The 115th episode of the IoT Use Case Podcast is all about innovative water technologies and the challenges small companies face when it comes to digitalization. The episode offers a deep insight into the world of IoT-supported water treatment and hygiene concepts.
The guests for this episode are Dr. Aline Defranceski, Managing Director of Data Coffee GmbH, and Matthias Guth, Managing Director of INNOWATECH.
Episode 115 at a glance (and click):
- [13:04] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
- [22:41] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
Podcast episode summary
The episode highlights how Data Coffee GmbH and INNOWATECH are working together to realize digital services in mechanical engineering and how machine data can be made available to the machine builder themselves.
Data Coffee GmbH is characterized by the Data Coffee Connector, a software that simplifies and standardizes the collection of data from production facilities and sensor systems. INNOWATECH, on the other hand, is known for its Anolyte technology and sets new standards in the production of disinfectants without hazardous substances.
Two specific use cases are discussed in the podcast:
Digital service in mechanical engineering:This use case focuses on maintenance contracts and direct customer service.
Product development:Product development is discussed here, in particular how machine data can be made available to the machine manufacturer.
Matthias Guth explains that INNOWATECH has been active in the field of water treatment for over 20 years and offers everything from a single source – from development and production to sales and maintenance of its plant systems. Its customers range from water suppliers and waterworks to the food industry and breweries.
Digitalization is a central topic of the episode. INNOWATECH uses digital twins in the ERP system for the After Sales and Service business and offers customers real-time data via mobile devices, which gives them security in their processes and enables optimized coordination of service and maintenance tasks.
Aline Defranceski emphasizes the trend towards simpler solutions and a higher density of data analysis in the data stream. She talks about the importance of automation and providing real-time service data to give customers more control and understanding of their assets.
Today I’m talking to Dr. Aline Defranceski, Managing Director at Data Coffee, our IoT partner, and Matthias Guth. Matthias is Managing Director at INNOWATECH. Today it’s all about innovative water technologies.
Hello Aline, hello Matthias. Nice to have you with me today. How are you doing at the moment?
Hello, Madeleine, I am very excited. I’m sitting here in beautiful Horb, and in the meantime, it’s quite foggy and autumnal, looking forward to the year-end sprint.
Where exactly are you again?
Horb am Neckar!
Ah, that’s the Stuttgart area, a bit further south, right?
Exactly, right next to the A81. You can get to Stuttgart and Lake Constance very quickly. Always worth a visit.
I’m glad you’re with us today. I went hiking on the weekend and was out and about in the woods. This really is a beautiful time of year. Matthias, how are you and where can I reach you right now?
Hello, I’m sitting at our headquarters at INNOWATECH in Empfingen. We have around six or seven kilometers to Horb am Neckar, so we are relatively close. You can also go hiking here. We have a fantastic landscape here. So it’s quite pleasant here, and I’m looking forward to the podcast today.
Then I’ll definitely have to pay a visit. Aline, you, with Data Coffee, come from the data infrastructure and analysis field, and you have software that primarily focuses on data provisioning, including the corresponding hardware and an edge device. You record the data in a database and make it available for various other software systems, so to speak. For this, you have the Data Coffee Connector, which is a kind of software that takes care of connectivity and configuration. Can you elaborate on that a little more? You are the Managing Director of Data Coffee GmbH. Can you expand on this and explain which customers you are working with today?
Yes, very much so. Our aim at Data Coffee is to make the availability of data, especially machine data, as easy and as natural as a daily coffee break. This means that we develop software and, of course, also offer it. The software is really very easy to commission and enables a very high degree of flexibility in the application, which makes it possible even for inexperienced users with little IT and application know-how to read out very diverse, different protocols and controls and forward them to the data sinks of their choice, i.e. databases. That’s what we do. Our software has to run on some form of hardware, although we do not offer any hardware ourselves, but either make recommendations for existing hardware edge devices or get completely involved with the customer’s wishes and infrastructure.
Now you have mentioned machine data connection. Are you working with classic mechanical engineers then? Who are your typical customers?
We like to divide our clientele into three categories. Classically, this is the end user, i.e. the manufacturing company, which has its own machinery and wants to read out different data from it. But then there are also software companies that generate added value themselves by running very sophisticated analyses based on machine data, i.e. using AI and so on to optimize processes and need data to do so. This is also a classic customer base for us. The third is the machine builder or automation specialist, just like INNOWATECH, which builds its own machines. They need a certain form of connectivity for their systems and product range in order to implement digital services for their own customers or internal processes.
You just mentioned “digital service”. Is that your classic use case? What use cases do you implement with customers? Can you tell us what use cases you have there?
Ultimately, our use cases are as diverse as our customers. In general, we provide the availability of machine data, i.e. reading and forwarding, writing to a third-party system, database, other software, wherever. The use case depends on what the customer wants to do with it. Classically visualizing process parameters, systems or statuses, providing data for analysis purposes in the event of troubleshooting. What we have often done is classic energy monitoring: recording data from different consumers, mapping energy monitoring, perhaps also limiting and optimizing peaks in energy consumption accordingly. Ultimately, there are no limits to the imagination and no limits to our software. Here we make possible what our customer wants to realize.
As a Data Coffee, you are involved in Data Acquisition or Data Connection. In other words, your solution revolves around the use case of data acquisition and your customers are, for example, end customers, but also manufacturing companies or mechanical and plant manufacturers who offer a digital service, so to speak. Matthias, perhaps you’d like to introduce yourselves and tell us a bit about what your company does? With INNOWATECH, you offer hygiene and treatment concepts for drinking, cooling and process water and set new standards in the production of disinfectants without hazardous substances. Can you explain and elaborate from your point of view and talk a bit about your customers? Who are you selling your products to today?
Yes, gladly. We at INNOWATECH have been active in the fields of water, water treatment and hygiene in various industries for over 20 years. INNOWATECH manufactures the systems itself. Our product name is the so-called Aquadron system. The special feature of our system is a so-called membrane cell electrolysis. A very complex term, but this is ultimately the heart of the machine and from it we produce a disinfectant, the so-called INNOWATECH Anolyte. We can implement various applications with this active ingredient. We all assume that when we turn on the sink in the morning to brush our teeth, the water is always of the best quality, the best hygiene and, from our perspective, without any germs or pathogenic bacteria. We can treat all types of water with the Anolyte, with the active ingredient itself. The buzzword “drinking water” is certainly omnipresent. We in Germany have now also adopted a water strategy. It is no longer necessarily a matter of course to have drinking water available at all times and in all places. Today, we often don’t even think about it and take it for granted. Drinking water and drinking water treatment is therefore a major issue. Customers at this point are, for example, waterworks, the water suppliers that provide municipalities and cities with drinking water. In the area of process water or cooling water, it is industrial companies that need cooling systems for their plants and technology, for their production, in order to keep their processes running. But we also have applications for animals, e.g. in dairy farming. A dairy cow drinks 100 to 120 liters of water a day. Here too, the quality and, above all, the germ load of the water when it reaches the animal is relevant.
However, we also have the option of disinfecting surfaces, especially in food production, food manufacturing and dairy operations. Wherever water flows we have oxygen and a suitable temperature, that is where life usually develops. If I take the example of the beverage or brewing industry: you need the yeast to be able to produce the product at all. When the beer is brewed and then bottled, you naturally want to have a flawless product in the bottle and preferably no germs or pathogenic bacteria in there. This means that we are active in many customer groups, which always have their own needs from a customer perspective. We then come with our Aquadron system, with the active agent Anolyte, and assess what treatment concentration the customer needs on site. We select the size of the plant, the dosing technology and the tank size for storage accordingly. If necessary, we also integrate measurement technology, such as our self-developed multi-measurement center, in order to be able to offer the customer an optimal solution in the area of water treatment and hygiene. This includes the installation and maintenance of the plant, so that the customer can go about their day-to-day operations with as few worries as possible when it comes to water supply.
I find the topic you are dealing with extremely exciting. I am aware that many of our listeners not only work in the water supply sector, but also come from the food industry, particularly the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors. Companies such as BASF, which are active in these sectors, are implementing very different use cases and are thinking intensively about the digitalization of their plants. Breweries, as you mentioned, are also among your customers, which I think is really cool.
[13:04] Challenges, potentials and status quo – This is what the use case looks like in practice
I am particularly fascinated by IoT and digitalization. I could imagine that you are not only working on internal processes but, as Aline already mentioned, also offering digital services as a use case. Could you tell us a bit more about your vision in terms of digitalization and IoT? What are your goals and approaches in this area?
We have two different angles. For one thing, we want to make the digital world and data usable for us. To this end, we have mapped all plants installed at the customer’s premises with all components in the ERP system, which provides a digital twin of each plant. On the other hand, we take over the services for the customer. We know the type of equipment, the dosing technology, and the inventory. This gives us a clear picture of what to expect at the customer’s site. When our service technicians go out, they know exactly what situation they will encounter, who the contact person is and what type of treatment is involved, be it drinking water or cooling water treatment. So we are well informed and not unprepared when we go on an assignment.
Are you thinking along the lines of recognizing problems with the plants at an early stage? Enhancing after-sales service with live data to anticipate potential problems? Is this already feasible or is it still too early?
This is the second perspective, the external one. How do we get our machine data even better prepared for the customer? As is always the case in technology, we are generally active in the field of building technology. That’s why we are often found in basements. In the dark. We are not always visible. This means that you don’t walk past our system technology every day. Our aim is to provide our customers with the best possible information through the availability and visualization of the system status. At the end of the day, the customer should be able to easily see whether everything is in order in the production of agents and disinfectants and in their water application.
What are typical questions that your customers also clarify over the phone that you could also just see? What kind of questions do they have?
If we receive a fault message, we have the fault message or the reason for the fault on the display via the system’s PLC. In the initial clarification, we ask over the phone which fault message, which error code and what kind of image is displayed? We then try to make an initial diagnosis virtually from a distance. Here, of course, we are thinking of the topic of connection, remote maintenance and remote diagnosis. It is often the case that there is no availability, network, WLAN network or similar in these basements. In terms of content, we have all the data available, even today from the PLC. The only question is, how do we display them? The customer only wants to be informed via a fault message if a parameter gets out of hand. Otherwise, they actually have the green button and it’s fine for them so far.
Another question about the business case. On the one hand, you save time thanks to certain processes that run more digitally. On the other you have an ERP system and all the data is available. The next step is now to make After Sales even more digital. What is the business case for your customers in particular?
We want to put the customer in the position of having this information available via a mobile device. Often, the current situation is simply that the customer’s infrastructure is not yet developed to the extent that it is possible to obtain information about the current production or system status of the Aquadron system or the multi-measurement center via a mobile device. We now want to try to prepare this visualization and then ultimately offer it to the customer. Do they need that? Are we generating added value? The customer often has a building management system available, but the connection may not yet be ideal. Our first main goal is to increase our presence so that the customer can be sure that everything is fine when it comes to water and water treatment. Secondly, we may aim to offer a comprehensive package in which we guarantee the entire water treatment. For example, we could ensure that a cubic meter of water is hygienically perfect. However, these are concepts that could be realized in the future. We are currently concentrating on ensuring that our plant technology and processes offer the necessary safety. We also want to be able to react flexibly to changing customer requirements in production planning, for example to changes in the weather. Our aim is to determine the customer’s active agent requirements even more precisely and to provide the active agent at the right time and based on demand.
Many energy suppliers and customers have set up their own IoT units in recent months and the topic of digitalization is becoming more and more widespread. I think you’ve come at just the right time because, as you say, there’s still a lot of future ahead of us. You are a pioneer in this area and it is important that you now move forward with these issues. I have another question regarding your special involvement in the critical environment. You mentioned that your customers include not only waterworks and industrial companies, but also various other players in critical areas. Could you go into this in more detail? I am curious about the challenges you are facing in terms of verification. You certainly have various stakeholders, probably including state actors. Can you tell us more about which stakeholders are involved and what specific challenges arise from this?
When water treatment is implemented, it must be possible to trace the amount of Anolyte, as the product is called, of free chlorine that was added to the water and at what point in time. There are target values that must be adhered to. Ultimately, we have to ensure visualization. For example, we monitor other parameters such as the pH value or conductivity. A good example of the challenges our customers face is the supply of drinking water, which is regulated by the Drinking Water Ordinance. This regulation specifies what must be implemented at what time and in what quantity or concentration. Compliance with all documentation requirements is a major challenge. We often hear about bureaucracy and the idea of cutting red tape. For water suppliers, the challenge has become even greater with the introduction of the new Drinking Water Ordinance this summer. Weather conditions such as increased heavy rainfall or dry periods pose additional challenges. We want to stand alongside the water suppliers as a partner and safeguard this process. Our aim is to ensure that drinking water treatment complies with the Drinking Water Ordinance and that we document this accordingly.
[22:41] Solutions, offerings and services – A look at the technologies used
Aline, let’s move on to you, what are the requirements for the technical IT infrastructure? What are the challenges facing the companies there?
The exciting thing for me, as Matthias said earlier, is that their customer spectrum and the requirements of each customer are so incredibly different. Some have internal control systems, have in-house IT expertise and know exactly what data they want to integrate into their system and in what form. Others are just starting out and still have to implement and offer a certain form of documentation. Our experience at Data Coffee shows that this is a common scenario for many mechanical engineers: they develop a product that is later used in very different and often unknown environments. For the mechanical engineering company, digitalization only makes economic sense if it can respond quickly and easily to the diverse requirements of end customers.
Matthias, you’ve just mentioned it, for example the pH values of the water or various other relevant data that you get from the PLC today. Is there a PLC connected to your machine today and can you then select together with Data Coffee which data you want to retrieve from the field? One customer may need the pH value of the water, for another customer you may need different data. Does it work like this today or what data is relevant for these use cases?
We generate data tables with various parameters such as free chlorine, pH value, conductivity and temperature via the system’s PLC. The specific monitoring requirements of our customers vary greatly. Not everyone wants all the details. At the end of the day, it is precisely these values that need to be continuously updated and documented. They are the customized solution for the customer so that they can see in an app, for example, that they have dosed 187 units of Anolyte today and are therefore in the green range with an average dosing value of 190. We enable the operator of the water supply system to be constantly informed about its key figures and to be able to provide information about the water quality quickly and reliably if required. That is our idea behind it.
Now you have chosen Data Coffee. You work together on the project to collect and then analyze this data. What were the technological requirements here? What does such a solution have to include for it to be successful in the end? What technological requirements were important to you?
A relatively simple and cost-effective connection, whether via a LAN or WLAN network, was important. We simply need data connectivity. As the added value of our service is not yet fully tangible, it must not be too expensive. We must first make the added value tangible and present it visually so that the customer recognizes the benefits and no longer wants to do without it. We currently need a solution that can be implemented with a manageable amount of effort, around four hours. It is not practical to spend days or even weeks on this, as would be the case with an ERP implementation project, for example. We are striving for a pragmatic, flexible solution that enables us to have a clear overview of the water situation at a reasonable cost.
It’s fascinating to see how you take your customers’ specific requirements into account. By understanding where their pains lie, you can better assess the value of your solutions in terms of time and cost savings. It is impressive that you deal intensively with the business cases and the special requirements of your customers. I am now interested in what your current solution, Aquadron, actually looks like. Could you describe in two or three sentences what this solution does and what advantages it offers?
Our approach aims for transparency by providing data that the customer can use for their needs. They can decide how they want to visualize this data and whether they want to be notified by text message, for example. We have all the relevant data available and enable the customer to recognize through analysis when their production is reduced or stopped, for example at weekends. We are currently in the process of implementing these functions and are actively collecting feedback from our customers. Our aim is to offer data that the customer did not previously have or that we had not yet prepared. We are in constant dialog to find out what additional information or specific values the customer needs. Thanks to the interface that Data Coffee has made available to us, we can easily add further data.
Aline, I would now like to pass the question on to you. What specifically have you developed for Matthias and his team? What functions does your solution include? Matthias already mentioned real-time dashboards. Can you tell us more about what you implemented?
Our solution includes the provision of an edge device or IPC that we connect to the system. We install our software on this device, which is then connected to the system’s control unit. This enables us to record the first data and store historical data in a database. As Matthias already mentioned, it is important not only to collect data, but also to gain useful information from it. One challenge here is that these machines are often located in basements where there is no direct Internet access. We therefore need to think carefully about how the user can interact with this data, especially if direct transfer to the cloud is not possible. We have also developed a mobile app for this purpose, either as a web app or as an installed system on an end device. This app enables direct exchange with the historical data and the information generated from it, whereby communication can also take place via push message.
Everything in the basement seems to be predestined for Narrowband IoT. This technology is often used for mobile connections in environments where a cable connection is not possible. In your case, you could also establish a connection via the controller or your Edge device, which forwards the data. As our time is limited, I would like to learn more about data processing and analysis. Matthias, you have already mentioned your customer’s specific business case, such as recording the quantity of liters produced or dosed or displaying fault messages. Aline, could you tell us what you do with the data from the PLC after you have collected it? Matthias mentioned data tables. How do you process this data to ultimately evaluate the business case?
The interesting thing is that we don’t just store the data in a database and analyze it there, which is not necessarily the easiest way. At Data Coffee, we use special algorithms that perform analyses in the data stream, i.e. when reading the data from the controller. One example would be detecting whether a threshold value has been exceeded. Or another interesting topic for the service department: How often has a valve switched? This will then indicate whether it needs to be replaced soon. Instead of forwarding all signal changes (edges) to the database, we already count them in the data stream and only transmit this number. This reduces the amount of data to be stored and transforms data into useful information. Our aim is to use information, not just data.
Okay, so you carry out the evaluation at the same time as the data collection. Thank you very much for presenting this project. I think it became very clear what the challenges and the business case are. Many listeners from this area will certainly be dealing with similar topics. As a final question for today, I am particularly interested in future prospects. Matthias, you have already indicated that many things are currently developing and will continue to do so. You also mentioned that you are in talks with various customers who are going their own way. Can you give us an insight into what is emerging in this critical environment and area, what developments and trends can be expected for the future?
At the end of the day, it’s all about providing water of impeccable quality. The challenge here lies in the complexity of our product range. Our customers are facing increasingly difficult challenges and we are considering helping them in secondary areas through our service, perhaps even by increasing our presence. We are looking at a different monitoring system, similar to the one used in heating technology, where heat meters are already used for precise billing of energy consumption. In the water supply sector, people pay for the cubic meters of water they use, but it is often assumed that the water meets the required standards without being continuously monitored. In addition to volume, our aim is also to ensure that the water – whether cooling, drinking or process water – is in the best possible condition at all times. We also want to provide detailed data information that is normally only found in regulations but is rarely implemented in practice. For example, we have the information that the drinking water was in perfect condition at 11:45 AM on October 18 without having to rely on mere assumptions.
By the way, I would like to make two more recommendations. In one of my previous podcast episodes, episode 90 to be precise, I interviewed Techem. There, the Head of IT talks about how Techem works as a heating operator. Since you are talking about heating technology, this could be of interest to you. Episode 109 is also all about smart water with a mechanical engineering company that manufactures positive displacement blowers. Aerzen Digital Systems is our guest and talks to a customer about this topic. If you feel like it, you are welcome to listen.
Matthias i would love to invite you to our network. We have a user group that also includes energy suppliers. I would be delighted if we could introduce you and your project there. I think there are many exciting developments in the energy sector.
Finally, I would like to say thank you very much for the interesting presentation. Das ist wirklich ein faszinierendes Thema, und ich hätte noch tausend weitere Fragen. But as is always the case, I just wanted to give you a little insight here. If you are interested, I think Aline and Matthias will be happy to answer any further questions you may have. I’ll link their LinkedIn profiles in the show notes, and you can also find out more about the project there. Aline, Matthias, thank you very much for being with us, and I’ll let you have the last word for today.
I would like to thank you and of course Aline for taking us, INNOWATECH, on this podcast journey. It was fun, both the preparation and today’s exchange. Many thanks from my side.
I would like to thank you both, especially Matthias, for the fact that we have such an open sparring partner in INNOWATECH. This is an issue that concerns many mechanical engineers and helps us to create better and simpler connections for the future of digital products. This will enable us to be faster and better positioned in the future when it comes to connecting and using data.
Many thanks to both of you. Maybe we’ll hear from you again in a year’s time and give you a brief update on the project. I would be very happy about that. Thank you once again and I wish you a pleasant rest of the week. Take care. Ciao!