Fluidics can do so much more — certainly for companies who are happy to think outside of the box — In almost every process, liquid or gaseous media must be measured, controlled and regulated. But are we using the full potential offered by valves, flowmeters and their like? Even after 70 years, the fluidics specialists from Bürkert are nowhere near the end of what they can do.
Having revolutionized solenoid valves and reinvented flow measurement, the company is well on the way into the age of Industry 4.0. The 2019 version of Bürkert is so much more than just a valve manufacturer. The fluidics specialists present themselves with system solutions and all-round service as a competent partner for measurement and control systems for media flows. With technology competence, a bold approach and an open ear for the processes and requirements of the application industry, CEO Heribert Rohrbeck and Frank Hils, Managing Director of the Bürkert sales companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, are aiming to set fluidics milestones for the future.
? Mr. Rohrbeck, Mr. Hils, when we read about Christian Bürkert in the company history the attributes that come up are vision, inventiveness and enormous energy. Is this still a mission statement for you today?
Rohrbeck: We did actually sit down once and ask ourselves: If Bürkert was a person, what would that person be like? Above all, it is courage — and of course the experience of over 70 years of measurement and control technology for liquids and gases. Another important factor is closeness to the customer, but also closeness to each other. Courage also encompasses tremendous energy to get things done, as well as inventive spirit and the ability to look ahead. Something else this entails today is spreading our wings in the field of Industry 4.0.
Hils: I would like to add reliability as an important attribute. Particularly today, this is a really important factor for customers. This is not just about facts or things that can be measured with technical data, but also about seemingly soft factors — reliability and the partnership with the customer.
? With the Bürkert Cloud you have already taken a big step toward Industry 4.0. What happens next?
Rohrbeck: With solutions like the networked dosing heads, Industry 4.0 is not something that is fundamentally new for us in terms of technology — now it is all about new and alternative business models. I think it is quite feasible that a customer might stop ordering sensors from us, instead tasking us directly with monitoring a measured value.
Hils: Industry 4.0 can also mean collecting real-time data and using it to calculate the probability of failure, mapping the data in models and algorithms and even being able to use it during the design stage of systems. What is needed is a high level of interaction between fluidics manufacturers and customers, the willingness to pool and integrate knowledge and to draw conclusions together from the collected data. We have everything in place that is needed for this, because we have the corresponding interfaces.
“The Valve of the Future Will Be More Intelligent”
? Against this background, what is the valve of the future going to look like? Is it going to be more intelligent?
Hils: Yes, it will be more intelligent. It will integrate algorithms that show users on-site wear based on actual loads. Eventually, it will also start ordering its own spare parts, including scheduling the service technician’s visit. All of this is already technically feasible today. The thing that is missing is the algorithms. And, of course, the customer needs to go along with it.
? What role is played by the Bürkert Systemhaus innovation hubs in this context?
Rohrbeck: We need to keep abreast of the fact that, at some point in the future, there will be a question mark over today's components. This does not mean that we will stop manufacturing or improving water valves in the future — but it must be clear that a process of downgrading is taking place in the market. Products that 20 years ago were still premium products for specialist applications are now everyday solutions that are used across the board. Ultimately, the systems of today are the components of tomorrow, thereby also securing the continued existence of our production units in the future.
Milestones from 70 Years of Fluidics Competence: How Bürkert Became a Global Player in Valve Technology:
? How do you find suitable solutions in the interplay between your valve competence and the problems of your customers?
Rohrbeck: The most important thing is to listen to the customer and take the time to understand what exactly their challenge is. This also means understanding our own value proposition so that we can really understand our own role as a supplier. In the past, we used to sell with a vendor's tray and say to customers: “Come and buy our valves”! Today, we go to the customer, listen to what they have to say and get the right solution out of our bag at the appropriate point.
“What Does the Customer Want?” — Why Value Creation Occurs at the Interfaces
? Are there any disruptive developments in fluid technology?
Hils: We are confident that fluidics can only be virtualized in isolated cases. If you require water or gases, then you will also need shut-off valves. As long as there are processes, it will be necessary to measure and control media flows.
? How do you manage to get together all the different aspects of the value creation chain, from development to system production?
Rohrbeck: By forgetting about classic organizational structures and asking ourselves: What does the customer want? For the user, it is important that the right people are sitting together at the key interfaces. This works in the Systemhausfacilities, because here we develop not just individual products, but entire application solutions.
? What can we expect from Bürkert in the future?
Rohrbeck: That we will transcend boundaries and not rest on our laurels, but instead keep questioning and challenging ourselves to keep ourselves fit. Then — if the conditions are right — at least one in every ten ideas will come to fruition. This requires a degree of courage on the side of the customers as well, but if we can get our excitement across and enthuse the customers as well, then we can create value together.
Hils: For some customers a system is the right solution — this typically means, for example, a higher level of integration in the value creation chain of the customer. People often ask us whether we are evolving from a product manufacturer into a system manufacturer. My answer is always that it is not about the development from A to B, but about offering an additional option to the customer. This is supplemented with our service business as the third pillar, i.e. commissioning, servicing, conversion work and capacity upgrades.
The Process Industry Needs Courage
? Does the processing industry play a special role here?
Rohrbeck: The processing industry is at least in part a conservative industry. That is understandable — after all, batch production in e.g. fine chemistry or the pharmaceutical industry is very complex and expensive. Nonetheless, there are also approaches here, for example by utilizing single-use technologies in order to become more efficient. I think that if our discussions help to give customers the confidence to question things, then we have the opportunity to create added value with our expertise.
Mr. Rohrbeck, Mr. Hils, thank you for taking the time to talk to us.