Raoul Wijgergangs is EnOcean's CEO, succeeding co-founder Andreas Schneider. In this role, Wijgergangs will further expand EnOcean's position in the field of battery-free radio technology and wireless solutions for the Internet of Things.
Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art industrial-networking technology.
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: EnOcean has pioneered IoT for commercial buildings for decades. This is a different space than industrial IoT, but it also has similarities for certain applications. When installing IoT sensors in office buildings, some of them receive power and communicate through wires. However, the demand for wireless sensors is increasing and there are different reasons for that. Sometimes wired sensors are just not an option, for example, when retrofitting older buildings. In other cases, wired sensors simply make more sense.
When wireless sensors are used, the question of how to power them needs to be resolved first. In the consumer space, batteries are a quick answer but they are not a real option for commercial spaces, or the industrial networking space, because replacing batteries at a large scale is highly impractical. Companies would need to employ people simply to replace all the batteries, which is both highly time-consuming and cost-consuming.
EnOcean has a completely different approach: The company has pioneered the space of energy-harvesting wireless sensors where energy is derived from the surroundings such as temperature differences, light and movement, meaning that these sensors function completely maintenance-free without the need for batteries.
EnOcean has also united many of its customers and partners in the EnOcean Alliance where a wealth of different sensors can be found that are the perfect fit for the wide variety of applications on the market.
Finally, Enocean has also developed an IT infrastructure hand in hand with Aruba Networks where the data from the wireless sensors are securely and uniformly communicated to the cloud. We call this portion of our value proposition the IoTC, which stands for IoT Connector. This technology allows building managers and network managers to use the Wi-Fi access points from Aruba, which are widely used in professional environments, as a base station and the carrier of the Internet protocol for all the data.
What have been the biggest improvements to industrial-networking technology in the past five years?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: Industrial networking has traditionally had a strong focus on failsafe, redundant, wired, closed systems. These systems are still needed, but, in addition, there is a call for data-gathering sensors that can help with challenges such as predictive maintenance, AI data collection and sensing where wired sensing was simply not feasible before, thus augmenting the traditional systems that industrial networking is so well known for. Similar developments have happened for smart homes and smart offices in the past decade. Only now security, power budgets and robustness are at the levels that they can also be leveraged in industrial environments.
What’s the most innovative or efficient industrial-networking technology application you’ve ever seen or been involved with?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: The application of predictive maintenance is a compelling one that has been evolving over the past three years. Many devices will get warmer than usual before they eventually start failing. I am talking about many mechanical devices, but also motors as an example. Using temperature as a proxy for predictive maintenance is a very valuable and compelling application. Let’s say the motor of a conveyer system normally operates between 85 and 105 °F and slowly the sensors start showing temperatures of 115 or 130 °F. This is when you know this motor is likely going to fail over the next week. With this information the motor can be replaced in between shifts. This ensures that the workers can do their usual work during the shift and, eventually, that customers will get their goods on time.
How has industrial-networking technology benefitted from remote monitoring and connectivity?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: With devices, sensors and actuators becoming smart, a lot has happened. Certain environments are incredibly difficult to reach, like oil and gas applications or our power grid. If there is something wrong with the IoT devices, these smart applications now allow us to remotely verify the operation or, for example, potentially correct a software bug. Before, manual intervention by a specialist who needed to be flown in was necessary, losing precious time and money in the process.
Can you explain how software development has changed industrial-networking technology design and production?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: In the early days of IoT, it was about “now we can do this, now we can do that.” It was more about what a technology or a product could enable. As time evolved, this notion has shifted much more toward “in order for IoT to be a useful utility for industrial applications, it would need to become more robust or it should be able to operate without batteries.” These are very hard quests, and they do take more time to develop than products in the smart home. I am very glad to see that we as an IoT industry are embracing these very hard challenges, now also enabling new application areas such as industrial IoT.
How do industrial-networking technologies figure into digital-twin platform models being used by manufacturers?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: Digital twins are incredibly powerful tools to remotely determine what is going on on-site. Being able to simulate, test, improve and supervise costly and complex systems allows for better and faster deployments and stepwise improvements over time.
When will industrial-networking technology become IT-friendly enough that engineers are no longer required for installation and operation?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: I am not sure if this would be desired. Many environments are of the nature that they are dangerous for people if you don’t know in detail what is going on. Robotic arms, conveyer belts, self-driving robots and high-voltage switches are not places where you would like to send, or are even allowed to send, people who are not certified for the job. I am sure that there are some places where uncertified installers can do a certain job, but, for the most part, I believe that certified, trained engineers will be key to install IoT devices. It is the environment that determines this, not so much the IoT sensors.
What future innovations will impact the use of industrial-networking technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?
Raoul Wijgergangs, CEO, EnOcean: Data science/AI are going hand-in-hand with IoT sensors and actuators. You need lots of data points to use AI and machine learning. These two emerging industries are making tremendous progress. They will jointly enable entirely new developments, new manufacturing, new distribution, new logistics and many other elements of our value chains. We are only seeing the beginning stages of innovations in this space and it will be an amazing industry to be part of for decades to come.