Pop Nukoonrat/Dreamstime
Industry 4.0 concept

“Making Automation Easy Starts With the Design Process”

Aug. 24, 2022
Festo’s Dr. Ansgar Kriwet talks about why automation is complicated, and how design teams can improve the experience.

At the celebration marking Festo’s 50th anniversary in the United States, Festo board member Dr. Ansgar Kriwet made what might be considered a provocative statement: “Automation is too complicated.”

Kriwet has the background to evaluate the state of automation. After studying mechanical engineering at the University of Aachen, he spent several years as research associate at The Institute for Machine Tools and Production Technology in Berlin, followed by the Institute for Management and Technology in Berlin.

In 1995 Kriwet joined Festo and has been responsible for the product strategy for several divisions. In 2009 he was appointed to the Management Board of the Festo AG being responsible for Region and Sales Europe, followed by the responsibility for Global Sales in 2013.

Machine Design Senior Content Director Bob Vavra discussed with Kriwet the aforementioned statement at the Festo event, along with its implications for future automation innovations.

Bob Vavra: Why do you feel automation is too complicated?

Ansgar Kriwet: I do compare the industrial automation world with the consumer world. In the consumer world, automation used to be difficult as well in the past! Think of your own experience when installing a newly bought PC, say, 20 years ago. You would better reserve a weekend to read operating instructions, get all the various cables, download all the different drivers and make everything work together. Today, you switch on and the system more or less configures itself. In the industrial automation arena, we are still living in the past—setting up a system and making it work is hard work of trained specialists. We need to improve that.

BV: How much of this question is based on human limitation and how much is based on automation complexity?

AK: This has nothing to do with automation complexity; it is entirely due to the lack of focus that automation suppliers are putting on the subject of simplifying the user experience. Powerful automation devices do not need to be difficult to operate. Think of your mobile phone: This device has three cameras, more computing power than the space shuttle, 50 time more memory than my first laptop and still comes without any operating instructions—because nobody needs one.

BV: Are manufacturers using automation correctly? And do they expect too much from automation?

AK: Manufacturers of machines are focusing more and more of their development effort on the core process that makes their machine different. This can be a welding process, a filling process, a testing process, etc. Therefore, they need companies like Festo that support them in the automation of those processes in an easy and intuitive way so that they can use their energy on what makes them unique: their core process.

“The technologies are never a goal in itself, they are only a means to an end. Nobody needs Industry 4.0 for the sake of itself. It is only a tool.”

Dr. Ansgar Kriwet

BV: The companion idea to that is, what can companies such as Festo do to take the complication out of automation?

AK: Making automation easy starts with the design process. Festo is offering a lot of easy-to-use software tools that allow the design engineer to quickly determine the right motion technology (pneumatic or electric?), the right sizing of the components to optimize energy consumption, the right accessories and mounting kits, and allow them to generate pre-assembled CAD models that can be imported easily into their machine design software.

We continue to support the purchasing process by an easy-to-use online shop with lots of supporting functions or alternatively direct EDP integration. In the setup of the machine, we support with assembly services and explanation videos. Operation is supported by simple user interfaces and maintenance support software. We take simplicity very seriously!

BV: What do your customers need to do to raise their level of automation literacy so that this isn’t all a solution at the supplier end?

AK: Innovation in the industrial automation space is moving ahead quickly. Our customers need to know enough about new developments like Industry 4.0, cloud connectivity and artificial intelligence to understand whether or not these technologies are useful for them to solve specific problems in their production.

The technologies are never a goal in itself, they are only a means to an end. Nobody needs Industry 4.0 for the sake of itself. It is only a tool—i.e., to reduce energy consumption, optimize machine performance or improve part quality. Festo Didactic is globally the biggest provider of industrial automation training courses and training equipment. We do invest a lot to keep our customers up to speed regarding the progress in automation.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!