Consequences & Perspectives for the Automation Industry!
In an interview with RFID & Wireless IoT Global, Florian Hermle, Managing Director of Marketing and Sales at Balluff, explains the consequences and opportunities in connection with the Covid-19 pandemic.
As Managing Director of Balluff, how have you handled the crisis year 2020 so far?
"We had created jobs in the home office for a large part of the workforce as early as March. Individual meeting concepts were developed for this purpose. Naturally, the current situation is also a challenge for Balluff. China has indeed proven that it is quite possible to boost the economy in a short time after the shutdown. For instance, six weeks after the resumption of business operations, the turnover of Balluff's subsidiary in China is on par with that of the previous year."
"I would, of course, also like to see a similar development for the European and American markets. However, as things stand today, we still have to assume that economic normalization will be very slow, and that it will continue to be burdened by the serious repercussions of the corona crisis."
Many experts see 'digitalization' as a great opportunity. What changes can be expected in the automation industry in the near future?
"The automation industry will emerge stronger from this crisis. I am convinced of this. After all, the current situation offers the opportunity to push ahead with digitalization, connectivity, sensor technology and remote management. A flawless IT infrastructure and real-time monitoring in the context of sensor technology are essential for customers. In the future, Balluff will continue to focus on the integration of an overall concept that is becoming increasingly important."
What is the global impact of the pandemic? Is the re-regionalization of supply chains in Europe a result of the crisis?
"The crisis has initially highlighted the weaknesses of the supply chain in the form of supply bottlenecks. However, this development should not only be seen in a negative light. Reorientations of companies are possible. Numerous companies are increasingly taking advantage of the opportunity to produce in Europe again. As a result, the number of production and manufacturing facilities in Europe will increase. In parallel, digital cooperation and remote maintenance of facilities will increasingly follow."
"However, there are also long-term consequences. Some industries, like the tourism sector, have been hit particularly hard by the crisis. Deutsche Lufthansa AG, for example, does not expect a return to normality to any great extent until 2023."
What new developments in the field of industrial identification are currently being worked on at Balluff?
"In addition to the product portfolio, which mainly consists of RFID components with IO-Link, we are increasingly focusing on IIoT-controlled processes. We are currently developing a new OPC UA interface with integrated security features. The ultimate goal is to provide long-term support for customers in the digitalization and modernization of their systems. In doing so, the continuous performance of the data carriers must be guaranteed, regardless of which identification technology is involved."
What is your assessment of the future prospects for contactless identification solutions?
"In view of the continuous development, it is necessary to offer a wide range of identification technologies and labeling solutions. RFID technology will continue to be a growth market."
Finally, a personal question. What has been your experience of the past months?
"The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic not only affects Balluff as a company, but also has personal consequences for each individual. I can now look back on several weeks of digitally networked work in the home office. Before the crisis, I personally attended 95 percent of all meetings. After the crisis, this will certainly be less, as the home office experience was positive."
"We held a successful virtual trade fair, from which some valuable conclusions were drawn. I have also found that it is possible to reconcile work and family life. Despite all the positive aspects of this new form of work – I would like also like to say this – many things must, and indeed can, be organized more effectively. The most striking example of this is certainly the concept of 'homeschooling'. In this area I still see a great need for optimization."