Exclusive Interview: Milestone Process Automation “We Give Customers What They Need”
For 65 years, family company Endress+Hauser has managed the balancing act of constantly striving for innovation while never forgetting about its roots. Then and today, the main focus has always been on serving the customer. How this can be done in the era of digitalization is highlighted by Günther Lukassen, Managing Director of Endress+Hauser Germany, and Nikolaus Krüger, member of the Executive Board at Endress+Hauser.
Managing a company with 14,000 employees while remaining a family company at heart is certainly not a simple task, but it is a path that Endress+Hauser has managed to follow incredibly successfully for several decades. The recipe for success is based not only on continuous technological developments, but also on the fact that the company always listens to its customers and learns from them. In the process, it pursues technology that offers users long-term advantages. At the same time, the company is also often ahead of the game — for example, for 20 years every field device from Endress+Hauser has been digitally captured, long before people were talking about Industry 4.0.
PROCESS: Mr. Lukassen, Mr. Krüger: What were the key technologies on the route to becoming a global supplier of measurement and automation solutions?
Krüger: Throughout the history of Endress+ Hauser there have always been technologies that have helped us to move forward — first capacitive level measurement technology, then the vibration principle for limit level detection, Coriolis flowmeters, Memosens technology for liquid analysis and now the self-calibrating thermometer iTherm TrustSens. But the real key was always that we gave customers exactly what they needed.
Lukassen: Or, as it was put by our founder, “We serve our customers and learn from them.” This has driven what we have been doing for 65 years and shaped our development from a small specialist to a globally active solution provider — and it is what has made us successful. We are the biggest provider in Germany. And the German market reaches far beyond its borders thanks to the export strength of so many of Endress+Hauser’s customers.
PROCESS: What is your assessment of the global situation of Endress+Hauser in the field of process automation?
Krüger: We are one of the leading providers worldwide. Although our market share is highest in Europe, our growth is significantly more dynamic in America and Asia. Local competition is strong wherever you go. But it pays off that we have a strong presence all around the world in all growth markets not only in terms of sales but particularly in terms of service, and that we manufacture to European quality standards in the relevant regions, strictly following the motto: If it says Endress+Hauser on the box then it is Endress+Hauser technology inside!
Lukassen: On top of this, our customers who operate internationally want to establish standardized operations all around the world, in terms of tenders, technologies and much more.
PROCESS: Endress+Hauser is a family company. What role does this play in the day-to-day workings of the company?
Krüger: An owner family thinks in generations, not quarterly results. This ensures stability and gives customers and employees certainty. We can develop the company with a very long-term outlook.
Lukassen: You also sense it in the way people treat each other. The conviction that, at the end of the day, loyal relationships between customers, employees and shareholders benefit everyone is a thread that runs through all our business activities — and it can also be seen in the culture, the spirit of Endress+Hauser.
PROCESS: What challenges for process automation need to be overcome in the next few years?
Krüger: The biggest challenge is without doubt digitalization. It is changing the world of our customers and our own world. Here, we want to take advantage of the opportunities that are available to us with our measurement technology as part of the industrial Internet of Things — with new digital services and also in terms of virtual interactions with our customers.
PROCESS: What strategic considerations are behind the acquisitions of Analytik Jena, Kaiser Optical Systems and Spectrasensors?
Krüger: These acquisitions reflect a second important impact direction of our strategy. We want to bring analytical methods that were previously only possible in laboratories into the process, and we want to support our customers both in the laboratory and in production. This is an ambitious goal. We are convinced that there is a lot of potential in this approach. But it requires perseverance!
PROCESS: What is the role of Endress+Hauser in the developments relating to Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things?
Krüger: We see ourselves as a pioneer, particularly when it comes to making already installed equipment part of the Internet of Things. In principle, this is possible with nine out of ten instruments. Around 20 years ago, we started creating a specific data record for every sensor we manufacture. Our equipment database now holds more than 30 million dormant digital twins that we can re-awaken in less than a minute.
PROCESS: How do you convince previously hesitant users in the process industry about the advantages of digitalization?
Lukassen: The best way to do this is to demonstrate the actual benefits of practical applications. We are proud that we are already able to show off a number of Industry 4.0 installations with prominent customers and strong partners that really highlight the opportunities and benefits of digitalization and networking.
PROCESS: One theory at last year’s Namur Annual General Meeting was that, in future, it will be possible to do without major parts of the conventional automation pyramid and that only the field devices level will remain. What do you think about this?
Krüger: I haven’t heard this particular theory expressed quite this strongly very often. But if we look at developments it is by no means far-fetched, certainly for many applications. Conversely, it means that the requirements placed on the instrumentation are growing, for example in terms of performance, reliability or integration capability of our sensors. They really are huge expectations that are being placed on us as manufacturers.
PROCESS: Mr. Lukassen, you are going to be retiring soon. What advice do you have for your successor and for the company?
Lukassen: With all his experience, Mr. Stöckl will no doubt find a way and will manage to overcome the challenges of the future with fresh ideas. But this will only be possible together with the customers and employees. The basis for this is the spirit of Endress+Hauser and the company’s closeness to its customers. Both help to understand expectations and to keep refining the sense of togetherness.
PROCESS: Mr. Lukassen, Mr. Krüger, thank you very much for talking to us.