The strategy of innovation-driven development
Inherit the past and forge ahead into the future – rapid respond to market requirements
In retrospect, Beckhoff opened its first representative office in Beijing in 2001. In May 2007, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Beckhoff in China was established in Shanghai. In 2019, Beckhoff China’s head office moved into a new five storey building with over 4000 sq m of usable floor space. In addition, a warehouse and a logistics center with a total floor space of 2,200 sq m along with a 400 sq m service center were set up near the main building. So, the total area is 6600 sq m.
On the first floor of the building, a modern 450 sq m showroom gives an overview of the comprehensive range of products and solutions from Beckhoff with state-of-the-art multimedia support. It is the largest showroom of Beckhoff worldwide. Beckhoff China currently employs 280 people and is presented in 27 large and medium-sized cities. It has maintained a growth of 19 % in turnover over the past five years and has become an important technology and market leader in the field of industrial automation in China.
Ma Xingkai, who joined the Beckhoff Group in Germany in 2006 and was later made in charge of Beckhoff China’s wind business, is a witness to the development and growth of Beckhoff’s business in China. He points out that helping customers realize value increase with continuous product and technology innovations is key to the success of Beckhoff China.
In addition, the direct sales system, which distinguishes Beckhoff China from its many competitors, allows Beckhoff to be physically closer to its customers, to understand their demands, to discover market opportunities, to carry out research and development activities and to adjust business direction in time. The success in the Chinese wind energy sector is a typical example of how quickly Beckhoff China can respond to the market needs. Through the establishment of a local wind team in China, Beckhoff opened up the Chinese wind power market.
The C-based Control makes it possible to integrate operational management, pitch control, inverter control, condition monitoring, and visualization on a single CPU, which represents a proven system solution and can effectively improve the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of wind energy utilization.
The continually promoted localization strategy is a guarantee to help Chinese customers quickly experience the innovative value of Beckhoff in a wide range of areas, such as laser cutting systems for the sheet metal working industry, real-time control solutions for the semiconductor industry, mechatronic control platforms for the packaging industry and tobacco machines.
Beckhoff China has promoted the digital and intelligent development of traditional industries with comprehensive PC-based control solutions, providing effective support for enhancing the self-innovation capabilities of Chinese enterprises and shortening the gap between China's equipment manufacturing industry and the international advanced level.
In 2014, Ethercat – the real-time Industrial Ethernet technology became a recommended national standard (GB/T31230-2014) in China. In December 2015, Ethercat was compiled in the ‘Guidelines of the National Intelligent Manufacturing Standard System’ by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology of the People's Republic of China, providing important support for intelligent manufacturing.
According to Hans Beckhoff, automation technology has to be very user-friendly and at the same time will also become increasingly sophisticated, a development which can be seen worldwide. China’s market is very large, it grows quickly and is developing as one of the leading technology markets. It features a diversity of manufacturing sectors and covers a wide range of fields. So, it’s particularly important to provide effective technical support and build long-term relationships with customers.
In the past, Chinese customers did not have many preferences and were more concerned with economic and practical issues, operating habits and technological friendliness. They prefer automation suppliers to provide complete solutions and to get the machines running as quickly as possible. These conditions have changed in recent years, for example, many Chinese customers in diverse industries including wind energy, new energy vehicles and lithium batteries have begun to lay emphasis on technological innovations and seek equipment differentiation.
Hans Beckhoff mentions that Beckhoff Automation has made a major decision to localize production in China in order to increase production capacities, improve market response and drive automation technology in China! With the openness and flexibility of its products and technologies, Beckhoff is able to promote digital innovation and contribute to the high-quality development of China’s manufacturing industry.
Innovation-driven industrial green development
Worldwide, Beckhoff Automation has achieved a strong growth in sales since 2000, with an impressive average annual growth rate of 14 %, innovation is the driving force behind this rapid growth. Hans Beckhoff emphasizes that "quality and innovation of automation products determine people's living standard and innovation is our responsibility. We are saying that the engineers have to save the world!”
This is deeply true because the engineers have to provide all the technology advancements which are needed to reduce the consumption of material and energy in production. And the reduction is needed urgently, because more and more people want to live at a higher standard without sacrificing our wonderful planet earth. Beckhoff introduces evolutionary and new improved developments in all its product ranges, every year, which allows customers to optimize their machines for higher efficiency!
“But the real fun is to invent new revolutionary automation products which really change the way of doing automation and almost every 5-7 years, we successfully release new automation principles. This is one of the reasons for customers worldwide to use Beckhoff automation technology! We also think that the control of machines should be as powerful and intelligent as possible, because this helps them to run faster, smoother and more efficiently, which leads once again to a better economic performance, which is the original intention of our technological development. We improve our products, enhance the functionality and optimize the price/performance ratio,” shares Hans Beckhoff.
The persistence of innovation originated from Hans Beckhoff’s deep understanding of technological values. Beckhoff Automation has always been at the forefront of industrial innovation: from stepping off the beaten path to choosing PC-based control technology in the early days of the company, the development and introduction of the Ethercat communication protocol and the gigabit extensions – Ethercat G and G10, at 1 Gbit/s and 10 Gbit/s respectively, realization of modular value chain integration via the Twincat software, through to the XFC (extreme Fast Control) technology and XTS extended Transport System and the extended Xplanar planar motor system.
At Hannover Messe Digital 2021, Beckhoff demonstrated industrial PCs with more powerful multi-processors, new I/O signal types as well as bus terminals optimized in terms of performance and cost. Additional highlights included the newly expanded motor series in the standard rotary as well as in the linear range and associated drives, exciting expansions in XTS and Xplanar motion systems.
Beckhoff had also announced the integration of Machine Learning (ML) into the Twincat 3 automation software. Last year, Beckhoff had an effective beta phase and a very successful market launch. "Our automation architecture is based on different engineering departments: I/O, industrial PCs, motion control, software and system integration. Beckhoff has a large R&D team and we are investing about 8 % of our turnover into R&D each year. Besides I/O, motion and software Beckhoff is also a deeply integrated IPC manufacturer. Every motherboard is developed and manufactured inhouse. Every year, the latest embedded Intel and AMD platforms are integrated as upgrades into existing IPCs or are the base for new IPC products lines. Long term availability is achieved by this inhouse strategy and has, in addition to high performance and high quality, a high value for many customers," explained Hans Beckhoff.
Innovation in business models is equally important. According to Hans Beckhoff, Beckhoff Automation has already developed its service business for helping customers achieve value enhancement through data analysis and industry experience. Almost any Beckhoff control can be directly connected to the internet and cloud. This is the base for many Beckhoff customers to develop their service business strategy.
‘Add on’ software functions may be sold and installed on the machine controls, and the Beckhoff analytics-logger and analyzer functions allow a complete remote monitoring of the machine. The ‘flight recorder’ function for a machine is very helpful to optimize the machine or in case of trouble shooting. The rapid development of networking technology allows cloud-based control concepts to meet the requirements of stability and real-time. Beckhoff deploys virtual controllers on servers or even on virtual machines in the cloud to distribute tasks according to the customers’ application requirements to realize efficient remote control.
Beckhoff has already prepared a new business model for the industry’s future. The overall software-based approach from Beckhoff is based on its control software package Twincat which may be used on a local IPC directly at the machine. Because of the ‘software only’ concept, the same control software can also be installed in the cloud and may serve as a ‘cloud-based PLC’, or a ‘PLC on demand’, a concept which opens a lot of new application ideas.
Sustainable development is also an important direction for Beckhoff's innovations. Ma Xingkai stated that the Chinese Government has made a solemn commitment to "reach peak CO2 emissions by 2030 and work towards achieving carbon neutrality by 2060". At the same time, China has also set a clear goal of “lowering the country’s carbon dioxide emissions per unit of GDP by more than 65 % from the 2005 level by 2030”. The 14th Five-Year Plan is also determined to continue to promote the development of renewable energy.
Beckhoff China will grasp the strategic direction of sustainable development and further expand key industries such as wind energy, lithium battery, photovoltaic and intelligent building. The PC-based automation and control technology from Beckhoff enables more cost-effective use of green energy.
At the end of the interview, Ma Xingkai emphasized that China offers huge market potential and China’s automation market will continue to prosper in the post-pandemic era. Beckhoff China will pay close attention to national development policies, insist on and strengthen localization development strategies, expand the customer service network, enhance business coverage, improve technical services, promote the implementation of digital development and intelligent manufacturing, contribute to the transformation and upgrading of China's manufacturing industry, and continue to create outstanding value for customers in the cognitive practice of exploring the future of the industry.
* The author is Editor in Chief of MM Automation & Drive (China)