Take stock of the past year. Enquiry to our CEO

Interview with Claudio Zilich

In the January/February 2020 issue of Logistica Management, Cecilia Biondi interviews CEO Claudio Zilich to take stock of the past year, both from a general and particular point of view, and present ideas and perspectives for the coming year.

Among the various popular themes (3D printing, electric mobility, blockchains, artificial intelligence, self-driving and robotics, etc.) what does Atomos Hyla consider the disruptive element, what will really radically transform the scenario in which you operate, will it be technological or operational? And when?

Atomos Hyla is one of the companies of the sedApta Group, a company that was founded in 2014 by bringing together the skills of some key partners who already had considerable experience in the supply chain market and in Manufacturing Operations Management. Today the group’s mission is to bring diversified and complete software solutions to the market, both directly and through partners and system integrators, for all supply chain needs. The group gradually expanded with new acquisitions: from the union of Atomos with Sintec and Hyla Software, of which I myself was the leader, Atomos Hyla was born, a company that currently combines the specific characteristics and skills in IT manufacturing of the three founding companies. We created a complete suite able to cover the entire path from demand management to the handling of finished products and raw materials. 

In a market context which, both in Italy and worldwide, has recently shown permanent signs of uncertainty and turbulence, companies have developed a very clear idea: the importance of focusing on ever-growing competitiveness, because it allows us to react to unforeseen events. Not only that: another increasingly stringent goal for companies is the reduction of lead times, so the possibility of bringing products to the market in the shortest possible time. 

Competitiveness leads directly to the concept of a smart factory, and therefore to everything that can be indicated through automation, interconnection, integration of systems and processes. 

Let’s take a look at the technological innovation Atomos Hyla offers companies in terms of Industry 4.0 and smart factories. 

Our suite of products allows to manage S&OP and manufacturing operations management phases, as well as a cross-cutting approach called Digital Backbone. 

We address demand management with S&OP: from the analysis of companies’ historical sales data, to a collaborative part that allows the marketing and commercial structure to change historical trends in order to obtain more accurate demand forecasts. We have tools that allow us to carry out so-called order dating, which allows us to quantify the availability of the ordered material or the ability to produce in the required time based on the incoming demands. Once orders are received, our infrastructure allows to manage the planning of resources, in terms of production lines, labour, raw materials or semi-finished products; this requires inventory management, which also includes the management of desired stock levels, and planning that remains at a “high” level, discerning a medium-long time horizon in order to keep the company always ready to react to market changes. All this is also associated with the management of suppliers of both raw materials and of labour or services if some processing phases are carried out externally. 

With manufacturing operations management, planning is reduced to the short term: what should I produce next week? And how can I produce it with maximum efficiency, making the most of my productive resources? That’s what the scheduler is for. The shop floor monitor is also the part of the suite that allows to interface the system with the “field”, the actual production, integrating the activity of the machines and the work of the people on the lines. This records the details of production orders according to batch codes, so that it is always possible to know which batches of raw materials were used to produce a certain batch of finished product. This requires hardware with appropriate industrial characteristics, for example in terms of IP protection levels. Sedapta-osys is dedicated to this, the company established thanks to an ad hoc acquisition of a French manufacturer of a complete range of data collection hardware, specialised in the food sector but applicable to all the specific needs of industrial environments. 

Lastly, Digital Backbone is the smart line that runs through all the processes: we call it OSA, Orchestration Support Analysis. I’d call this our plus compared to those mentioned above, which are essentially software tools that implement specific features. The OSA approach allows us to integrate and interface all these software tools with people’s activities. This means optimising various skills and coordinating activities.

With Skillaware, for example, we can implement different levels of support on the software’s use with a sort of online guide, while the Analytics function allows analysing the data that is acquired in various modes from the various systems, to orient the collected data and give it meaning. 

The OSA part of process orchestration, and in particular of analytics, is the one that most faithfully reflects what we mean by smart factory. Firstly, people are interconnected in relation to tasks, within business processes. With Analytics we instead have dashboards that show all the data, from the field level to all the next levels: from schedulers to planners to top managers, the data is always available to help make strategic decisions.

This is therefore the characteristic aspect of our suite: the ability to provide a holistic view which includes today and tomorrow, machines and people, materials and processes; and the factory is smart when it also includes materials, bringing together Industry 4.0 and above all Logistics 4.0. Going back to what I said at the beginning, we consider the keywords of technology as automation – and not only that of machines or PLCs, but the automation of processes obtained with software tools – but also and above all interconnection and integration. Those that let me collect the data generated by the plant to make it available quickly and usable by the entire company.

What will the impacts of new technologies on the world of work be: how do you address this issue? What skills are you looking for, what contracts do you pursue, what professions do you consider most strategic in the era of Logistics 4.0?

Today it’s important to understand how much companies are really aligned with this theme, so that we shape our approach to the real needs of the market. To do this, we have collaborated with the RISE Lab – Research & Innovation for Smart Enterprises – of the University of Brescia, on research projects on Industry 4.0 and Logistics 4.0. As we have read from the reports published on the subject, the level of adoption of advanced projects seemed to be consistent, although in the analysis of the data a certain disparity emerged in the approach. SMEs in particular struggle to keep up with innovations, and above all there is a considerable issue linked to the change in corporate culture and the need to find the human resources able to share and really contribute to the achievement of the digitisation objectives that the company wants to undertake. The research therefore quite clearly shows that people can be a bit of an obstacle on the 4.0 road. 

This situation is met with training projects. For example, in 2019 we organised a two-month course aimed at graduates, in which we touched on all the issues related to the matter of smart factories and Industry 4.0. Of course, we start with graduates in engineering or disciplines close to us; but even with this basic preparation, the themes of 4.0, smart factory and values related to automation, interconnection and integration, are by no means obvious. Carried out at our Sestri Levante Academy in collaboration with the University of Genoa, the project was aimed at eliminating this skill mismatch between advanced digitisation and people able to manage it at the customer’s offices.

The second important issue is that which occurs at the customer’s premises: change management. We believe this is another fundamental concept, which we greatly try to focus on with the customer. Once you have chosen the right solution, you must be very careful of how it’s put into practice, even after having identified the right people to do it: because every novelty is accompanied by a risk of rejection, at least initially. We must not only introduce information, but also seriously involve people to help them understand what they need to learn to do and above all why. I believe this is a crucial point and indeed, from what I have experienced in my working life, not only in relation to the factory 4.0, change management can be the delicate bridge between the success or failure of new projects.

The classic and unavoidable balance-sheet question: what can you tell about the past year in terms of your company or the sector you are part of? What special wishes and expectations can you express for the year that is about to begin?

Already in 2019, we expected the “overtaking”, as a business activity, of S&OP systems compared to the Manufacturing Operations Management area. In reality this didn’t occur, and probably won’t in 2020 either. Companies’ attention is still consistently focused on the smart factory and 4.0. 

It is true that this attention is driven by the incentives offered by the government for the next two years, so there is still a factor of convenience that has led companies to at least reason on these issues. It’s true that some embark on a 4.0 path to access hyper-depreciation; many of them soon realise that the value of these projects goes well beyond that of saving on taxes. But this is also the great merit of economic incentives: helping to set companies in the right direction, whether for one reason or another. 

And that is also why, since the beginning of the year, we have seen good interest from companies to continue on the path of Industry 4.0.