Munich The industrial metaverse is the big topic of the future for many companies. With the help of digital twins, processes in the factories can be mapped virtually and optimized using simulations. However, it is often difficult to quickly implement all the knowledge gained from the cloud.
“On a minor model change, car factories are shut down for another two and a half days until all machines are reprogrammed,” said Josef Waltl, head and co-founder of Software Defined Automation (SDA). “We need to reprogram the machines much faster and more reliably.”
Automation technicians – and there are far too few of them – are often still on the road with laptops in the factory halls and carry out updates directly on the control cabinet. There is still a great need for digitization on the last mile in the factories.
Henkel is SDA’s first major pilot customer
To make machine controls faster and easier to configure, SDA has developed a platform between the factory and the cloud, on which machines and applications from established providers can dock. “We make the processes in automated factories completely flexible and adaptable within minutes,” says co-founder Axel Scheurer.
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The company calls the approach with which it sells its solutions “Industrial Control as a Service”. Customers therefore pay a fixed fee for use. SDA has secured its first major pilot customer with the Persil manufacturer Henkel, which is applying the technology in its factories.
Now they have also convinced investors in the first major financing round. The start-up from Garching near Munich raised ten million dollars. Most of this comes from lead investor Insight Partners. Also participating are Baukunst VC, Fly Ventures and First Momentum, which had already invested in a smaller round at the end of last year.
The potential market is large, the founders believe. “If we connected just half a percent of all the controls in the world, we’d have a good chance of a unicorn being valued in the billions,” says Waltl. In the medium term, a turnover in the millions is the goal. If you assert yourself in the market, you can do much more. “We occupy a niche in which we are alone so far.” Customer interest is high.
Despite the triumph of the Internet of Things in recent years, productivity in factories has not increased as much as promised. “There is a performance problem in the last few feet in the factory building – and we want to fix that,” says Waltl.
The company does not see itself as a competitor to automation specialists such as Siemens or Rockwell, but as a complement. The digitization of industry has shown that closed systems do not work. And so everyone works with everyone.
However, it is not yet clear who will ultimately secure the bulk of the added value. For example, Siemens could bring solutions for simpler machine control to the market. According to a senior Siemens executive, the goal of Industry 4.0 is to automate the smallest possible quantities. This requires that the machines can be easily reprogrammed.
So it is quite possible that Siemens and other competitors will develop their own solutions. “We estimate that we have a technology lead of about a year and a half in connecting controllers from different vendors,” said SDA co-founder Waltl. The proceeds from the financing round will be used to further develop the technology.
The founders of SDA have the advantage that they know the subject from many angles. Both previously worked for Siemens, Waltl also worked for the major cloud players Microsoft and AWS.
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