The Best and the Fastest

Interview with Dr. Thomas Steckenreiter, Head of the Operation Support & Safety division

Supplying the markets as fast as possible – without a doubt, one of the key factors for futuresuccess. To do this, Bayer is backing an increased focus on Industry 4.0: intelligent productionsystems networked to allow them to communicate with each other. At Bayer, Dr. ThomasSteckenreiter is one of the driving forces behind this.

Better efficiency through better networking: Dr. Thomas Steckenreiter advocates Industry 4.0.

solutions: Mr. Steckenreiter, at Bayer you’re known as “Mister Industry 4.0.” What’s behind that catchphrase?

Steckenreiter (laughing): Thanks for the compliment! But I really should correct that: I’m one of those who advocates for Industry 4.0 and wants to push ahead with those kinds of innovations. Broadly speaking, that means using intelligent production systems that are networked with one another and thus improve our production efficiency.

solutions: Is that possible in the chemical sector?

Steckenreiter: Oh, absolutely. Let’s take sensors as an example. At Bayer, there are around 250,000 instruments in use in the production areas, measuring temperature, pressure, fill level, flow rates, and so on. If we can make use of algorithms, models and process knowledge to build more intelligence into that system, then we can make calculations based on far more information than we can record using standard devices. We not only get more information about processes and the properties of materials, but these so-called smart sensors – at any given moment in any given place – provide us with a comprehensive overview of the status of production, stock and quality.

solutions: Can we already call that intelligent?

Steckenreiter: Not the actual measuring, no. But Industry 4.0 means that the systems communicate with each other, that they think in conjunction with one another. And that they get things moving at the right time. For example, autonomously planning and controlling a process so that there is less downtime, or supporting production planning in batch operations, or communicating suggestions for optimizing operations.

solutions: To what extent is quality an aspect of Industry 4.0?

Steckenreiter: A good example would be the production of pharmaceuticals; this is an area where quality plays a particularly crucial role because it’s directly connected to human health. The goal here is continuous quality control built directly into the process, knowing at every point in time exactly what a particular tablet is comprised of. I would call that something worth striving for. And that is something we can achieve.

solutions: Youre talking about individual tablets, not about tons. Has the perspective shifted with the realignment of Bayer and its concentration on the life sciences? Are we more focused on production now?

Steckenreiter: Our aspirations in terms of quality and safety have always been extremely high, and that hasn’t changed. But you’re right: We used to be far more involved with the production of mass-produced chemicals, the kinds where we would produce 100,000 tons a year, and now we are looking at far smaller quantities. This applies to drugs just as much as to crop protection products.

Dr. Thomas Steckenreiter, Head of the Operation Support & Safety division
“Today, we have to optimize globally.”

solutions: So is it the quantities alone that determine the focus on Industry 4.0?

Steckenreiter: No, quantity is only one aspect. The globalization of markets, their interconnectedness and the individual needs of customers are forcing us to get our products to market as quickly as possible. The key expression here is “time to market.” These days, it’s no longer enough to only be the best. We have to be the fastest and the best. And to achieve that, we need the corresponding production environment.

solutions: Where are you already the best?

Steckenreiter: In the field of developing new molecules, Bayer can legitimately lay claim to the title. The work being done in this area is one of a kind. And I’m convinced that this will continue to be the case in future.

solutions: That would seem to suggest that Bayer can’t currently make that claim when it comes to production.

Steckenreiter: I didn’t say that. One has to look at these things with more differentiation, because environments vary considerably from one industry to another. If we take the automotive industry, for example …

solutions: … they certainly pushed ahead with automation much earlier.

Steckenreiter: That’s true. But they not only saw the importance of automation very early in the piece, they also work with very different production conditions. In a modern car factory, nine different vehicle models with X-number of equipment configurations can be produced on a single production line. It is absolutely conceivable that, in the space of one year, you will never see two identical cars roll off the line, which takes incredibly sophisticated planning and logistics. That would be absolutely impossible without intelligent systems and without the complete interconnectedness of both horizontal and vertical systems, meaning from the measurement level to the machine control level all the way to the SAP system.

“We can learn a lot from other industries. No doubt we will be able to translate a number of techniques and refine them for our own company.”

solutions: But you yourself said that you are now looking at far smaller quantities. How is that different from what takes place in the auto industry?

Steckenreiter: For one thing, we are working with fluids, and fluids by their very nature are much harder to work with than individual components. And you have to keep in mind that Bayer has more than 200 individual production sites around the world producing more than 5000 products. Just introducing the same standards at all of those sites is a mammoth undertaking. At the same time, I’m not trying to hide the fact that we can learn from other industries. And I am certainly not only thinking about the auto industry when I say that.

The Process Expert

Thomas Steckenreiter was born in 1965 in Offenbach/Main, and studied chemistry at the TU Dortmund University. After submitting his dissertation in 1997, he worked as product manager at Mettler Toledo. In 2001, he moved to Endress+Hauser, working most recently as Director of Marketing. In July 2013, as a member of the Management Committee of Bayer Technology Services, Dr. Steckenreiter took over as head of the Operation Support & Safety division. Since then, he has also been a board member of the User Association of Automation Technology in Process Industries (Namur). Across all his responsibilities, the focus of his work has consistently been on an integrated approach to processes, with the goal of improving product quality as well as process safety and efficiency.

solutions: But also … ?

Steckenreiter: In electrical engineering, too, they’re already well ahead, and also in the food industry. We will be taking a very close look at both of those. No doubt we will be able to translate a number of techniques and refine them for our own company.

solutionsConcretely speaking, what does that mean for Bayer?

Steckenreiter: As part of the Bayer reorganization, we will initially be putting special emphasis on the development of technical standards that are applicable around the globe, and also on a reduction in the number of certified suppliers. These would then be binding for all of Bayer’s production facilities.

solutionsWhy hasn’t that happened before today?

Steckenreiter: To a certain extent, it already has, but on a worldwide scale there hasn’t necessarily been a need to do so. Consideration was also given to the particular requirements of individual sites.

solutions: Was that a mistake, perhaps?

Steckenreiter: It was an understandable approach and certainly helped optimize things at a local level. But after several years, you realize that you could have done things differently or, where applicable, better, which is in the nature of these kinds of things. These days, however, you have to optimize on a global level.

solutions: What effect will the changes have?

Steckenreiter: Superficially speaking, to start with, they won’t have any effect at all. The chemicals won’t change. The machines will still be there. But if you look more closely, you’ll see that production will become more efficient overall. This will also have enormous repercussions on warehousing for our products. As a globally operating company, we will therefore be able to supply our customers and patients around the world much faster than before.

“Anyone who wants to deliver innovation has to be fast. Ultimately, it comes down to supplying customers in the best possible way.”

solutions: That sounds as if it currently takes a tremendously long time for Bayer products to reach their end users.

Steckenreiter: Then that’s an impression I have to take issue with, and strongly, because of course there are numerous extremely positive examples. I’m thinking, for instance, of some of the crop protection products we manufacture at our Frankfurt site, and I can tell you this: those products reach our customers’ shelves within a few days of being ordered. Which is exactly how it ought to be. But it is not like that everywhere. And that is precisely the situation we are working to improve.

solutions: These goals sound very achievable and pragmatic. But when people talk about Industry 4.0, the discussion quickly turns to scenarios involving virtual factories and corresponding control technologies.

Steckenreiter: Don’t worry, we’re not trying to achieve some kind of augmented reality. And we won’t have people running around wearing data gloves – (laughs) at least, not in the production areas. We have completely different challenges that have to be mastered first.

solutions: For example . . .?

Steckenreiter: Considering our growth, the current maxim is that we are working on our organic growth. In the past, that wasn’t the case. Merck, Schering, Roche – when you hear “Today, we have to optimize globally.” names like those, you im mediately think of successful acquisitions. In particular, I have in mind different production systems, where there is still quite a lot to be adapted, integrated and brought up to date. If we were further along with this process and already had the fundamentals in place, we could – in our IT, for example – simply roll out the latest software update for our machines and control systems and everything would be state of the art tomorrow.

Dr. Thomas Steckenreiter, Head of the Operation Support & Safety division
“Intelligent systems are a must these days.”

solutions: And how are things running today?

Steckenreiter: Today, everything simply takes a little bit longer.

solutions: Your main focus seems to be on speed.

Steckenreiter: Because business success is becoming increasingly dependent on speed.

solutions: Because of the fear that someone else will get in ahead of you if you’re not fast enough?

Steckenreiter: Precisely. That’s an important point. But it isn’t the only one. Let’s take crop protection products as an example. In a particular year, there’s only one optimal timeframe in which a farmer can apply the recommended crop protection solution to their fields. There are extremely detailed spraying plans, and if our active ingredients are not available at the right time, then we’ve missed the boat for that season.

solutions: Has the pace of the competition for customers really intensified so much in recent years?

Steckenreiter: Definitely, and so has the value-creation chain that we want to expand. With plant protection, it’s been a long time since we limited ourselves to only producing outstanding products. Today, we offer farmers full-service packages. We serve them in practically all questions relating to their profession and the challenges they face. In future, this will extend to include Digital Farming and indepth, app-based information. All of that owes a tremendous amount to innovation. And anyone who wants to deliver innovation has to be fast. Ultimately, it always comes down to supplying customers in the best possible way.

solutions: And you need standardization for that? Doesn’t standardization always mean an off-the-rack solution?

Steckenreiter: One shouldn’t confuse these things: this isn’t about standardizing products. It’s about standardizing the production systems and interfaces. Think about the last time you went away on holiday. Weren’t you annoyed to suddenly discover that you needed an adapter for your old power plug, just because you were away from home? Standardization would help a great deal in situations like that. And in an industrial plant, the requirements are naturally far more complex. When machines have to communicate with each other, for example, or when you don’t want to have different maintenance processes in place for a single task, just because the pumps are made by different manufacturers. And believe me, those are just the smaller issues.

solutions: Does Bayer have enough market power to be able to demand standardized solutions from its suppliers?

Steckenreiter: We don’t want to use the power we have to push through our interests against the will of our suppliers; for us, it’s more about working with suppliers to develop standards that benefit the entire industry.

solutions: And what do you say to people who think Industry 4.0 is just another new word for more rationalization?

Steckenreiter: I can understand their concern. However, I’m convinced that this is not about replacing people with machines; rather, it’s about a new dimension in the interaction between the two. What has to change is the configuration of the work processes, because even intelligent systems have to be implemented, maintained and controlled. And that’s what people do.

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