"Digital transformation offers us tremendous opportunities"

The production site in Montornés del Vallés, Spain, is one of the most modern plants in the Henkel Group.
Dr. Dirk Holbach and Wolfgang Weber from the Laundry & Home Care Division talk about how digitalization is accelerating at Henkel.

What are your future goals for digitalization?

Wolfgang Weber: The digitalization solution at the Montornés del Vallés plant was a strategically important step for us. We not only connected our production machines to the ERP system, but at the same time enabled communication between machines. In addition to having gained a unique solution for controlling the line, we’re better able to analyze and positively influence plant efficiency in real time with the aid of artificial intelligence. We use sensors to determine the state of the line. Improvements to the operating state can be simultaneously calculated and applied based on algorithms. The ability to use our machines more efficiently allows us to keep production costs low and thus increase the competitiveness of our entire supply chain.

We’re relying mainly on the use of robots and sensors and the visualization of data and its analytical processing
Dr. Dirk Holbach, Corporate Senior Vice President International Supply Chain Laundry & Home Care
With the digital supply chain, you intend to produce and supply products faster, more efficiently, at an optimized cost, and tailored to customers’ requirements. Where do you see the greatest lever for digitalization?

Dr. Dirk Holbach: We’re relying on further automation to digitalize the supply chain – mainly the use of robots and sensors and the visualization of data and its analytical processing. We’re always trying to derive specific guidelines and to improve our cost and service KPIs. The digital transformation offers us tremendous opportunities for optimizing them across the entire supply chain, from planning and production to logistics.

To what extent are machine suppliers and third-partysuppliers willing to support the digitalization strategy of Henkel and Siemens?

Weber: Many solutions are currently available for linking systems from different vendors and enabling them to communicate with one another in real time. At Henkel, we require a database large enough to derive optimization suggestions. That’s why our OEMs need to integrate the Henkel PackML concept that was implemented in collaboration with Siemens into new machines. From our perspective, this doubles the added value. Not only can Henkel benefit from the data, but so can the suppliers. Machine data from production can reveal potential improvements that suppliers can then incorporate in the development of new machines.

For a number of years, Siemens has been a valued automation partner for Henkel. What do you expect from Siemens in terms of digitalization?

Holbach: Siemens is an established name in Germany when it comes to digitalization, which is why we’ve concluded a preferred supplier agreement. We expect Siemens to keep us informed of the latest developments in the fields of automation and digitalization and support us in implementing them. We’re assuming that Siemens will continue to invest in research and development and will also continue to be capable of developing new digital solutions and technologies in the future. This type of development permits us to improve our KPIs. We also expect more sophisticated versions of the entire Siemens ecosystem and are hoping for solutions that will enable us to use our machines, their data, and external sensor data to produce comprehensive models for depicting our production in simulation models, digital twins, and predictive maintenance

At our more than 30 plants worldwide, we collect data at over a billion data points every day, and the amount is increasing
Wolfgang Weber, Corporate Director International Engineering and Digital Transformation Laundry & Home Care
How does digitalization change the work of your operating personnel? How are Henkel employees in plants worldwide responding to this initiative?

Weber: It’s extremely important that all our employees be on board for this digital journey. Basically, all of our colleagues have responded positively to the digitalization of our business unit. They’ve noticed that work processes have not only been simplified but have also become more efficient. From the very start of our digitalization initiative, we’ve emphasized further education for our employees in the form of clear, on-site training courses with their own video channel, including training materials and regular surveys. We’ve noticed almost no cultural differences. On the contrary, what we’ve sensed in all our plants worldwide is a tremendous interest in digital tools and processes. But we did have to adapt our recruiting practices. At our more than 30 plants worldwide, we collect data at over a billion data points every day, and the amount is increasing. So we need employees with new profiles and qualifications, engineers with an affinity for digital technologies, data analysts and data scientists, as well as IT experts in the field of IIoT.

Do you have a dedicated team for developing the digitalization strategy? What might that look like?

Weber: We have a dedicated, specialized team in the supply chain of our Laundry & Home Care business unit. Naturally, we take advantage of synergy effects and coordinate closely with the supply chain organizations of the other Henkel business units. This helps to ensure that we don’t have several departments working on a solution to the same problem simultaneously.

Holbach: Our digitalization team in the Laundry & Home Care business unit comprises more than ten colleagues who work, among other places, in the Netherlands, Spain, and Singapore. Each of our sites also has a digital coordinator who’s responsible for implementing the projects on site. So at least 30 to 40 employees in our business unit are promoting the digitalization of our supply chain.

Digitalization isn’t accomplished in a single day. It’s a process that will never be completed.
Dr. Dirk Holbach, Corporate Senior Vice President International Supply Chain Laundry & Home Care
Final question: How do you rate the state of digital innovation at Henkel compared to other chemical companies?

Holbach: Digitalization is a high priority at Henkel and is part of our strategy. At conferences and meetings, we regularly take advantage of the opportunity to present the current state of our digitalization initiative in the Supply Chain department while also learning more about the activities of other companies. Over the past few months and years, we’ve already accomplished a great deal. But we also know that we still have a long way to go. Digitalization isn’t accomplished in a single day. It’s a process that will never be completed. That’s why we’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far but are also striving every day to maintain our position and become even better.

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