ABB Robotics x delaware: when IT met OT

May 30, 2023
  • operations

A key error in any Industry 4.0 transformation is approaching it from a purely technological angle. But, despite our insistence on the importance of people and business strategy, technology does play a major role at some point – and the sooner you get the three aligned, the better. For a recent project at Umicore PMR, we teamed up with ABB Robotics to translate spotted opportunities on the work floor into concrete technological solutions – right from the start.

We loved the mashup so much, we decided to sit down with Kris Huyck, general manager robotics at ABB Benelux, to pick his brain about the nuts and bolts of industry 4.0 – and robots, of course. Also joining is our very own Simon Nuttin, who has been living and breathing manufacturing from a business and IT perspective since 2011.

ABB Robotics: leading the way in robotics and machine automation

If you’ve ever been even remotely involved with automation, robotics, and the likes, you’ve certainly heard of ABB. The Swedish-Swiss multinational is one of absolute leaders in the field worldwide, with over 130 years of history. 


ABB Robotics employs over 11,000 people in more than 50 countries and offers a comprehensive portfolio that includes not just robots, but AGVs, AMRs and machine automation solutions as well. Besides selling machines and offering services, ABB robotics also offers extensive application knowledge.

Kris, enlighten us: what's the latest buzz in robotics? 

Kris Huyck: “Well, first of all, I’d like to point out that robotics is a relatively steady field. Because of the steep investment and critical role in the production process, the focus is much more on availability, reliability, and longevity.”


“That being said, the field is certainly not immune to societal and economic changes. The shift towards small-batch production, for example, has made ‘collaborative robots’ more popular. These machines work alongside people without the need for a protective cage or fencing. A major benefit is that operators can quickly make them perform another task. To meet this need for flexibility in small-batch production, logistics teams increasingly replace traditional conveyor belts by AGVs and AMRs. And of course, AI is taking up a major role as well."

For Umicore PMR, ABB Robotics and delaware visited the shopfloor together very early on in the project. How does ABB normally work?

Kris: “We mainly collaborate with system integrators and line builders, who help manufacturers with the building, upgrading and revamping of their production lines and installations. That doesn’t mean we don’t have any contact with end customers or the people who are actually using our solutions. Automated systems and related tech often require specific levels of customization and configuration. That’s where we come in. Moreover, once the hardware is installed our support services are available to ensure longevity and reliability. This long-term relationship with end-users, or what we call ‘lifecycle management’, is extremely important to us.”


Industry 4.0 projects are multi-layered. Customers are often surprised by the complexity of the project. The machine doesn’t just have to do a particular task successfully, it has to do it safely and cost-efficiently, in a way that justifies the investment. A lot of preliminary research and engineering is required to get this right."

That’s quite different from where delaware comes in, right Simon?  

Simon: “Indeed. Traditionally, delaware has been approaching Industry 4.0 projects from an IT angle: developing the right architecture – ERP, applications, BI, planning systems, … – for a specific organization and so on. Today, we’re increasingly taking a management consulting perspective that takes business strategy and objectives as a starting point. That means our main points of contact are often – or ideally, I should say – C-level executives.” 


As my colleagues have pointed out before, however, successfully improving manufacturing performance requires strategy and operations to work together. And both domains need the right tools for the job, which includes IT and OT, or operational technology.”

I guess that’s a nice transition to how delaware and ABB Robotics ended up working together. 

Simon: “Sure. Over the course of many years, we’ve noticed that Industry 4.0 projects often fail because IT and OT solutions are managed separately, by the IT and engineering departments respectively. They even sometimes offered different solutions to the same business problem. We absolutely want to avoid this. When we started the Umicore PMR project, I reached out to Kris and ABB Robotics to get an OT perspective from the get-go.”


Kris: “When Simon got in touch, we were somewhat surprised, but quickly decided to take part with an open mind. During our walkthrough of the Umicore PMR production site, our approach and technical know-how perfectly complemented delaware’s strategic vision. Where Simon’s team spotted a process optimization opportunity, we saw the specific machines or robots that could work in that environment. This unique combination provided Umicore PMR with key feasibility insights.”

What do you hope to get from this partnership going forward? 

Simon: “Being able to tackle these Industry 4.0 projects together with a hardware provider is certainly a competitive advantage for us. But more than that, it opens the door to closer collaboration between IT and OT players. By bringing our networks together, we can make Industry 4.0 more tangible for our customers and generate value faster.”


Kris: “Working with a company like delaware gives us the opportunity to get involved earlier in the process. As a result, we can give advice on strategic decisions that will impact the possibilities for operational technology further down the line. It also means we don’t get lost in technical details, but can focus on the bigger picture.”


“There was a very clear match in culture and way of working, so we’re certainly open for more joint projects with delaware in the near future.”

want to know more?

Simon Nuttin, Manager Supply Chain & Manufacturing

Connect with Simon on LinkedIn

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