Finally found the first weekend since returning from Dresden, Germany on April 12, to sit and blog a bit about the part of my trip where I paid a visit to the SAP Co-Innovation Lab FutureFactory (FuFa).
The FuFa lab originated within SAP R&D a few short years ago, but was eventually brought under the SAP Co-Innovation Labs Global Network. The FutureFactory and its siblings, FutureRetail and FutureEnergy were forged as focal points for helping SAP customer account managers to easily share key areas of research that SAP pursues with industry, partners, governments and academia to drive consistent innovation within the realms of discrete manufacturing, retail and energy. These labs gave SAP customers a refined view of the company they were choosing to do business with by offering a glimpse at what technologies and software solutions might be possible in the future.
Each lab is able to reflect a common view of the operating environments found in these three topic areas where end to end demonstrations could be run against equipment similar to or actually used for R&D research and rendering demonstrations of what research deemed likely and possible for advancing existing operations and using predictive analytics to better inform the business.
The FutureFactory has a remarkable demonstrator for depicting a complete manufacturing operation from complex order intake and management to order creation tied to RFID-enabled tracking of raw inventory to shop floor systems monitoring and management including functional tooling systems like bench drilling and robot-driven milling all contributing to turn a small number of raw materials into a laser engraved wood and metal refrigerator magnet product ready to be shipped and fulfill an order.
If you won’t be going to Dresden anytime soon you can take a webcam tour but if you are ever moving about in central Europe and you are focused on discrete manufacturing, I would encourage you to see it.
First and foremost, it is still a very current demonstration for just showcasing the depth of information and actions that are possible with SAP relative to automation and discrete manufacturing- well beyond ERP.
What has changed since these labs were first formed is how new content becomes generated so that new demonstrations can be devised which continue to best showcase what interests the target audience most of all. What COIL envisions is that SAP and its partners engaged in developing new ways in which to go to market, and who pursue co-innovation projects that render new solutions focused on manufacturing, retail or energy, that the project’s scope includes creating meaningful demonstration content that can be showcased at the COIL Future labs as a means for reaching a wider audience of potential customers.
One of the reasons for my trip was to learn firsthand from my colleague Martin Rosjat who directly oversees the FutureFactory. We spent some time exploring where the best points of injection are for augmenting the existing demo environment. In other words, as this demonstrator is designed to represent an end-to-end case, how many more stories can we tell between where it starts and ends?
There are a few limits like anything and yet many possibilities. We are already beginning discussions with colleagues from the Visual Enterprise 3D team on where and how we can demonstrate it within the context of our current demo deployment. To deeply change the demonstrator in an attempt to showcase some specific dimension of mfg., for example, rendering a decorative belt buckle versus the metal and wood refrigerator magnet that is fabricated now, would mean non-trivial preparation like reprogramming for the robot loading the Mill and for the Mill tool to be reconfigured to hold, manipulate and machine some piece of material used to make a simple belt buckle. All certainly possible but the decision or need to do so is tempered by how much having such a demo contributes to capturing new business.
Some lower hanging fruit perhaps and one area that could be exploited further with far less heavy lifting, is the collecting of sensor data from all of the various tools and systems for the sake of demonstrating predictive maintenance. I would believe that augmenting the current demonstrator in this way makes a lot of sense given the strong interest. Just this month from the SAP portal was a recent article interviewing Heiko Lohrs. In the interview with him he speaks directly to predictive maintenance as an entry scenario. There exist multiple points from which to inject a demonstration of this within the FuFa where an ability to discover, collect, explore, analyze and visualize machine sensor data relevant to such predictive abilities could be showcased.
I cannot claim any expertise in this space but even as a non-expert it’s easy to observe how relevant this topic is for so many businesses today. While I understand from the portal article how companies can benefit from Predictive Maintenance this practice has only focused until now on being more efficient to more basic preventive maintenance. Within a predictive maintenance strategy is the practice of Condition Based Maintenance. The idea is to collect data while the equipment is running, establish threshold limits either from OEM information, vendors, or best practices, and schedule the maintenance activities accordingly. You can perhaps start to learn more about that here, but to me, this truly sounds like a great place to explore big data co-innovation projects. It would be the results of such co-innovation that could then be featured as part of the FuFa showcase.
Since getting back into the office in Palo Alto, there has been a number of new project requests received where the focus is mfg and retail. COIL has hosted similar such projects but not so many that originate at COIL Palo Alto. Given global COIL prior experience with such projects though and now observing an increase in requests to pursue co-innovation projects, COIL believes that its current and potential value to enable SAP and its partners to discover new opportunity in the Industry 4.0 world and reap mutual benefit through co-innovation is high. It would be COIL intent to see the content derived from such project work formed up to qualitatively and quantitatively demonstrate SAP as platform company on which companies can build their product and service innovation and for both COIL and FuFa to help broadly showcase results from the most compelling projects.
I was recently approached by the Industry Solution Management Organization about COIL hosting an event in the early fall that is meant to help establish a Global Advisory Council for Discrete Mfg. to inform industry CTOs to position SAP as a platform company of interest to discrete manufacturing, so I am hopeful that we can collaborate more with this team to cultivate and act upon some near term projects that can serve as new and relevant proof points to share with the CTOs attending the event.
While COIL has a good view of co-innovation across the SAP ecosystem it cannot manage to see around all of the corners so there are limits to its ability to lead efforts to identify the most optimal co-innovation projects for a given technology or industry. The COIL focus is to enable the projects determined to be worth the investment of time and resources between SAP and partners. Nonetheless there are many places to explore. COIL for example hosts a few systems for the Startup Focus Program (SFP). Just within this exceptional SAP program are several start-ups focused upon the use of SAP Hana for Discrete Manufacturing where just a cursory review of some solutions developed through the SFP leads me to believe that there is room for further co-innovation with many of these firms and that some of the existing solutions could in fact could be further showcased via the COIL FuFa.
Looking through the COIL lens, there appears a bright future of Industry 4.0 innovation where the SAP platform and complementary partner technologies can yield a full spectrum of discrete manufacturing solutions for customers. From now having just now used the word “lens” this prompts me to close with sharing one thought that I had while at the FuFa but its more about glass not really a lens. Google Glass to be more exact It still remains to be seen what Google strategy is or will be regarding its latest eye ware, but as I looked upon the half dozen or so manufacturing stations in the lab,
I was imagining a worker in each location wearing such a device. What would it augment relative to the job that worker performed? Where would it source data used by the augmentation? What data would it collect in parallel to the worker’s actions? How would all of this data end up inside SAP HANA for correlation work underscoring predictive and condition-based maintenance? My point in sharing these immediate thoughts is simply meant to illustrate that for even the non-expert one can readily imagine plausible ideas, so just imagine what happens when the real experts come together in a place like the SAP Co-Innovation Lab?
Should you find this topic of interest or your interested to explore how to work with the SAP Co-Innovation lab on such co-innovation projects we want to hear from you. For project requestors marshaling the right project resources and expertise, COIL can enable the right SAP Landscape and test environments as well as provide the showcasing ability contributing to making co-innovation a commercial success.