's startup fund. "After the last funding, we are currently in the process of expanding the team," says Diana Rees, forging plans for the future. "We want to continue growing strongly in the new year."

The founders are convinced that they have found the ideal location for this in the federal capital - even though their main clientele is more likely to be found in the industrial south of the country. “The heart of the German start-up industry beats in Berlin, and as a result there is a large pool of talent for software development here,” says Rees, “that doesn't prevent us from being frequently on site in southern Germany in order to gain an ever deeper understanding about processes and the perspective of our customers and users. " The latter could soon burst the borders of Germany. The European market, but also the USA, Japan and China are interesting in the future. “We see it as our job to support machine manufacturers on their journey”, the 31-year-old and her team still have big plans, “the end goal is to sell digital services plus a service package for everything to do with the machine.”