Software and Gut Instinct

Software & Gut Instinct

Industry 4.0 is making our machines and systems more complex. It is also changing the work our colleagues do. Martin Rogalla and Julian Scheuring from the Dürr subsidiary Schenck RoTec in Darmstadt represent two generations of engineers. We have asked them how things were different in the past and where we are heading now.

How are you experiencing the changes in mechanical engineering in the Industry 4.0 era?

ROGALLA: We have always faced changes and the challenges they create. They do also provide opportunities. And, luckily, our engineering tools keep on developing.
SCHEURING: Here is an example to illustrate this. For the last six months we have had a “Cave” – a room that can display machines and systems three-dimensionally and that enables us to improve ergonomic details. This opens up a completely new world in engineering and has also made a huge impression on customers.

One of the main features of Industry 4.0 is the increased use of software. Is there no longer any need for gut instinct and experience?

SCHEURING: While software can provide support, our work remains a creative process. But software allows us to check more quickly if an idea is feasible, and then to implement it.
ROGALLA: It is not so much the gut we need but rather the mind, which we will never be able to replace. Our greatest asset is – and will remain – our engineers’ great experience. But software is a real boon, because you can avoid many errors that used to occur during the engineering process. For example, certain components would not always fit. Thanks to 3D CAD software, Mr. Scheuring does not have to deal with this kind of problem anymore. (laughs)

What has changed in the cooperation with customers?

ROGALLA: The term “simultaneous engineering” is nothing new. You develop an initial solution without knowing exactly what customers need, because they are not even sure themselves. Today, customers want solutions that are more complex than ever, yet they expect drastically shorter delivery times. Years ago, we would deliver within 12 to 18 months, but today this has gone down to a mere 12 to 18 weeks.
SCHEURING: Customer contact has intensified. In addition to working with the production planning team via our consulting department, we also communicate with our customers’ product developers.
» While software can provide support, our work remains a creative process. « Julian Scheuring, Head of Mechanical Engineering Turbocharger and Diagnostics

Have the markets also changed?

ROGALLA: Today, our customers are global players. Only a few years ago we would be delivering most of the equipment to Germany or Western Europe. Now we are selling a lot to customers in Asia, Eastern Europe and America. For employees, English has become the business language at almost every stage of the value chain. For a long time, we had to translate all order documents into German first, which was very time-consuming.

How have working methods changed in the company?

SCHEURING: In the past, the engineer would do the engineering work, while the draftsman was responsible for the design. Nowadays, you can do a lot more drawings yourself with 3D CAD, which has increased the scope of responsibilities. In addition to that, collaboration among colleagues has changed considerably. Today, the Group’s subsidiaries cooperate around the world.

ROGALLA: Today, when we develop products, we work together across the borders and define responsibilities. Then we decide who takes on which task as the work goes on. This type of collaboration continues all the way through to manufacturing. You can tell we have an international team, for example because some colleagues are only available first thing in the morning and others in the evening, depending on the time difference.

How do you keep your knowledge up to date?

ROGALLA: The basic knowledge does not change drastically, even though there are, of course, new technologies with which we need to familiarize ourselves. What is especially important to us is knowing about the processes and applications for our own products. In our RoTec Academy, experienced employees pass their knowledge on to others.
SCHEURING: We have also set up an in-house RoTec Wiki, which is a database containing development information based on our existing wealth of experience. We don’t call it “know-how” but “know-why”, in other words why the engineer has done something in a certain way.

Technical transformation is ultimately reflected in the products. What do you think has changed?

ROGALLA: The biggest driver has always been the requirement to improve our customers’ production efficiency. Here we have certainly made remarkable progress.
SCHEURING: These days, energy consumption, resources and environmental impact are important issues. In the last 15 years, for example, we have lowered the energy required to balance a crankshaft from 0.2 to 0.04 kilowatt hours, which is an 80 percent reduction. Also, machines are so versatile in use that upgrades must be possible with minimal effort and expense. Some upgrades can even be carried out automatically.

How does digitization manifest itself in your area?

SCHEURING: Our teleservice is one example. It enables us to support the customer faster via remote maintenance. Although we can be on site anywhere within 24 hours, this is still quicker.
ROGALLA: Another example is our fingerprint technology. We can record a vibration pattern for a machine before its first use at the customer’s site. We save this individual fingerprint as a reference. A regular comparison with the current vibration pattern enables targeted, predictive maintenance and facilitates troubleshooting, if things don’t run as smoothly as they should. If we compare this data with information about systems with identical designs, we can systematically determine the cause of the malfunction.
» We have always benefited from change and, being an innovation leader in the market, you could even say that change is what we are all about. It is therefore a responsibility and an opportunity at the same time. « Martin Rogalla, Director Mechatronic Engineering Business Unit Special

How will Industry 4.0 change your work?

ROGALLA: Above all else, it will change our perspective. We will have to put on our ‘data glasses’ to look at our products and ask ourselves how we can make optimum use of the information collected. This leads to questions such as: What data is relevant? Who does it belong to? And what data are we still missing? Lots of exciting topics, which are new to us as well.

SCHEURING: (laughs) Unfortunately, despite all the software we don’t have a crystal ball! But we have to assume that change will only accelerate, given the new opportunities offered by digitization.

ROGALLA: Our approach is important here. We have always benefited from change and, being an innovation leader in the market, you could even say that change is what we are all about. It is therefore a responsibility and an opportunity at the same time.

SCHEURING: I am very excited to see how we will develop machines in 15 years’ time. But I have no doubt that we will still be developing the best solutions for our customers, thanks to our wealth of experience and the use of state-of-the-art technology.

Martin Rogalla

Martin Rogalla (53) studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen. Given 
his clear career path at Carl Schenck AG and the possibility of going abroad he abandoned his pursuit of a PhD. In 1991 he began working at the Schenck headquarters in Darmstadt. Soon after, he moved to a US subsidiary to head up the engineering department. He subsequently held several positions in Darmstadt. Since 2000 Martin Rogalla has been in charge of mechatronics engineering in the ‘Special’ business unit. “I still enjoy the variety of my job!”, he explains. Over the years, he has received several internal awards and been involved in 32 patent applications.

Julian Scheuring

Julian Scheuring (36) studied mechanical engineering in Karlsruhe. He initially wanted to specialize in microsystem technology. “I then came across Schenck RoTec”, he remembers. In 2010 the company had a vacancy for an engineer. He was interested in the scope of the job and the opportunities for promotion. These materialized in 2016, when his boss at the time changed jobs and Julian Scheuring became head of mechanical engineering in the field of ‘turbocharger and diagnostics’. Asked what he finds particularly exciting in his job, he replies: “You come into contact with many different industries, and are always faced with new challenges.”