Networks for a greater success

We spoke to Dr. Henrik Hahn, head of Digitalization Strategy, Evonik Corporate Strategy, and Dr. Wilhelm Otten, head of the Business Line Process Technology & Engineering business line, Evonik Technology & Infrastructure.

Digital developments and the intelligent utilization of data are producing a significant change in market and competitive dynamics. Evonik also sees its transformation into a digital company as a great opportunity to stand out from the competition and position itself at the forefront of cutting-edge developments.

As part of its company strategy, in early 2016 Evonik established a new department tasked with developing a digitalization strategy. What are its core features?


Henrik Hahn: Our strategy rests on five pillars: creating a lasting digital customer experience, speed and agility, good access to external skills, consolidating and developing expertise, and, not least, a digital culture for collaborative work and situational leadership. To this end, following intensive preparations by colleagues in innovation, engineering, and IT, we put together an interdisciplinary digitalization team in early 2016 and translated the five strategy pillars into a digital agenda.


We also regularly liaise with our operational segments and functional areas. At present, we’re focusing on incubating digital business models, for example in B2B e-commerce solutions. Another area we’re looking at is the development of method knowledge. This includes technology and start-up scouting as well as developing and maintaining an external partner system.

What role will Evonik play in the development of Industrie 4.0?


Wilhelm Otten: A key element of Industrie 4.0 is the extensive networking of systems in several dimensions. Horizontally throughout the company supply chain, including production, and in the future in particular, the entire intercompany value and logistics chains. And vertically from the field level to the ERP system, and now – this is a new component – to the Internet, too. The third dimension involves networking throughout the lifecycle of an asset. This networking makes our planning and production processes in the chemical industry more effective, efficient and, of great importance in the future, more flexible. Evonik is conducting technology projects in all of these areas to allow us to exploit the benefits of these new technologies. We follow the relevant NAMUR recommendations and support the introduction of standards like FDI (field device integration). In addition, we’ve initiated the development of a “module-type package” for the specification and integration of complete units and modules in automation systems. And we’re also working to apply the principles of integrated engineering to our planning processes. Another aim is to increase production flexibility, and so we have gotten involved in the “F3 Factory” project. We achieve flexibility by configuring our systems using modules that are easy to replace. We intend to go a step further than the F3 initiative with our strategic project titled “Next level of modular readiness.” This is the starting point for our third strategic project. Based on the SIDAP project funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and NAMUR recommendation 161, “Remote Operation Basics,” we intend to develop pilot applications to show the safety and efficiency benefits that can be generated for our production processes using remote operation. 

How are you approaching these new issues?


Otten: What’s important is finding the right partners.  Siemens, for instance, is a strategic partner for automation engineering, and we work with them on many common issues: for example, on the DEXPI initiative, on modular systems, and on automation solutions for our major plants. In all the three dimensions noted above – the asset lifecycle, the supply chain, and vertical integration – Siemens offers a wealth of expertise and solutions. Especially when it comes to innovative topics, trust is also a major factor, so it’s a great advantage that we’ve already been working closely with Siemens for a long time.

How digital is your business at present?


Otten: Not all the digital topics are new to us. Take, for example, the Process Technology and Engineering business line that I head. We develop and implement virtual plant simulators in this field and have effected advanced process control in our major processes. For more than 20 years, we’ve also had a group that conducts data analyses in both production and other areas. At Evonik Technology & Infrastructure GmbH, our services practically cover the entire asset lifecycle and supply chain and we have all operational IT and automation applications in our unit. That makes it all a lot easier for us.

How will digitalization affect the company and its employees?


Hahn: Digitalization will make our employees’ work easier. It functions as a tool to increase work efficiency and productivity, and it opens up opportunities for employees to act constructively both within and beyond their own areas of work. As a result, the importance of digital skills will continue to grow. As a company, we see primarily six digital trends that are of key significance to the various issues we face: data analytics, mobility, the Internet of Things, the Cloud, security, and collaboration. Beyond this, we are also seeing a marked trend toward personalization in the B2B environment. We’re at the forefront of a genuinely cutting-edge field and are thus creating new growth opportunities in a stable company that is ideally positioned to address the future.

Are there also risks associated with this trend?


Hahn: Digitalization affects the entire value chain – from the producer to the supplier and ulti¬mately the consumer. That naturally brings up the critical issue of what data can I share with whom, and why? When we utilize and make data available across companies, the issues of knowledge and data protection are of course central. For me, that’s why data are not the key issue here – trust is the real currency of the digital age.


Picture credits: Evonik Industries AG


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