Thierry Van Eeckhout (Siemens Digital Industries): “Digital twinning is a lever for co-creation”
“Logistics is an important activity in our society. It plays a pivotal role, and benefits from continuous evolution through new applications and technologies. That’s why Siemens is proud to support Log!Ville as a Foundation Partner,” explains Thierry Van Eeckhout, Vice President Sales at Siemens Digital Industries Belgium-Luxembourg. He shares with us his vision for innovation, digitalisation and sustainability, including the role he envisages for Log!Ville.
Siemens AG, which has head offices in Berlin and Munich, is a technology company focusing on industry, infrastructure, transport and health care. It operates in approximately 190 countries around the globe and has about 303,000 employees. “Siemens sees logistics and intralogistics as a key pillar of its business activities,” explains Van Eeckhout. “With our ecosystem of partners, we focus on the interaction between many typical logistics and intralogistics applications, such as self-driving vehicles, stacker cranes, transport and sorting systems, and so on. Our digital software platforms play a special role in generating added value, from the design phase to the operational management of the applications. We are also the first user of these solutions, across our more than 200 manufacturing sites.”
“Our Digital Industries division is a principal partner of Log!Ville. Together with Siemens Mobility, we’re committed to digitalisation and automation in industry, and logistics and intralogistics are a key part of that. What sets us apart is how comprehensive our solutions are: we strongly believe in a holistic approach, which means we offer both software and hardware, and focus on products and processes as much as performance. ‘Digital twins’ play a particularly important role in this regard.”
As Van Eeckhout explains, the logistics sector is facing many challenges. “Automation and digitalisation provide most of the answers. So it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing more and more robots, cobots, AGVs, autonomous forklifts and multifunctional conveyors – often combined – emerging in this area. For example, simulations based on digital twins can help to quickly find the right combination for optimum performance inside an existing building. In addition, application-specific IoT structures and algorithms can help prevent unplanned downtime. Cutting-edge technologies such as blockchain and 5G are also quickly catching on.”
According to Van Eeckhout, Siemens could design solutions itself, but finds it beneficial to work with partners. “AGVs are on the rise. Siemens does not have any in its portfolio yet, but with co-creation, we can offer logistics companies optimal solutions in this area.”
“The more partners you have in a co-creation project, the more important it is to have a solid ‘data backbone’. Siemens takes a holistic approach: we use digital twins for product, production and performance alike. This enables us and our partners to shorten our development processes and respond more quickly to new trends in the market.”
Van Eeckhout has identified five major trends that are putting pressure on the market: expectations around delivery timeframes, the increasing importance of ‘elastic logistics’, sustainability requirements, last-mile setups and the rise of performance-based contracting.
“Take sustainability requirements, for example. Logistics chains are increasingly exposed to them: stricter regulations are putting pressure on manufacturers to drastically reduce the emissions from their production, logistics and intralogistics infrastructure. Here, too, digital twins offer advantages. They allow us to develop processes that are as energy-efficient as possible, and at the same time improve overall functioning. We are firmly convinced that technology will serve as a lever to help achieve sustainability objectives.” In this regard, he is thinking not just about a more intelligent use of energy, but also areas such as ergonomics. “Employee wellbeing is part of sustainability. Simulations allow us to simulate and adapt operations.”
More and more ‘pearls’
“Locally, we’re strongly committed to co-creation with Belgian companies,” says Van Eeckhout. “These could be machine manufacturers, or they could be logistics companies (3PL) or end clients. By working with them, we integrate different systems to create a better whole, thus developing ecosystems with a wide range of parties. Many businesses first have to be convinced that by working on solutions alone, they are wasting time and resources. However, with the right mindset, they quickly see that collaboration can improve their offering, help them cope better with increasing complexity, and help them position themselves more quickly in the market.”
Incidentally, Van Eeckhout notes that in the area of innovation, Belgian companies have well and truly overcome their initial reluctance. “Until recently they were lagging behind, but they have certainly caught up now. We should be proud: more and more companies are consciously embracing innovation by developing new business models, and are using, or even developing, cutting-edge technologies such as robots, cobots and much more. We are too modest: like other countries, Belgium too has pearls, which, thanks in part to co-creation, are achieving increasing international success.”
Log!Ville as an innovative ecosystem
“That is also one of the reasons why we wanted to become a Foundation Partner of Log!Ville, and why we are still working with them,” says Van Eeckhout. “Were convinced that this ecosystem, with its numerous innovations in hardware and software, not only motivates companies to get on board the innovation train, but also inspires them through the sharing of knowledge. We will continue to promote this ecosystem idea in our booth. In our booth, not only do we display functioning hardware and simulations, and use multimedia to make our software as tangible as possible, we also demonstrate solutions we have developed with other partners.”
Van Eeckhout says that the latter kind of demonstration is becoming more common. “As I said earlier, the market and technology are evolving rapidly. That is a challenge for Log!Ville, in the sense that the demonstration centre must be able to pick up on these new trends and innovations more quickly. Opening up displays to more solutions that have been developed collaboratively will therefore start to play more of a role.”