Some investments are being reconsidered – An Interview with Mr. Koeppel

Markus Schmalz, journalist with German HK magazine, and Jürgen Köppel, Eumabois President and Leitz CEO, talked about topics challenging and influencing the woodworking industry. In the first part of the interview, they reviewed the impact of the Corona virus on our industry, whereas in the second part, they analyze trends and innovations that are supported by Eumabois on the European level.

Despite the hot topic of the moment, that is coronavirus, we should not forget about technical themes. Digitalization, automation, IoT platforms and collaborative systems were the buzz words at the latest Ligna edition in Hannover. How are these trends currently developing?

To be truly honest, the trends you have described with the above-mentioned catchwords has been going on for some years already. However, the speed of implementation of the associated solutions has noticeably increased over the past two to three years. What is particularly noteworthy is the fact that topics like automation or digitalization have long been relevant not only to the industrial sector but also and increasingly to the craft sector. Whether it is about industrially manufacturing a product or the interior decorator behind the corner, smart solutions perform an increasingly powerful role. But one thing still matters: these solutions are required to deliver a true, measurable added value to the customer.

As you mentioned, the main topic of digitalization has long reached small enterprises too. Would you say that the digitalization process is even more important to furniture makers and carpenters than to industrial businesses?

With regards to this question, I wouldn’t like to put it in terms of more or less important. Basically, the purpose of the digitalization process is to free up the user so that the focus can be placed on important processes and jobs. This means that digitalization needs to deliver a relief that is important to companies or businesses of any size whatsoever. As workers or employees in small enterprises tend to be tasked with multiple responsibilities, it is highly likely that digital solutions may be more utilized in those settings.

But can an industrial business such as a furniture maker really survive in today’s business world without fully networked processes?

Given today’s complex processes and the multitude of data required for control functions, I struggle to imagine that efficient processes can be successful without network integration and automation. There will certainly be exceptions, but the close connection of ERP systems, production and logistics processes are unquestionably more than beneficial. In some processes it is inevitable for data sets to be moving alongside the production parts in the processing chain. A network-integrated production often has a huge importance and it certainly contributes to the business competitiveness.

How long do you believe it is necessary for IoT platforms to become established on an extensive scale?

I mentioned the increased implementation speed relating to the automation and digitalization trends just a few minutes ago. This obviously applies to IoT platforms too. Moreover, the acceptance of similar offers in the past few years has also increased meaningfully. Meanwhile, there is a landscape of most diverse IoT platforms wherefrom clients can select the most suitable solution. The upcoming years will bring about even deeper changes and new developments that will find their space at a growing pace. Therefore, it will be difficult to determine when a completely extensive coverage has been achieved.

A year ago, the European leaders of woodworking machinery joined their strengths under the umbrella of Eumabois to define a uniform OPC-UA standard for the woodworking industry. How much progress has been made on this project?

I think that the OPC-UA project initiated by VDMA is very important. Particularly, because we are now discussing to establish a communication standard at European level that will remarkably facilitate the integration of machinery from different manufacturers in one single production network. Major steps have already been accomplished. The next step on the agenda is to finalize the so-called Companion Specification and to implement it in terms of prototype. This was scheduled to be completed in spring this year, but coronavirus again thwarted all the plans. Nevertheless, we still hang on to the timeline and aim to publish the final version of the Companion Specification by year end.

What will be the added value delivered by this joint effort?

As virtually no company makes use of machinery from one manufacturer only, the key aim of OPC-UA is to seamlessly and smoothly integrate different pieces of equipment, regardless of their brand or IoT environment. By so doing, the demanding and expensive programming of communication software interfaces will no longer be necessary. Cooperation in the OPC-UA project is therefore to be considered as the first step made jointly by European woodworking machinery manufacturers.

What could boost the project even more?

A few days ago, VDMA and VDW agreed on the use and dissemination of OPC-UA standard to the entire mechanical engineering sector under the brand Umati – Universal Machine Technology Interface. End users will make the most of it when it comes to shaping frequently different technologies in the manufacturing ecosystem of their companies.

Are there any other topics that apply across multiple companies and that Eumabois is currently dealing with?

Generally, the topics of standardization and consistency of norms are on top of the agenda of Eumabois’ technical team. In such framework, experts from different companies cooperate closely to establish European standards. In addition to the OPC-UA project we are also committed on a project entitled “ETML” which is currently keeping us very busy. ETML stands for European Tool Machine Language.

What is it about exactly?

It is about creating a process-tool data model to digitally describe woodworking tools on XML basis, with the aim to ensure a data exchange between tools and machinery from various manufacturers. An already advanced level has been achieved in this area and the very first pilot-test applications are now being implemented. The purpose is to obtain a faster and safer initial operation of tools, to avoid input errors thanks to the data input and a simplified process simulation, as well as anti-crash checks through an exact representation of the tool during the simulation process. From my point of view, this is an extremely future-oriented concept. It also highlights the multitude of possibilities that are out there when we put together our know-how as Europeans.

Interview conducted by Markus Schmalz

HK, the international magazine for entrepreneurs and managers in the wood and furniture industry