With the deep integration of the new generation of information technology and manufacturing industry, and the digital transformation and upgrading, digitalization is currently intensively filling every link of production and manufacturing. Under this background, ZNT, the industrial automation integration platform solution supplier, continues to move forward to the industry's cutting-edge with a variety of cutting-edge Application Benchmark products. In this CEO interview, ZNT shared the development experience, opportunities and challenges of ZNT digital empowerment, as well as its vision and planning for the whole industry.
Q: As an industry-leading supplier of equipment automation platform solutions for realizing Industry 4.0, ZNT has accumulated lots of practical experience and provides innovative software solutions for enabling smart manufacturing. Please share your company's recent development status.
A: While providing solutions to the manufacturing industry since 1985, especially the recent years have meant a rapid acceleration for our business model in many ways. ZNT originally started with equipment automation solutions primarily for the semiconductor industry. To address Industry 4.0 demands, we expanded our key focus first into Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) over the last years and now even further with a horizontal product extension into the field of entire Manufacturing Operations Management solutions (MOM) providing Advanced Planning and Scheduling functionality (APS) as well as a vertical extension into the Product Lifecycle Management space (PLM).
In the beginning we specifically targeted semiconductor companies still operating disconnected manufacturing system environments and helped them into a smarter world, with first steps for data integration and equipment automation to reduce manual and paper-based work in the manufacturing process and later on with introducing smart manufacturing solutions. Meanwhile many other industries have been facing the same manufacturing challenges and we have expanded in industries such as high-tech electronics, medical device and newly also batteries.
With this expansion in our product portfolio and target industries ZNT has been continuously growing and now operates eight global sites, four of them in Asia with the newest ones in Shanghai and Taiwan. This enables us to support global accounts with their digital transformation and execute more and more multi-site cross regional factory rollouts based on our grown portfolio and manpower.
Q: ZNT has been focusing on the field of semiconductors and high-tech electronics and is committed to helping customers solve production pain points and enhance the real value of production. Please explain ZNT's achievements in such industries as well as the value ZNT can provide for production optimization based on its industry experience.
A: ZNT definitely had a strong influence on software development for equipment automation in the semiconductor industry in the last 40 years and provides with the Process Automation Controller (PAC) product one of the leading integration platforms today. Our PAC helped many enterprises to optimize their production processes with data integration, equipment automation and an overall more effective use of their manufacturing resources.
We haven't only cooperated closely with many well-known semiconductor manufacturers in the world for many years, but assisted enterprises in their industrial transformation and reaching the next level of production. In cooperation with a well-known semiconductor packaging company ZNT helped such company to establish a comprehensive and transparent smart manufacturing platform based on Siemens Opcenter Execution MES and our PAC. With such systems in place, the customer heavily increased the speed for new product introductions (NPI) as well as improved quality and cost control.
In the high-tech electronics space we helped another customer connecting his manufacturing silos and disconnected systems by implementing an end-to-end solution starting from design over engineering to manufacturing. In this case we implemented the Valor solution which is also part of the Siemens Digital Software portfolio resulting in making Customer's NPI much easier and optimizing manufacturing processes with several SMT-lines increasing the overall equipment efficiency (OEE). These are good examples of providing future-proofen solution platforms enabling customers to setup and follow strategic digitalization initiatives to transform and adapt their business to reach the next level.
Q: Which opportunities and challenges do you think domestic manufacturers are encountering? How can they increase the grade of industrial automation and accelerate the transformation to smart manufacturing for enhancing their competitive advantages?
A: At present, the global economy is experiencing unprecedented challenges, also still under the impact of the epidemic. The manufacturing industry is essential for China's national economy. In order to promote the rapid development of the national economy, the government has issued many preferential policies to strongly support the digital transformation and further growth of the manufacturing industry. At the same time market demands increase faster than ever before; Robust supply chains have been taken for granted and now seem to become more and more fragile. Recruiting talented workers is getting more difficult while labor costs increase. Many manufacturers face a major challenge to keep pace with these trends and market development.
As a result many domestic Manufacturers have to speed up their NPI and at the same time have to meet higher quality and zero defect requirements as well as traceability demands, especially in regulated industries like Medical Devices, Automotive or Aerospace. In addition, more and more enterprises in the supply chain require manufacturing audits which can hardly be passed with a traditional paper-based production or disconnected manufacturing systems. At the same time these challenges offer great opportunities for domestic Manufacturers to start embracing the process of digitalization and automation in order to to accelerate transformation and to reach the next level of manufaturing.
An efficient short-term solution is to implement an MES to eliminate the paper-based documentation. This immediately helps to reduce scrap while increasing manufacturing efficiency and cost control. Although a MES is a solid base companies have to continue their investments to fully integrate all their manufacturing systems and data.
Nevertheless, our experience clearly shows that in order to sustain in the future companies have to look at a wholistic digitalization strategy to achieve an entire digital thread. It is most effective to select a provider which offers an integrated manufacturing solution portfolio that matches such strategy. A future-proofen software environment for supporting smart design and manufacturing has at least to consist of products in the field of PLM, simulation, MOM including equipment automaton, quality and analytics that are fully integrated to each other. Such solution scope will be the base for further transformation and enable companies to keep up with any market demands. The implementation does not have to be done all at once but can be done step by step always keeping the overall goal in mind.
Q: The epidemic has swept around the world, and due to the lack of chips a solid semiconductor supply chain has become a big challenge for many industries, especially for automotive. What learnings and opportunities do you think the epidemic has brought to enterprise transformation?
A: Manufacturers were used to rely on robust global supply chains with transport capacities and parts being always available. Skilled workforce was on hand as were new equipment and spare parts for maintenance. They started to optimize their purchase for example by ordering high volume parts from only a single source or like the automotive industry with just-in-time deliveries to the production lines to meet growing market demands and increasing cost pressure. With the epidemic spreading around the world most supply chains have been disrupted which led to shortages especially in the field of semiconductor and electronic components. Especially the automotive industry being in the midst of a transformation process to develop and produce more electric cars has been severely hit with its optimized supply chain and purchasing processes.
We have been observing several learnings in the manufacturing industry over the last two and a half years and many companies also seized new opportunities. For us the epidemic meant a strong demand for our solution portfolio in the field of digitalization, smart manufacturing and automation. Talking about specific solutions we supported our customers by adding functionality and value to their solutions. For example the product BOM-Connector as a part of our electronics offering helps purchasing departments to get more accurate quotes for electronic components much quicker and therefore consolidating the current fragile supply chain. By using Opcenter APS functions of our MOM solution production managers can balance demand and capacity to generate achievable production schedules. They regain some flexibility and can produce more while using existing assets. With our long-term MES expertise we helped many customers for example to reduce their scrap and increase quality leading to a better OEE.
Especially in the semiconductor and electronics market it became obvious that enterprises with a higher level of automation overcame the epidemic much better. Also the demand for our PAC equipment integration platform has been growing significantly based on the very good experiences of our solid installation base at many leading enterprises in the semiconductor market. PAC bridges the gap between MES and shopfloor providing and executing relevant data in both directions. Advanced automation scenarios imply less dependency on the workforce while achieving a high level of automated manufacturing operations.
Q: As 5G accelerates the Internet of Everything, digital transformation has become a development axis that companies in the Chinese market focus on. From your observation and practical experience, what does "digital transformation" mean to you and the industry?
A: For us the goal of digital transformation processes is to achieve the entire digital twin from design to production. Today it's possible to plan the entire manufacturing process in a fully virtual environment. From designing the layout to visualizing material flows and possible bottlenecks on to simulating the PLC code for the automation hardware. This helps to test and optimize new production lines in order to reduce time, effort, and risk for the real commissioning.
We already talked about fully integrated systems and the digital thread which allows manufacturing companies to implement closed loop manufacturing from PLM to the shopfloor. Digitalization for us also means to achieve a deeper integration of the shopfloor. While many enterprises have started to collect data from the shopfloor as a first step we have been implementing basic and advanced automation solutions with PAC which provide a much higher level of equipment control.
Being early involved in digitalization standardization initiatives like Industry 4.0 we always had a look at the big picture instead of focusing on particular solutions. To our experience this is most important to us as a solution provider and the industry. Today you need an overall digital transformation strategy. You need to involve cross-functional teams and experts including engineering and production specialists. As a solution provider we internally encouraged and empowered our teams to increase their collaboration and share their knowledge allowing us to discuss overall strategies with customers and prospects.
For the industry it's even more difficult. Although they are aware of the need for digital transformation it's much more difficult to define strategies and to transform while maintaining their actual production capabilities during an economic crisis. There is always a liability to look for quick wins but there should be a clear focus on a mid-term digitalization roadmap. This means to determine a precise status of your manufacturing systems and resources. The goal of a digital thread can only be achieved if companies gradually replace outdated and disconnected systems. Second they also need to look at their workforce to hire or qualify skilled resources.
Q: China has released its "Made in China 2025" policy, and the domestic manufacturing industry is in urgent need of accelerating its digital transformation. As a solution provider for smart manufacturing, how can you help domestic manufacturers to actively transform? Please share your recent local success stories.
A: While operating sites in Asia for more than 20 years and with an own site in Shanghai opened in 2019 we have the experience as well as the manpower to support the domestic manufacturing industry with accelerating its digital transformation. Looking at 40 years of ZNT's history, most of our projects in high-tech industries have always been about digitalization. ZNT has a very experienced implementation and development team offering a flexible and professional solution approach resulting in a high customer satisfaction.
Under our worldwide partnerships with Siemens Industry Software including a technology and service partnership we leverage the global experience for the China market which brings significant advantages to our trusted customers whom we are cooperating with long-term. Our teams and Siemens can tap on mutual resources for delivering successful projects in our target industries.
As such, in China's emerging semiconductor market, a number of semiconductor manufacturing companies including well-known companies e.g. in Shaoxing, Yangzhou and Qingdao, are benefiting already from our industry experience and trustful cooperation. Another example is a world-leading high-tech glass and ceramics manufacturing group, with whom we entered into a strategic cooperation not long ago and thereby also helped such customer to move forward in his digitalization strategy by implementing the Siemens and ZNT products.
Thus, our team feels ready and is very motivated to continue supporting the domestic manufacturing industry in its urgent need of accelerating its digital transformation.
ZNT CEO Bernhard Marsoner
Aaron Chou, ZNT's general manager of Greater China