"Norican digital tools can be a catalyst for our customers’ digital transformation"

Nina Dybdal Rasmussen, our DISA technology specialist, is now our new Head of Norican Digital. We spoke to Nina on all things digital: what we do to support customers, how we transform processes, and which digital trends offer great solutions to foundries and manufacturing organisations around the world.

Nina, you’ve just moved across from DISA to head up Norican Digital. Tell us a bit about Norican Digital and what excites you about the role.

Norican Digital is the organisation that drives and bundles all of the group’s digital efforts, specifically to serve the needs of DISA, ItalPresseGauss, StrikoWestofen and Wheelabrator customers and their equipment (whether it’s from us or not).

Norican Digital is based in Munich and is home to our Digital Lab, where the latest tools and solutions are developed and tested and where our platform and infrastructure is evolved. Crucially, the team also consists of experts from the four hero brands, who bring an in-depth understanding of the process to the table. They also help implement solutions for the customer and provide the link between digital and process know-how. The whole team works closely with our strategic AI partner to bring in additional, cutting-edge digital expertise.

What excites me about the role? Partly due to its relationships with some of the most forward-thinking foundries in the world, DISA has been lucky enough to have spear-headed some of the digital developments in the group over the last few years. So I’ve been involved in really interesting digital projects for a while.

What’s exciting now is to be able to actively shape the future of our offering for a much more diverse group of customers. What’s right for a DISA customer in the US may not necessarily be right for a Wheelabrator customer in France, an ItalPresseGauss customer in Germany or a StrikoWestofen customer in China. We want our digital offering to be inclusive, have something for everyone. That’s a genuinely exciting and rewarding challenge.


How do you look at customers’ digital journey? What can they gain from Digital today?

There are actually two journeys we initially look at, that can ultimately become one big gain.

  • The first track is about using Digital to optimize and improve processes (incrementally or radically). The goal we’d be working towards on that track are zero waste (ultimate efficiency) and zero defects (ultimate quality). 
  • The second track is about reacting to and preventing downtime. The goal here is zero downtime (ultimate productivity).

On those two tracks, customers will naturally be at different stages of maturity. They may be doing maintenance in a purely reactive way: wait till it breaks, then fix it. That’s costly. Or they may change parts at fixed intervals, which may mean changing them sooner than necessary to hit a scheduled maintenance window.

With Digital, we can use sensors in the machine to get a live picture of the actual condition of the part and perform maintenance at exactly the right time. That’s called predictive maintenance and is a well-established idea. But we’re already thinking beyond that towards what we call prescriptive maintenance. On top of predicting failure before it happens, prescriptive maintenance then makes recommendations for actions to take and calculates the effect of those actions. This prolongs the service life of a part without taking any risk of failure.

On the process improvement track, a first step on the digital ladder may be to digitally monitor the entire process, and find potential for improvement through digitally-supported analysis of process data. This could be about reducing energy or material use or about removing bottlenecks. The next step from there is to have a system that uses AI and data analytics to ‘prescribe’ improvements to prevent defects or waste. The ultimate vision here is to eventually move to autonomous control – allowing the system to self-regulate by implementing the actions it finds will improve quality, eliminate defects and remove waste.

What’s always been important to us is that there are clear gains to be had at any stage, and customers can take one step at a time.


"For many of our customers there's still a sense that Digital is new and intangible. This concern is reflected in how we structure our products. It's all really problem-focussed. We use Digital to solve a specific issue and the improvement quickly pays for the digital investment, in addition to usually fixing more than just the one issue."


What’s your vision for Norican Digital, Norican customers and the industry?

It’s simple. With traditional means, maximising uptime can mean compromising on efficiency or quality, going for ultimate efficiency (by reducing cycle times, etc) can impact quality, and so on.

The power of Digital lies in being able to achieve these things at once. They’re no longer mutually exclusive.

So while our customers may start with their most pressing need, for example by using one of our digital products to streamline their maintenance, they won’t compromise on quality or efficiency. And over time, they may add further tools that specifically target quality and efficiency as well.

They end up layering the benefits on top of one another, unlocking bigger gains and improving constantly.

That’s my vision for our customers and industry in general. For Norican Digital, the vision is to act as an effective catalyst for that journey, helping our customers adopt digital technology in a way that suits them and gives them the gains they need and more.

We’ve got incredible process and engineering knowledge in the business, across all four brands. We can combine that knowledge with the power of AI and data, to give our customers solutions that really make a difference, going beyond what they expected to achieve.

We also have a global footprint, so we want to offer digital solutions that are relevant in different geographies and markets. That’s why our digital product portfolio is deliberately modular. There’s something for everybody, without solutions ever being generic.


What are the trends or issues that will drive digital adoption?

What drives digital adoption differs wildly across our global customer base. In quite a few places we see skills shortages. Building knowledge into the product, offering central process tracking, automating both the process and the monitoring of it – all this helps address skills shortages by freeing up precious skilled workers to focus on the things they absolutely have to look after.

Another driver we’re seeing in automotive is the increasing requirement to prove and document manufacturing processes. This is travelling up and down the supply chain and will soon reach smaller suppliers, who may not currently have the facilities to provide the level of process data that will be asked of them. Fairly straightforward digital monitoring can provide this cost-effectively, as well as opening up opportunities to improve efficiency and quality.


What are the challenges?

For many of our customers there's still a sense that Digital is new and intangible. This concern is reflected in how we structure our products. It's all really problem-focussed. We use Digital to solve a specific issue and the improvement quickly pays for the digital investment, in addition to usually fixing more than just the one issue.

Some customers still have concerns around the cloud and data security, which is why we work with the top cloud providers to give customers the level of security they expect from online banking.

Occasionally, we also see scepticism around the use of AI. Customers wonder whether they can really trust the findings of an algorithm over the intuition of experienced, highly skilled workers.

Firstly, I don't think they have to make a choice there; AI will flag a potential cause of defects and skilled people can consider that insight and implement it or not. In the first instance, we see AI as something that expands human capabilities. Our AI solution has been live in foundries for a few years now, and customers and workers quickly learn to trust and work with the new insights gained.

Secondly, the knowledge of experienced workers is only of value to you if you actually have those workers. A generation of them is retiring and many of our customers are struggling with skills shortages. Fewer people are overseeing bigger operations - tools like AI and dashboards increase their capacity and bandwidth. Data knowledge enhances and complements people knowledge.


What are you doing today to overcome those challenges?

Apart from offering information to alleviate concerns, we test and evolve our solutions in pilot projects with customers to produce evidence that shows in very concrete terms what can be achieved with a solution.

We can also advise customers on where to start with Digital to achieve a quick payback and solve their most pressing problems. We do this in a future-proof, scalable way, ensuring they can take the next step when they're ready. Our hardware, NoriGate, and our digital platform, Monitizer, allow customers to start as small as they like and scale up as fast as they wish to.

We try wherever we can to design our solutions in a way that is open and equipment agnostic, so it all connects to other systems customers may use, rather than locking them into an inflexible "island solution".

And there's always something new in the pipeline - a new capability or service that customers can use once they have Monitizer.


What's currently in that pipeline?

Firstly, we are currently investing in the digital infrastructure that underpins our products. There's been a lot of interest from customers and momentum around our digital offering, so we are further strengthening our systems in anticipation of growing demand. That's boring but important.

In terms of actual products, we're close to launching our prescriptive maintenance tool. Predictive maintenance is already available for most of the processes covered by our brands. Prescriptive maintenance, as mentioned earlier, doesn't just tell you the live condition of your machine and its parts, it also tells you what to do to fix things, if there is an issue on the horizon.

Using AI, the tool tracks a vast number of machine parameters and detects even subtle abnormalities. Caught early, counter measures to these small deviations may be very simple and cheap (like cleaning part thoroughly at the next break in production), preventing a bigger problem down the line and prolonging the operating life of parts. This has the potential to dramatically reduce maintenance and parts cost, as well as downtime. We're rather excited about it!