Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things (IoT) is everywhere. The digital economy is impacting upon almost every individual and business’s lives, from smartphone-controlled central heating to M2M communication on production lines.
In the filtration industry, MANN-HUMMEL is leading the way in digitisation, innovation and embracement of IoT. Already the leading filter producer and supplier in the world, the company manufactures more than 700 million filter elements each year – elements with the potential to become smart.
Its 20,000-strong workforce across more than 70 locations worldwide help to produce and sell about €4 billion-worth of filter products each year, helping automotive and mechanical engineering industries become cleaner, more efficient and, in the future, smarter.
The group’s product portfolio includes air filter systems, intake manifold systems, liquid filter systems, and technical plastic parts, as well as filter elements for vehicle servicing and repair. For mechanical engineering, process engineering and other industrial applications, the company’s product range encompasses industrial filters, membrane filters for water filtration and filter systems. In the last years, due the growing concern associated with reductions in air quality, the group is developing an extensive range of air filters for various applications like cabin filters, air purifier filters, and filters for HVAC system. With such solutions, buildings and transportation systems are able to provide the right air quality to their occupants and so at the lowest energy cost. This is also an opportunity for the group to help building a healthier society.
Determined to maintain its position as worldwide filtration leader, MANN+HUMMEL is moving fast. With the acquisition of the Affinia Group earlier this year around 4,500 employees, some 10 locations and approximately €900 million in sales had joined MANN+HUMMEL. But it is the addition of expertise, in the form of a dedicated IoT lab in Singapore, which will continue to set the company apart in years to come.
A unique challenge
Nicolas Payen is MANN+HUMMEL Group’s Director of IoT Lab. Having spent several years at Schneider Electric working on innovation projects, Payen moved to Singapore last year and has overseen the development of MANN+HUMMEL’s Centre of Excellence for IoT.
A global pioneer in smart cities, Singapore has a thriving smart technology hub and has been base of Asia operations for the company for more than four years.
“I have been here a year but there is certainly much more I could learn about the place,” Payen muses. “I joined MANN+HUMMEL at the end of March as this presented a unique entrepreneurial challenge for me, something that had to be created completely from scratch.
“There are a lot of challenges but with that come a lot of potential rewards. This is a great opportunity for me to make a real difference and apply the knowledge I have picked up through my career. The team is in place and the lights are on, but it is too early to suggest the job is done and that the rewards are there just yet.
“The economy and industry of today are embracing technology at a rapid pace, and we have to be ready to bring technology into our industry where it makes sense to do so. How do we use electronics and software and blend it with our current knowledge on filtration, knowledge which spreads right around the world? That is the question we are always asking ourselves.”
The lab officially opened on July 11 in the Fusionopolis Tower in One North, the heart of Singapore’s burgeoning start-up community. It marks an era where digital innovation very much sits alongside MANN+HUMMEL’s foundational set of values by which it operates, known as FILTER (Focus, Integrity, Leadership, Teamwork, Excellence and Respect).
With the FILTER values already entrenched across the multinational, multifaceted business, it is Payen’s job to communicate the digital innovation ethos that will be harnessed by the Singapore lab, bringing together all parts of the business to embark on an IoT journey.
“One of the main challenges I have been working on is communicating what we are doing in the lab with the many business units in MANN+HUMMEL,” he explains. “We need to create a network of people from inside to company who understand how the lab can drive forward their own parts of the business.
We have a very strong support base in the form of our top management in the company – our Group Vice President Technology,our CEO, and the chairman of the supervisory board are right behind us and helping the project to create momentum. The main priority for us is to understand the needs of our business units, which we treat almost as our own customers, and then to understand what their customers need. However, we don’t lose sight of the fact that there is a balance to be struck in terms of executing our own IoT vision, while at the same time being pragmatic and designing what our customer wants.”
Payen already has 30 projects in the pipeline, with 10 being actively worked on by the lab team, currently made up of five to 10 locally-recruited technology experts.
The lab’s work in digitisation will impact the business and filtration industry in three major ways: how filters are made; how filters are sold and how filters are used by customers and consumers. “IoT encompasses a very broad range of possibilities, and this means we must be flexible with the work done in the lab,” Payen adds. “This will of course depend on the customer, what their demands are and how we can enhance their value chain.”
One area of focus for the MANN+HUMMEL lab at the moment revolves around maintenance and filter replacement. Information and data farmed through IoT and displayed to customers through connected devices will be able to inform users when filters are likely to need replacing. Payen also revealed that the lab team is looking at smart solutions for the air filtration sector, where the company provides products for automotive and construction partners. In time the lab will become a showcasing facility for MANN+HUMMEL, demonstrating to existing and potential clients what the firm has to offer away from conventional filters and parts.
As the team expands, it will the base of expertise from which MANN+HUMMEL can draw upon. The company already has partnerships with universities in South East Asia, Germany and the USA, and will be interacting much more with disruptive start-ups and IoT specialists in the near future.
With 30 projects already on the table, the temptation to press full steam ahead must be there, though Payen exercises sensible caution at this early stage.
“We have an agreed plan of direction with the Head of Technology for the coming months, and it is important to stay focused and understand that the mission of the lab will change over time. Today, we do not have a dedicated portfolio of digital products – over time this will be developed and there will be a need for a team to manage this new portfolio. The lab may have a role to play in this.
“It is important to stay focused in the near future and not to grow too fast – we must get it right to maintain our leading position in the industry. In two years’ time I want all parts of the organisation to be on a digital roadmap or path.”