The Factory 4.0 is taking on shape, and Germany is undoubtedly playing a pioneering role here – not least with the established player Siemens, which is still considered the leader for the “operating system of the Smart Factory”.

But also young companies are pushing into this dynamic market. Let’s take a look at 7 promisng start-ups that are shaping the future of Factory 4.0. Focus: Start-ups in Germany. Focus: Young companies (not older than 7 years).

Scoutbee

The production workflow in any factory begins with the supply of components and raw material; this is where the StartUp Scoutbee comes in. Using an AI-based approach, it provides an efficient supplier search, and it delivers comprehensive market information. In the podcast Handelsblatt Disrupt you can listen to a nice interview with the co-founder Gregor Stühler (the interview is in German, though; episode 37, 24.01.2020).

Foundation in 2015. In Wuerzburg. Website: scoutbee.com

AR Experts GmbH

Smart Factory does not mean that production is fully automated – without human involvement. Of course it isn’t. Engineers, service technicians, assembly technicians, cobots etc. have their place in Factory 4.0. On the official Factory-56 page of Daimler the head of Mercedes is quoted as having said: “The know-how, flexibility and high motivation of the employees are the key to success for Mercedes-Benz – especially in times of transformation and digitalization. That’s why Mercedes-Benz is reducing the level of automation in the ‘Factory 56’.”

However, there will be quite a lot of change for those working in such smart factories. To begin with: The training of employees as well as the provision of work instructions. Augmented Reality (AR) will become the “new normal”. At WalMart employees are trained with AR, at Porsche and BMW the workshops are equipped with AR. The newly founded company AR Experts GmbH offers an easy way to generate AR-based training videos and make them available for use. The claim: “Capture and distribute ready-to-use language-independent workflows within 90 seconds.”

Foundation in 2019. In Stuttgart. Website: ar-experts.de

Cedalo AG

The name of the founder, Kristian Raue, will ring a bell with many readers. The serial entrepreneur already built up the successful company Jedox AG that provides Business Intelligence (BI) Solutions. And while I was still a Consultant at KMPG (roughly a decade ago), I met Mr. Raue personally in a Workshop on the software from Jedox.

He has now launched a further company, Cedalo AG. Anyone who knows Jedox (with the product PALO) – even anyone who is familiar with MS Excel – will feel instantly familiar with the way a user operates the software Cedalo: The so-called Streamsheets have the Look&Feel of Excel. And the domain expert can establish a connection to data streams (or stored data) with just a few clicks – instead of writing code. Users can easly tap Sensor data and transform it, users can create diagrams, even rules can be created that would trigger off alarms or warnings. The Software can handles protocols such as MQTT, AMQP, REST or OPC UA.

Clearly, the StartUp has a head start: Kristian Raue can place his new offer directly with thousands of international customers who already use PALO (and who – without much training – can start right away to use the software).

Foundation in 2017. In Freiburg. Website: cedalo.com/

Actyx

The Actyx Operating System for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)in the Smart Factory creates a peer-to-peer network: The software is installed on all edge devices. This approach differs from IIoT architectures that run via central servers on the edge (more rarely: cloud servers). Customers: PERI (see following testimonial video), Sto or Klöckner & Co..

Foundation in 2016. In Munich. Website: www.actyx.com

Devicebase

The company Devicebase wants to become the “Wikipedia” for IoT Products, and thus provide an overview on user experience, compatibility / incompatibilities and more. Smart Home and Smart Factory are comparatively new fields of application, where (potential) users look for guidance and orientation. This is especially true as incompatibilities in the IoT infrastructure hamper the implementation of the Smart Home and the Smart Factory. Although Amazon, Apple and Google had agreed end of 2019 on a new open standard to simplify connecting IoT devices, it is still a way to go: It will still take several years before these standards actually reach the smart home market: The working group (which includes IKEA and others) first wants to define the specifications by the end of 2020 and present a first reference implementation.

Foundation in 2015. In Munich. Website: devicebase.net

Erium

The fairly young StartUp Erium addresses one of the core challenges for the digitization of the German economy: There’s a shortage in skilled IT workers, there’s simply not enough data scientists. Therefore, Erium offers an analysis kit for domain experts (who do not necessarily have the knowhow of a data scientist) to analyze and – based on the evaluations – optimize production processes with a minimum of data (even: incomplete data). With the product of Erium one can create models, test hypotheses and define relevant influencing parameters. Admidst the clients of Erium: BMW, FESTO. Besides, there is also a good podcast on the website about Machine Learning.

Foundation in 2019. In Munich. Website: erium.de/

Rhebo

The company Rhebo is focused on cyber security for industrial plants, and therefore belongs in the context of Factory 4.0. The company offers software for monitoring as well as anomaly detection in industrial networks. The analysis of the data traffic goes very deep, not only identifying unusual communication patterns, but also analyzing the communication on the level of the data packets themselves for cyber threat indicators (“deep packet inspection technology”).

Foundation in 2014. In Leipzig. Webeite: rhebo.com

Sebastian Zang
Author

The author is a manager in the software industry with international expertise: Authorized officer at one of the large consulting firms - Responsible for setting up an IT development center at the Bangalore offshore location - Director M&A at a software company in Berlin.