Remote control and monitoring of imbalances, fill levels, quantities, cycles or temperatures – Innovation in eCommerce | Philipp Uebachs | Autosen GmbH

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In this episode of the Industrial IoT Use Case, Philipp Uebachs, the Project Manager for IIoT at autosen GmbH, talks about remote monitoring. These are conditions such as imbalances in the gearbox, filling levels of fluids, number of units, cycles or temperatures in processes. Philipp also provides exciting insights into internal workflows and processes – he explains exactly how everything works, from ordering a sensor in the online store, payment, the pick list for logistics to delivery. The serial number of the ordered device and the customer number in the ERP system is then already linked accordingly and so the basis for logging this sensor into the cloud is laid. Hats off for this innovative and digitalized approach!

Sensor to cloud – this technology has enormous potential on an industrial level. What possibilities do systems such as io-key or IO-Link have in the IIoT and how are they used in practice? Philipp from autosen explains the advantages and how it works.

The company autosen exists since 2011. It specializes in automation in the field of sensor technology as well as solutions for the IoT. In particular, the aim is to make all possible forms of sensor data available centrally in a simple way and digitally. For this purpose, the company uses the technical possibilities of the cloud to collect data and thus make it accessible to other IT systems.

The idea behind the system is that the entire process is automatic. So the requirement is to create structures that support plug & play. IO-Link and io-key provide the necessary infrastructure capable of doing this. Only the actual installation of the sensor on site still has to be done manually. The complete configuration for transferring the data to the cloud is already available ex works.

The technology behind the system is based on the IO-Link communication system and io-key as a gateway. First, all sensor data is collected and then automatically transferred to the cloud via the wireless gateway. The system is able to independently select a suitable available network. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT), GSM and CAT-M1 (LTE technology) can be used.

As a first example, Philipp cites the use case of a manufacturer of vacuum toilets, which are familiar from their use in trains. The manufacturer has received a request from its customer to monitor the fill levels and provide the service provider with direct recommendations for action regarding emptying at the stations. The challenge here was to select probes that could handle the chemical environment. Philipp explains in detail how the data is transferred from the tank to the cloud.

Use Case 1 | Monitoring the filling levels of vacuum toilets on trains

One advantage of autosen’s solution is that the portfolio is ready for IoT. The sensors are part of the system and are also supplied by the manufacturer. This ensures compatibility on the one hand. Via Plug & Play, the three components of the system are assembled on site and then function out of the box. On the other hand, the manufacturer can cover a wide range of industrial sensor technology.

Thus, there is a wide range of different sensors for the system. These are adapted to the needs of IIoT. Inductive sensors, temperature sensors, flow sensors or analog transducers are available. The company’s all-in-one approach means that the various sensor types are all adapted to the system and are therefore ready for immediate use. Such an IO-Link temperature sensor or other sensors are ready for operation immediately after installation and transmit current measured values.

Integration into existing IT systems is an equally important point. Both the cloud and the IO-Link system play an important role here. Without the IO-Link interface, the sensors are not ready for integration into the digital IT world because the data is in the wrong format. Often this is analog information, for example from a power interface. This data is converted into digital information by the IO-Link system.

It is precisely thanks to Plug & Play that the solutions are popular in practice. Areas of application range from medium-sized businesses to agriculture and heavy industry. No network or IT infrastructure is required on site. This further expands the possibilities for use. The system brings its own wireless gateway, so the IO-Link temperature sensor or other sensors send the data to the cloud via NB-IoT, GSM or LTE.

In practice, the ordering process until deployment is as follows. A customer selects the desired sensor(s) and the required IO-Link infrastructure in the store. The serial number of the device is linked to the customer number in the ERP system. Via this information, the sensor data coming in via the device is automatically assigned to the specific customer in its own cloud area. The customer then has access to their sensor to cloud and the current data of their sensors via any browser and their autosen identifier.

As a practical example, Philipp cites the use of a system for automatic tank level measurement. A waste management company places tanks for hazardous materials at customers’ sites. The tanks are always picked up when they are full. It is not possible to predict when this will be the case. Customers usually only notice this when the tank is already overfull.

This makes for complicated processes in the organization. The disposal company always gets urgent orders and the customer is faced with full tanks. The tank was then equipped with an io-key system, which from then on fully automatically checks the level.. This makes “disposal as a service” possible, which runs largely automatically and saves resources.

Both the disposal company and the producer are continuously informed about the filling level. This allows the disposal company to plan and estimate when the tank needs to be emptied. If automatic sensor systems are used throughout the network, efficient route planning is possible. The customer no longer has to be annoyed with tanks that have not been emptied, nor does he have to send a message himself that the tank is full.

 

Use Case 2 | Manufacturer of clutches and friction linings | Time savings through transparency in the operation of the heating presses

In another example, Philipp reports on the use in a company for industrial clutch and friction linings. The requirement here was to provide a system for condition monitoring. This had to work particularly precisely and send the data via its own gateway. The sensor’s data came from a PLC and had to be digitized.

As a result, an io-key system was used that collected accurate information on the number of materials processed. This data showed the quantities that had passed through the plant’s press and the current capacity utilization of production. This information is permanently available to the shift supervisor, who can access it using their smartphone. Regardless of where it is located on the plant site. In addition, the system warns of impending failures and thus fulfills the requirements of predictive maintenance.


Use Case 3 | Disposal as a Service and the Optimal Route Planning of Tank Emptying at the Consumer’s Site

In the future, automated systems based on these models will become increasingly important. Currently, many entrepreneurs are still hesitant about using it and do not yet dare to take the step towards the Internet of Things. However, the automation of certain processes will make work so much easier that acceptance will grow. The triggering factor is efficiency as well as competitiveness.

Are you interested in cooperation with autosen GmbH?
Contact Philipp directly via LinkedIn!

 

As reliable as an industry partner, as simple as an online store

On the online procurement platform autosen.com, any company can order automation technology, sensors and IoT components. The product range extends from inductive position sensors to complete solutions for cloud applications and is constantly being expanded. All devices are manufactured and tested by leading manufacturers according to autosen’s uniform, strict quality requirements. Thanks to decentralized production, efficient logistics and our own warehousing – more than 100,000 articles are in stock in Germany alone – unrestricted delivery capability is always guaranteed. autosen guarantees same-day shipping for orders placed before 2:00 p.m. Thus, the product is usually at the customer within 24 hours. In the event of a defect, this reduces downtime to a minimum.

The entire process is handled completely contactless on autosen.com right up to delivery, thus meeting the highest security standards. The technical and formal effort is no greater than for an online store, and payment is simple and straightforward on account or via PayPal & Co. “We want to give our customers the opportunity to procure high-quality industrial components that exactly match their requirements profile with our name as a seal of approval as effortlessly as a book on Amazon,” says Philipp Boehmert, responsible for marketing & eCommerce at autosen. “Unnecessary paperwork, minimum order quantities, or IT work to set up digital procurement doesn’t fit with today’s times and the current situation.”

Due to the high availability of all autosen products, spare parts can be ordered as needed, namely only when they are really needed. There is no minimum order quantity or price scales. autosen passes on the cost advantage from online trading regardless of the order quantity.

Podcast Transcript Episode 14

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit

Hello Phillip and welcome to the Industrial IoT Use Case Podcast. Yes. I am very happy to have you with me today. How are you and your team doing at the moment?

Philipp Uebachs:

Yes, hello Madeleine. First of all, thank you for the invitation. We are all doing well so far. So slowly everything is getting back to normal, I think it is for the most people, so I hope it is for the most people. Everything looks quite good so far. We are slowly getting back to normality, as they say.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, I’m glad to hear that. I’ve just explained a few points about you and autosen in the podcast intro, but I think it would be good if you could start by saying one or two more points about yourself and your current role at autosen.

Philipp:

Yes, of course. My name is Philipp Uebachs and I have been in technical project management at autosen GmbH in Essen for 1 year now. If you like, my career is actually relatively classic, i.e. I am an automation engineer, I studied automation technology and during my studies I was involved in both IT and OT, i.e. professionally I was able to look into many different areas. That was quite cool and I always found it relatively exciting to link these two areas together. And unfortunately, it has to be said that you don’t learn that much about the broad field of IoT or Industrial IoT at university, i.e. you have to somehow acquire it yourself and ultimately also practical things like programming or an overview of all the cloud systems. So in the end, you kind of have to learn it yourself, but once you get an insight into it, it often makes itself unnecessary, but you always learn something new, and that’s quite nice. I don’t think there is such a thing as finishing learning in this area.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, I couldn’t agree more. I actually studied mechanical engineering and worked a lot with IoT in a very basic way, but there was nothing in depth for me either. Yes, that comes with time and practice, right?

Philipp:

Yes, somehow, you always hear that there is something like that, that will be of great interest to all of us, but somehow it doesn’t really become concrete. That’s only going to be something when you really get to grips with it.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. Exactly. Now for me at the beginning would be quite interesting to talk about autosen. I think many of those who now come from the IoT environment already know you and have already ordered from you, but those who don’t know you yet, you are an online store where you can order automation technology, sensors or also various components on the subject of IoT, so to speak. Can you explain that in more detail and what maybe your vision behind it is?

Philipp:

Yes. You’ve actually already summed it up perfectly. So primarily we are an online store, i.e. you can buy automation technology, sensor technology and accessories online from us and, of course, since recently also solutions in the field of IoT. And our history is actually quite an interesting one: we started in 2011 as a start-up company, really just with a handful of sensors that we wanted to bring to the market with the mission, in principle, that we wanted to sell high-quality industrial sensor technology online. Because to go along with the digital change and to say, okay, the distribution of, especially in the consumer area, which is already very strongly online-focused and also now in the business area and in the parts and automation technology, there was not yet so much at the time and we have made it our task, so to speak, to bring this distribution channel for sensors automation technology to life. We now have around 9,000 customers and can actually draw on a very large and diverse customer base, which is very nice because you always hear many stories, have many different use cases and there is a bit of everyone, so there is the small SME, but also large companies, there is a farmer and a major corporation. So, it’s so diverse that it actually doesn’t get boring.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, super exciting. I’m also going to say what comes to mind now that you’re talking about it, the topic of e-commerce is also super exciting, because there are so many use cases where people are talking about SER integration or CAM integration. Maybe I’ll challenge you again later on about this topic, because I think it would be super exciting to see how you guys have maybe already approached this or maybe already implemented it internally. That might also be exciting.

Philipp:

Yes. That is actually also a major goal for us, for us in product management, to say that we really want to do e-commerce with automated processes in order to relieve the burden on all employees as much as possible and to actually live and use all the advantages of automation technology and digitization ourselves. That is also our task somewhere.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Hmm. Okay. Can you maybe say again at the very beginning. You now have various sensors up your sleeve. Are they all IoT-ready? Or how do I have to imagine this? How is your portfolio positioned there?

Philipp:

Yes, that is indeed the case, we have a very broad spectrum of standard industrial sensor technology, i.e. it starts with the simple temperature sensor, i.e. PT100, PT1000 element, which is then equipped with small evaluation electronics, but also the elementary sensors via the inductive sensor up to the multi-value sensor, i.e. e.g. a flow sensor, which provides me with, I believe, 8 data points, we basically have everything. There are various interfaces that are more or less accepted in the industry or that have become so widespread and, of course, the analog measurement method, i.e. the analog output signal, e.g. 4 – 20 milliamperes, of course we have many sensors and now the so-called IO-Link protocol for sensor data, which is a digital transmission protocol, is coming slowly or has actually been around for a long time. Kevin Munzert from ifm has actually explained this in great detail, so I don’t want to look at it too closely now, and these sensors are per se, I’ll just say it bluntly, until they speak the IO-Link protocol, and in principle we have now found a way to get these sensors directly into the cloud in an all-in-one solution, without having to do any major programming or putting together a solution.In other words, we have basically developed a gateway for all of the sensors in our portfolio, i.e. an all-in-one solution with connectivity and cloud and everything that goes with it, in order to make these sensors, as you said, IoT-ready.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. Okay. For the listeners who have just joined and maybe haven’t heard the last episode, can you just very briefly summarize what exactly  the io-key is and what it has to do with the IO-LINK, with the standard perhaps also, that one simply understands the context, what that is exactly?

Philipp:

Sure. So basically the io-key in the end is a solution, I don’t even want to say that is only the product e.g. only the hardware, but it is ultimately a solution consisting of the hardware, so the gateway, which is a pump gateway. We have the option of connecting 2 sensors or even more with the corresponding accessories, but I will perhaps say a bit more about that later on, and these sensor data are simply read by the sensor, so to speak, so the IO-Key sniffs the data points and then sends them via a network antenna, i.e. via a mobile radio antenna into the mobile radio network or via the mobile radio network into the Internet. We use 3 different networks for data transmission, which the io-key selects itself as gateway hardware, i.e. for applications in halls or basements, the narrowband IOT network, then we have the 2G variant as a fallback, i.e. GSM, which is also very widespread in Germany and Europe, and now we have the new KM1 network, i.e. LTE technology. This is particularly suitable, for example, if you have mobile machines that move around, because in principle it has a good overlap with the radio cells, i.e. you don’t have a disconnection when you change radio cells, that’s one of the advantages, I’ll say now. If you now continue up the data line, then at some point we come to our cloud and there you have to say that this is then virtually an IoT cloud that is optimized for use with industrial sensors, i.e. we have teamed up with a leading cloud provider and have modified or expanded this standard cloud with various services, with various functions that in principle then meet the requirements of industry and sensor technology in general. That’s actually by and large this solution of the io-key, so gateway, the hardware, the connectivity and the cloud together.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

And how did you go about this digitization process at autosen, in other words, what does it take to tackle it? And what relevance does the topic of ecosystems have for you in this context?

Philipp:

Exactly. A good 2 years ago, our product manager at the time, Rainer Schniedergers here at autosen, asked himself a bit of a question, also out of his own interest, how difficult it can be to actually get 1 sensor, for example the temperature, into the cloud, or to digitize it, and then he did a bit of research and found out that it’s not that easy, because in principle you need many different skills as a person, e.g. I have to have an affinity for IT, i.e. I have to know something about clouds, maybe I have to be able to program a bit, but I also have to know about hardware technology. For example, I have to be IT-savvy, i.e. I have to know my way around clouds, maybe I have to be able to program a bit, but I also have to know my way around hardware technology, i.e. how do I transfer the data in the first place, and if in doubt, I even have to know my way around sensor technology, automation technology in general. So many different departments come together and that always makes such an action a project somewhere. And then he basically thought, yes, this has to be easier somehow, i.e. we have to offer the customer a solution with which he can do this easily and, above all, quickly and the customer should, in principle, not have to worry at all about how the data is somehow transferred or what I have to create in the cloud in order to see my devices, and so on. So we wanted to anticipate all these processes and developments for the customer. Yes, and then we basically went on a journey somewhere with industry experts and said, okay, we don’t have the know-how to develop a cloud now, at autosen with this car sensor manufacturer, if we start to develop a cloud there, then it would probably a) take years and devour vast sums of money and we have to peddle competencies that we don’t have at all, i.e. we went there and developed a cloud. So we went there and tried to bring the ecosystem idea into the industry a bit, and then we were able to form a good partnership with Software AG and the Cumulocity Cloud. That is basically, how should I put it, the cloud that stands behind the autosen cloud. Then we said, okay, we have to make it work, and we looked for a mobile provider that specializes in IoT devices, that’s the company 1nce, and ultimately, of course, we also needed someone who could support us in the area of gateway technology, i.e. wireless gateways, who could develop the whole thing together with us and also do, for example firmware development. We went to an industry expert and found the company Round Solutions in Frankfurt, and with these partners we then set out with our requirements and our know-how from sensor technology and developed the io-key as a complete solution to completely take over the entire onboarding and the entire project from the customer, In the end, all the customer has to do is connect the connectors, i.e. make a physical connection, and everything works. That is basically our development partner network. This is now being expanded by a sales partner, because we said that this ecosystem idea is great, we have a win-win-win situation, and we were able to win ifm-Elektronik as a seller and Telekom AG, who are now also offering the io-key as a solution to their customers, who are ultimately somewhat different from ours. So that’s a bit of our ecosystem, and the io-key is at the center of it as a solution.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Okay. Exciting. Do you have a real-life example of how a customer might use a sensor, perhaps also via the IO-LINK protocol? Do you have an example from your customer area, maybe?

Philipp:

Exactly. One very funny application is actually a customer who was at the very beginning, who had not yet really dealt with the topic of IoT, but who had the requirement from a customer to digitize data, to manage it centrally and then to have the perspective of being able to process it further, and that is a manufacturer of vacuum toilets for mobile on-board toilets, which are familiar from trains, for example, or from ships. So they are these vacuum toilets that suck it up, I would say.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Best opener here – haha.

Philipp:

Yes. And I say the problem when these tanks are overfilled, I think that’s also due to the fact that I don’t have to explain further, that was actually a problem and the cool thing is and that actually also came via the ecosystem of a sensor manufacturer, another sensor manufacturer, who now has a special level probe, which can also withstand these chemicals, developed with IO-LINK as a protocol and they knew about the IOP and then said, hey, look here at autosen, they have a gateway with which you actually only have to connect our sensor, it works directly and you can then have the data displayed immediately in the cloud, monitor the whole thing and first create a data basis. Yes, and we didn’t really have that much to do with the customer, because he took advantage of our purpose, our mission, and simply ordered devices online, i.e., we didn’t even notice, and they went into operation at some point, and then by chance I had a real exchange with the customer about what he was planning to do with them, etc., and it was really just a matter of, okay, now I have the data and what can I do with it? So it went on, but he already had his data, his sensor data from the trains that were really driving through the area, could read them in, could record them, and could be alerted accordingly, and so on, so this cloud function that you know.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:
In this case, the level sensor came from you or a third-party manufacturer and was then connected to the cloud via the io-key, so to speak, and it then connected accordingly, because you now said on the train, i.e. a mobile asset somewhere, probably to a mobile network XY, in order to have data in the cloud or what exactly does connectivity from the sensor to the cloud look like?

Philipp:

Exactly. So that was actually already perfectly summarized. You have to imagine it like this, this level probe now records the fill level in the form of the pressure, i.e. on the basis of the pressure, so the level probe is quasi at the bottom, a pressure is determined and from this, of course, you can draw conclusions about the fill level of this tank, ultimately via the hydrostatics and these data are sent permanently via the IO-LINK protocol, i.e. via bit chains, i.e. via digital bit chains to the io-key, i.e. the io-key, which means sent, they are transmitted via a real physical cable connection. i.e. via bit chains, i.e. via digital bit chains to the io-key, i.e. the io-key, which means sent, transmitted via a real physical cable connection. The io-key is in the sense of an IO-LINK master that now collects all this data and sends it to the cloud every 10 seconds. The whole thing then works, as I said, via the mobile network, i.e. now we have a mobile machine and it also moves a lot, i.e. in the optimum case the device then uses the KM1 network in order to really be able to hide this overlapping of radio cells, i.e. the radio cell change somewhere, as I already said very briefly, and the data is then sent quasi via a VPN, in which we are, with our io-key then ultimately to an API in the cloud and is then monitort there. And what’s really nice now, I’ve already said this, so Plug & Play, we have in principle then quasi on the cloud and on the device different services, different smaller programs micro services, which then produce exactly this functionality, i.e. each IO-LINK sensor has a so-called IODD, so to speak the driver data file of the sensor, where it is defined, which data point is in which unit from which minimum to maximum range measures the whole thing and this IODD would have to be communicated normally to the io-key as a master, which then also recognizes itself, which device was connected and loads this IODD automatically from a web server, where basically all IODDs are uploaded at some point via this IO-LINK consortium, i.e. this association of manufacturers, so when I develop a new sensor, so to speak, I upload them there, they are stored centrally and then install this IODD on itself, so to speak, so that it can interpret these sensor values. This is one of those services where we said, okay, otherwise the customer would have to build it himself somehow, and that’s how we interpret plug & play. All the customer really has to do is put the device on.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Can you explain what exactly happens when a customer orders from you, now I mean the internal view at your company, because you probably also have logistics behind it, where you have the customer’s data somewhere and you know exactly where it is. Do you also use the io-key internally for your use cases for process optimization? Or how do I have to imagine this internally with you?

Philipp:

We are actually playing with our cards on the table. As a manufacturer, of course, we live and breathe the whole topic of digitization and automation. As a supplier, I think we have to do the same, i.e. we also want to automate all processes as far as possible, and that’s exactly what we did with the io-key, i.e. it now has slightly different requirements for our ERP store system, but now the output is such that the customer orders independently from us in the store, i.e. they put together their own individual IO package, select the transmission interval, select various additional services, such as a switching function on the edge, and can choose from a variety of options. For example, they select the transmission interval, they select various additional services such as a switching function on the Edge, I can explain in more detail later what this involves, and this configuration or this booking is then completed as normal via the store, you can also pay with Pay Pal, for example, and it is then entered into our ERP system as an order, automated, i.e., no one has to process it any more and our ERP system has to process it. Our logistics then receives a pick list based on this, takes the devices from the warehouse, compiles the delivery and then packs this delivery and in this picking process, the serial number of the device, i.e. every mobile device has a serial number with which it can be clearly identified, is married with the customer number in our ERP system and now we are back in the area of cloud-to-cloud connection, i.e. the customer now receives his device. i.e. the customer now receives his device and the cloud already knows via a corresponding request that this combination of customer number and device ID will then ultimately report at some point and that it is also legitimized, for example, to create its own cloud sub-tenant and the customer can then go accordingly to a start page, there is then a kind of ….. Guide, which are then only 3 steps, which are then with the hardware, there one is then e.g. requested to enter a few customer data, e.g. to assign an own URL, over which one would like to reach then afterwards over a cloud tenant.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, just for me to understand. What is the use case behind this? I.e. the customer now has his own cloud application and wants to reorder sensors for a use case, for example, or how does that work exactly, or what is the customer’s use case or the application area?

Philipp:

The use case is that they now want to bring some process into the cloud, digitize it, and in principle also want to set up their cloud themselves, or can set it up themselves, because it’s actually child’s play.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

But that’s your cloud now, so to speak …, okay.

Philipp:

Exactly. They can create their own sub-tenant via the start page, in principle their own cloud space on our autosen cloud with their own URL and then get their own access, where we also have no access, and they simply create it themselves, for example, so that they can then operate all administrative operations or complete monitoring in their own sub-tenant. This is part of the solution for us in the end.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. Okay. Understood. I was just assuming that the customer has their own application running, so to speak, e.g. has your sensors in the field, but in this case it is the case that they are using the cloud from you and have their own dashboard, so to speak, with the corresponding use case,  like what you just described with the vacuum toilets, then I probably have the dashboard for the operator then to maybe tell somebody when they need to be emptied and where maybe and issues like that.

Philipp:

Right. Now that was referring to a customer who is at the very beginning and not in the field. So they can easily configure everything themselves because it’s not really a configuration effort in the end, it’s like me creating a social media account. This is almost more difficult.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. Do you perhaps have an example of a customer who is perhaps already further along, so if I perhaps already have my business model now and am addressing certain use cases, various perhaps already, do you perhaps also have an example of your customers?

Philipp:

Sure. Basically, we also see the io-key as a solution as a bit of an enabler for new business models, i.e., there are, for example, already companies/customers that are further along in the IoT field, i.e. perhaps they already have an IoT cloud with which they record machine data, or they are now starting to develop new business models based on these new possibilities offered somewhere by the io-key and of course also by other solutions. In principle, I can now connect the shop floor directly with the ERP system, i.e., I can set up a direct cloud-to-cloud connection, just the other way around, as I explained in our case, which is actually relatively simple, if you like, in order to do something like disposal-as-a-service, for example, which is actually a very cool use case, i.e., we have done some brainstorming with a waste disposal company and also partly with some municipalities. It was a bit about the fact that hazardous substances, i.e. chemical fluids that are perhaps a bit corrosive somewhere, are disposed of, there are special companies that ultimately transport them away and then render them harmless, and the problem was that these tanks are often located somewhere at the back of the yard and you walk past them and then realize, oh, my tank is full. And then, of course, you quickly get hectic, because where to go now with what is just produced as waste material and then often has the problem that you have to store these stories somewhere, which of course can be a bit messy and these tanks are partly already monitored with sensors. In some cases, level sensors are installed that ultimately measure the level with a so-called guided microwave, i.e. a stainless steel rod is sufficient, which in principle goes into the fluid, depending of course on how corrosive it is, for example. a microwave is then emitted by the sensor at the top, which is attached to the lid, and the runtime until this microwave is reflected by the surface of the fluid, as it were, is then measured accordingly and then, if you know how long the rod is, you can draw conclusions about how high the fill level is. This is, for example, one way of measuring something like this, and now you can, or now was a bit of the business model that we discussed with the customer, that in principle you retrofit the io-key, i.e. you carry out retrofitting on this tank or on several tanks, so that also works, you can also bring several sensors with the io-key into the cloud and that these data now do not even end up with the producer of this pollutant, but directly with the disposal company, so that the producer quasi only books or pays for disposal as a service, but also no longer has to worry in principle about when the tank has to be emptied. They no longer have to worry about when the tank has to be emptied, i.e. they no longer have to call the dispatcher and say, “Watch out, my tank will be full in three days and you have to come really quickly.”

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

I.e. the disposal company gets in that case or the technician or whoever drives out there, service employee gets a dashboard where they have an overview of various customers with these tanks and then maybe also know exactly how they have to plan his route or is that about right?

Philipp:

Yes, exactly. Resource efficiency is a very big issue here, i.e. they naturally also try to plan the routes optimally and not to undertake an incredibly long journey for a customer and then have to travel in the same direction again the next day due to a lack of information, for example. Another possibility is, of course, if I now and here we are again in the area of filling levels for silos, for example. So basically the io-key is suitable in principle, or rather it feels very much at home in remote, shielded applications that are perhaps very far away, somewhere in the field and therefore could not be digitized up to now, or where I perhaps also consciously or for security reasons or because I perhaps don’t want to go into my local IoT at all, in principle want to be digitized in isolation from it, i.e. if I have a filling level somewhere or a silo or tank or something and it also becomes empty, then I could of course also automatically reorder in my ERP system via a so-called cloud-to-cloud connection. In other words, if I have a fill level somewhere or a silo or a tank or something like that and it also becomes empty, then I could of course also trigger an automatic reorder in my ERP system via a so-called cloud-to-cloud connection or also incorporate these values into my MES system, for example, in order to control processes or manage orders. So in principle, it’s all conceivable. I always say a bit, if I have the data through the io-key or wherever I got it from once in principle on the Internet, then there are actually no limits to my creativity.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

You have just described a use case for disposal-as-a-service. This was about a licensed sensor from a silo that I bring into the cloud. What is the situation if I want to connect entire machines or plants? Are there also solutions or how do I do it then?

Philipp:

Yes, that is of course a bit, I would say, contrary to the classic solution, but of course we have the possibility to work with different accessories for the io-key, i.e. what we always need or what we always have to connect directly to the io-key is a so-called IO-LINK device, but there are also different modules, for example, that are input modules that are an IO-LINK device, but can also record other data than pure sensor data. And there is e.g. the possibility to use an IO-LINK analog module. I can then capture up to 8 analog sensors, really the old or the most common sensors, 4 – 7 milliamperes output as a signal and with 8 sensors I naturally already have the possibility to digitize larger machines or perhaps a sub-process, i.e. that already gives me the possibility and then I also have 2 ports, i.e. I theoretically or mathematically have the possibility to capture 16 analog signals, which can be quite powerful and then also sufficient.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

You said at the very beginning that switching functions via Edge is also a functionality. Does that also belong in there or is that something else again?

Philipp:

Definitely. Now we are already a bit in the area of systems and system control and now I can, for example, based on a sensor value that then exceeds a threshold value also send me an alarm, but I also have the option to continue to be alerted locally. So most sensors have a switching output and I can then also switch a bit……… or also actuators and the io-key can also do that in principle, i.e. we have two pins that are in the power port, which are currently unused, i.e. we do not currently need them for the power supply and we can then program them via such simple switching rules, which are also then programmed in such a simple wizard on the cloud, you know from sensor technology, so enter a switching value, then the convention, i.e. exceed or fall below, a hysteresis I can set there and and I can then switch something locally via the machine, e.g. activate a drain pump, an electric control valve.I can then switch something locally via the machine, e.g. activate a drain pump, an electrical control valve or perhaps a signal lamp, in order to once again draw attention locally to a problem.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Okay. Do you have an example from one of your customers of how they have implemented this exactly, so that one understands how exactly this works with perhaps a larger machine or system?

Philipp:

Hmm. Exactly, we actually have a pretty funny one, we have a very cool use case and that is also one of our first customers who use the io-key and they actually use it as a PLC gateway. That is, I said at the beginning of my story about the io-key that we deliberately did not want to take the detour via the PLC gateway, because that is very expensive, and they recognized that at Friemer and said, okay, we do not yet have any networking of our machine hall and not even WLAN and we would now like to digitize a PLC quasi independently of a local network structure and they have a so-called binary input module with 8 slots each connected to the io-key, i.e. 16 slots are available there and they basically loop the output signals from the PLC through to this binary input module and the io-key then detects the status of the switching outputs of the PLC accordingly.In principle, they loop the output signals from the PLC through to this binary input module and the io-key then detects the status of the switching outputs of the PLC accordingly and a small smart function can then be used to draw conclusions about the throughput or the status of such heating presses.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, I was just about to ask that. What kind of customer was this and what kind of data exactly did they want to bring from the PLC to the cloud?

Philipp:

This is a company that manufactures industrial clutch and friction linings and has also been a leader in the industry for over 20 years, and they naturally have high throughput requirements. They also do real mass production, if you will, but at high quality and for them it was always important to know what the condition of the individual presses is. They have more than 10 presses that work virtually on a piecework basis, and keeping an overview of whether a press might be at a standstill or have less throughput, or whether technical faults might occur on the basis of this, or perhaps something like this can be recorded in advance, as part of predictive maintenance, is a very interesting use case for them, and they have implemented this in principle with the io-key.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Okay. This is then a kind of piece counter or how do you have to imagine that, on the basis of which I can then represent these pieces? Or how was that done?

Philipp:

Exactly. In principle, this also raises the issue of how to deal with the data, i.e. they basically wrote a program with which they could process these signals into a counter and then, at the end of the day or the shift, they always received an automated export that told them exactly how many pieces had run through the presses today and could, of course, also determine exactly how high my production currently is, what percentage we are running at, and the production or shift manager could then have this sent to their smartphone, which is really cool, because then they always had everything in view and if they were running around somewhere on the premises.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:
Okay. Now you have already seen many such projects. Do you have an example from practice, a few tips or approaches to avoid mistakes, to save costs when I approach such IoT projects with different sensors? I mean, you are experts in this field. Have you seen anything where you say that you would like to pass on to the listeners in order to avoid mistakes to some extent?

Philipp:

Yeah, let me put it this way. There is actually, and this is always my saying, even when I talk to customers, there is actually no solution, now if you assume the framework conditions, that we want to measure something somewhere, record something and then digitize it, there is actually no application that cannot be solved via the io-key and if it cannot be solved, then we will also find another solution via our ecosystem, that is very important. What I have noticed is that many customers still have a certain inhibition to start such an IoT project and we would like to take away this fear or these concerns. Basically, I believe that wherever you can save excess travel, for example, where you might have to drive out and physically check what the status of a process is, it’s super easy and also very inexpensive to digitize such a solution with the io-key. Because I say distance and employees also cost a lot of money and that could perhaps be used more profitably.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Hmm. Now you had just mentioned the ecosystem. Which partners do you work with there? Or are these also the partners you mentioned at the beginning in the IoT environment, or are there others?

Philipp:

Exactly. These are the partners I mentioned earlier. So our development partners with Software AG, with 1nce, Round Solutions our distribution partners and of course always, I’ll say, our extended channel when we can’t solve an application. Then we can always fall back on good know-how in the various industries with ifm and Telekom, and of course we also have other partners, such as the Codestryke company from Düsseldorf, which are developers who specialize in IoT applications, i.e., we can always rely on them. Whenever our solution or standard solution, which is actually suitable for all customers, is no longer sufficient, then they come into play and can develop an individual solution for the customer based on the data that the io-key collects, and we are always happy to establish contact.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, we will also have the Codestryke company here on the podcast as well. I invited them with the company Air…… Exactly, there we do a joint session. I’m looking forward to that, too. Yes, you always see each other in the industry, apparently.

Philipp:

Exactly. So the system is small. That’s what I always say and I think that everybody can always benefit from each other and that’s exactly the background of our ecosystem, so we all want to benefit from each other and also play the customers back and forth. And our maxim is actually to deliver the best possible application to the customer and the io-key is at the center as a solution, but there are so many individual requirements from customers and you can’t catch them all with one solution, but maybe with the appropriate extensions or with the appropriate know-how in the specific areas.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. What do you think will be in store for us in the next 5 years? Now you have already mentioned the topic of ecosystems and open partnerships, what do you think will happen in your sensor environment, e-commerce, for example, what do you see in the next 5 years?

Philipp:

Yes, I believe that the topic of digitization and IoT will continue to grow, it will grow, but I believe that most of those who work in this environment are of the same opinion. I believe that many of those who still have some reservations about starting with a solution now will be convinced enough in 1-2 years to start with a solution in order to first find the benefits of this digitization or IoT in general for themselves, because it is so individual that you can’t generalize it. I don’t want to say that every customer has a certain benefit from monitoring their filling levels, but I would like to make it quite clear that resource efficiency and, of course, personnel efficiency and decentralized work are major issues in the current climate. And I think the IoT will relieve us of many more problems or make them easier, and I think our task as a solution provider or as a development team is to lower this inhibition threshold as much as possible so that all customers have fun and are interested in starting with IoT in their specific environment. And I think it’s going to grow very strongly and I’m looking forward to the challenges.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes. Nice. Yes, I think you have the perfect approach with your ecosystem, also with the io-key solution and I think you are very very well positioned. Also, if you look at your website, you can see that you are very new and innovative. Now that might be a pretty good opportunity, how would that be contacting you guys? Is that directly via the website, if I am now interested in a few sensors or also want to inform myself a bit about my use case?

Philipp:

Yes, the starting point is actually always our store, our website, which is also our online store. That’s where you can actually find all the information about the products, that’s autosen.com. We really do have all the documentation, from CAD data to technical documentation, declarations of conformity, so there is really everything you need to really clearly identify a sensor as being the right one for my application. There you can find everything about io-key and of course about us as a team and also directly the entry point if you are looking for contact and of course we are also open for consulting, so we are super happy to advise, we are super happy to talk to customers and also find out the individual requirements and also help to solve the applications. So our sales department is very fit in that respect. And whenever it comes to IoT or io-key, we are also very happy to provide cross-divisional consulting with various competencies from different departments. We are very dynamic in that respect.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Yes, I think that’s where we teased use cases in this episode today as well. Maybe one or the other listener will find himself there and I thank you very much for your time. I thought it was really super exciting from level probes, with the topic of chemical levels in vacuum toilets and but also completely different topics that we had now today. I’ll link to all of that accordingly and also contact you, preferably maybe on LinkedIn as well. Yes, thank you for your views at this point and I was very glad to have you. Thanks for your time again and enjoy the rest of the week.

Philipp:

Yes, I also thank you very much for your work. I think the podcast is great and have listened with excitement to all the episodes. And you also have to say that you always learn something new. So there is actually no episode where you don’t learn anything, even if you think you already know everything. So I can only recommend everyone to listen to the other episodes as well. Really, very very exciting.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Many, many thanks.

Philipp:

Thank you.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit:

Thank you until then. Have a great week. Ciao.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit

Host & General Manager
IoT Use Case Podcast