Mr Knecht, which are the milestones Auma has achieved in terms of digitisation?
Thomas Knecht: The topic of digitisation is not new to us. In 2002, we had introduced the first generation of our software-based actuator controls. This was the AC.1. The actuator controls made it considerably easier to integrate our actuators into digital fieldbus protocols. One year later, COM-AC software for AC.1 configuration was launched. In 2005, data matrix codes were introduced on the actuator name plates. At first, this was purely for production reasons. Later, this code was used to store device data which can be read out today using the Auma Assistant App.
The year 2009 was also a very important milestone.
Knecht: That is correct. It was the time when AC.1 actuator controls were replaced by the new AC.2 actuator controls, which are still integral part of our product portfolio. The Commissioning and Diagnostic Tool, in short CDT, is used for device configuration, replacing the previously used COM-AC software. In 2014, we launched our first App, the Auma Support App, enabling quick and easy access to the device documentation by means of mobile end devices. This App was then integrated into the Auma Assistant App which was introduced to the market in 2017.
If I remember correctly, Auma showed a first idea of the Auma Cloud on the Achema in 2015?
Knecht: At that time, it was just an idea. We needed more than three years to turn a mere idea into a complete solution. In September 2018, the Auma Cloud went online. A few weeks later, we presented our new service scheme with the Auma Cloud as central “hub”. Moreover, the latest version of the Auma Assistant App was launched. The App enables to download data from AC.2 actuator controls to the Auma Cloud.
Mr Knecht has mentioned several products which we will explore in detail. Mr Nietupski, let us start with the AC.2 actuator controls.
Kevin Nietupski: The AC.2 can be considered as the brain of the MOV package, i. e. the system consisting of valve, actuator and actuator controls. Actuator controls collect a large quantity of data such as operating and status data allowing statements on the actuator status. At the same time, critical operating states are recorded and archived. Thus, our service technicians can quickly provide the user with straight-to-the-point solutions in case of failures.
You mentioned the CDT software. What do you need this software for?
Nietupski: As referred to by its name, the Commissioning Diagnostic Tool, the software is both used by our service as well as by our customers for commissioning, configuration and diagnostics of the actuators. The diagnostic function is extremely useful since it enables a sound analysis of data packages and event reports, which can be downloaded directly from the AC.2 actuator controls to a mobile end device, e. g. a laptop.
And what is the function of the Auma Assistant App?
Nietupski: The App is the light version of the CDT software. In its initial version, the complete device documentation could be downloaded by scanning the data matrix code on the actuator name plate. With the latest version of the app, you can also modify the device settings. Furthermore, the intuitive app can also be used to take snapshots.
What is a snapshot?
Nietupski: Snapshots are documents containing all relevant device data including serial number and operating data, which can be uploaded to the Auma Cloud.
Which operating system do you need?
Nietupski: The app runs on both Apple and Android devices.
Mr Nietupski, let us talk about the Auma Cloud. What does it do?
Nietupski: All the systems that my colleague just presented were not initially connected within a network. And this is exactly what we did with the introduction of the Auma Cloud. It links both device and operating data as well as information on the respective applications, enabling centralised management of all Auma devices within one site, applying the same system which complies with the site setup. Both users and our service personnel may access the Auma Cloud. In fact, it is a platform on which the users can manage, edit and analyse the operating and device data.
This means the plant layout is stored in the Auma Cloud.
How does this work?
Nietupski: You use the „Create a serial number list“ function of the Assistant App. The user scans the data matrix code of all Auma actuators on their tour throughout the plant. Thus, a complete list of all actuators and actuator controls is created. The data is stored in a structure which has been previously defined by the user. They may also be concentrated into subgroups and therefore appear in a hierarchical structure. Once complete, the list is transferred to the Auma Cloud by simply pressing a button.
If I understand you correctly, the plant structure includes a list of all actuators and actuator controls within the plant?
Nietupski: That’s perfectly right. It is a structured serial number list to which short notes can be added.
This sounds very straightforward. Still, I believe that filling the Auma Cloud with data is quite time-consuming. Do you offer any support?
Nietupski: Only recently, we have been offering to load data to the Auma Cloud as an actual customer service. Once our service engineers are on-site at the customer’s premises, they scan the data matrix codes within the plant and set up the plant structure for the Auma Cloud.
Can you please explain by means of an example how the AC.2. actuator controls and the Auma Cloud work together?
Knecht: The AC.2 actuator controls provide the event reports. They list all relevant events and faults or failures within the MOV with a time stamp. The data is continuously stored within the Auma Cloud and analysed by means of an algorithm. This way, we obtain valid figures allowing qualified statements on plant availability.
When talking about cloud applications, we are actually talking about data security. How do your customers deal with this issue?
Knecht: Indeed, data security is always a focus during discussions with customers, even if the advantages of our new service scheme has been described in detail beforehand. To ensure maximum security to our customers, we have decided in favour of Azure, the cloud computing platform of MS Microsoft. A renowned name, proven technology and a leading product – this creates trust among our customers.
And has Azure met your expectations?
Knecht: More than initially expected.
How do you protect the data stored within the Auma Cloud against unauthorised access?
Knecht: On the one hand, we have uncompromisingly implemented the security specifications of our customers. On the other hand, we apply a special user management. It includes registration via two-factor authentication and multi-stage validation process. After this initial step, access rights for the individual users are defined. User management enables the respective functions for the individual users.
Is the use of the Auma Cloud free of charge for your customers?
Knecht: Basic services are free of charge while additional functions have to be purchased.
Can you give an example?
Knecht: Among others, we charge for continuous live data transmission directly from the field level via OPC UA to the Auma Cloud. I would like to take this opportunity to emphasise that our maintenance services will also work for discontinuous data transmission to the Auma Cloud. However, continuous transmission will result in more accurate data analysis. Once defined escalation levels are exceeded, the Auma service will automatically be notified. Or even device monitoring can completely be assigned to our service staff.
Mr Nietupski, which advantages do the cloud-based Auma services provide for the user?
Nietupski: They cater for intelligent asset management and the launch of predictive maintenance. Eventually, plant availability is considerably improved. In addition, business processes are accelerated, transparency reigns on all levels and information is quickly available: Without any research on our website, the user obtains the complete device-specific documentation, i. e. device data, documentation, wiring diagrams, etc.
Will the cloud-based services replace on-site service staff in the future?
Nietupski: Definitely not. But we would like to make full use of the cloud-based services. At the same time, face-to-face contact for continuous customer care is indispensable, especially when it is used as a source of information which is later included in our algorithms.
What is the outlook for the Auma Cloud and the adapted services?
Knecht: We have different approaches. One major keyword is connectivity. Our actuators shall become IIoT ready for automated data transfer to the Auma Cloud. The Auma Cloud as such will undergo enhanced development based on the feedback we receive from our users. Furthermore, our R&D is working on expanding our digital services portfolio while combining them with our standard maintenance options.
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Auma: Facts and figures
The company Auma Riester GmbH & Co. KG with headquarters in Muellheim, south of Germany, can look back on 50 years of active business. Founded in 1964, the company counts among the worldwide leading manufacturers of electric actuators for industrial valves, actuator controls as well as gearbox combinations. The prime customers for their products are traditionally water and waste water companies as well as power plants of any kind. A further important market segment is the oil and gas industry starting with oil production and refinery. Not to forget applications in the chemical industry and concrete production.
As a medium-sized company, operating at 30 locations, Auma employs approximately 2,600 people, whereby around 1,200 of the employees are working in Germany (as of 2018). More than 15 % of the Auma staff work in the service sector. This figure shows the substantial customer orientation of Auma. In 2018, the company turnover was 420 million Euros.
The interview was conducted by:Lukas Lehmann