Fail quickly, learn quickly

Balluff is focusing on speed and systematic customer orientation with the establishment of strategic incubation programs for innovation management.

The workday of a strategic incubation manager (SIM) starts extra early on Mondays and Thursdays. However, there is a cheerful mood since the SIMs ultimately enjoy their projects and the exchanges they have. These exchanges take place two mornings a week. They pose questions about what the team is working on and what, if any, problems exist. “Everyone of us has a different background. Someone comes, for example, from marketing while someone else has a great deal of experience in product management. We can therefore support one another and provide advice,” said Sebastian Köhler, one of the SIMs. The strategic incubation managers are the faces behind IDEAbiz, the new Balluff innovation program. “Through IDEAbiz we have created a home for our strategic incubation programs. We are developing new business ideas here in the style of a start-up,” said Balluff Managing Director Florian Hermle.

Lean start-up method

The incubation managers have been promoting their business ideas since the start of 2020. They are following the lean start-up method, which primarily focuses on speed. But that’s not all. They also cooperate in a flexible way without any rigid role descriptions or processes. The method depends on regular feedback. The teams can, therefore, continually improve the way they work and their individual projects, but also the innovation program as a whole. It’s all about individual skills and continuous communication with customers. “We talk to potential customers on several occasions in order to gain a better understanding of their problems. We can, therefore, increase the utility of the value proposition of our solutions,” said Dr. Roland Schaefer, vice president innovation at Balluff. This may also lead to an idea being discarded entirely. Only if a solution still corresponds to the customers’ requirements in the iterative enhancement process will the idea be pursued further.

At present, there are five active projects in the strategic incubation program. In these projects the SIMs and their teams jointly formulate solutions for intelligent monitoring of machines and equipment, systems for condition monitoring and format adjustment, and machine learning processes. Here are the five programs in detail:

The Portable Monitoring System can be used to digitally monitor motors, machines, pumps and, entire production lines. The system contains everything that is needed for this purpose: hardware in the form of a condition monitoring sensor and gateways, as well as software with cloud access and a dashboard. Click here for the video.

The Condition Monitoring Toolkit (CMTK) is a complete system for smart and effective monitoring of machines and equipment. The data provided allows maintenance work or repairs to be carried out before a machine breaks down and production stoppages occur. The heart of the system is the base unit, a computer which collects and processes data from the sensors. The web-based software can be used to examine the condition data at a glance: Video

Inventory levels can be automatically managed using the Smart Reordering System. This system offers numerous advantages: manual scanning processes are superfluous, inventory levels can be managed dynamically, and buffer stocks that tie up capital and occupy space are no longer required. Here’s how the smart reordering system works:

An imaging radar system is used to make hidden and invisible objects visible. Whether to verify completeness in packages, or detect foreign bodies, this system ensures a better overall view.

This solution guides the machine operator through format change quickly and safely, making sure that guide rails are positioned correctly, and enabling format parts to be changed completely. The means of production are therefore available again more quickly. Every machine can be simply retrofitted – without intervention in the machine control system.

100 years of Balluff: Innovation process 1

Phase 1: Discovery

100 years of Balluff: Innovation process 2

Phase 2: Validation

100 years of Balluff: Innovation process 3

Phase 3:
Creation

100 years of Balluff: Innovation process 4

Phase 4:
Exit

Most of these strategic incubation programs are currently in the validation phase, i.e. the second out of a total of four steps:

Step 1: Discovery phase

In the beginning is the idea. It’s necessary to substantiate, differentiate and refine it until a clear value proposition is produced based on the idea. The strategic incubation managers also design a rough business model during this early step.

“Before we develop the business idea further, we naturally look very closely at the market. Are there similar products? What can they do? And also especially, how can our solution be differentiated? We also look at potential customers. Using this as a basis, we then develop a business model,” said Dr. Ellen Wohlfart, strategic incubation manager for quick and easy format change.

“We started with the vision of making something invisible visible. In the meantime we have developed a technological solution and can therefore already resolve initial applications of potential customers and obtain their feedback. I am excited and looking forward to the feedback,” said Dr. Mark Eberspächer, strategic incubation manager for detection of hidden or invisible objects.

Step 2: Validation phase

The objective of the validation phase is to find out whether the value proposition resonates on the market. For this purpose, the strategic incubation managers communicate closely with pilot customers, test prototypes in a real environment, and improve these prototypes based on customer feedback. If the project passes this reality check, it moves on to the next phase.

“In my opinion, the discovery and validation phases are the most important phases in finding out who the customer is, where his pain points lie and what products can be used to alleviate this pain. However, this is also important later on the next phases in order to stay on course,” said Sebastian Köhler, strategic incubation manager, Smart Reordering System.

“We are constantly in touch with potential customers and test initial prototypes with them. We can, therefore, verify and adapt our value proposition continuously. It also shows us that we are closing a gap on the market with the Condition Monitoring Toolkit,” said Dr. Thomas Meissner, strategic incubation manager, Condition Monitoring Toolkit.

Step 3: Creation phase

Once the value proposition has been validated, the signs point to growth. The objective of the creation phase, which lasts two to three years, is to roll out the product or solution to an ever increasing number of customers and start series production.

“The Portable Monitoring System is being used by some pilot customers. We have received a great deal of positive feedback, but also valuable ideas and improvement suggestions. We can use these ideas and suggestions to improve the system and aim for series production in the medium term,” enthused Robert Tilch, strategic incubation manager, Portable Monitoring System.

Step 4: Exit phase

Once the product or the solution is established on the market, demand increases. In the exit phase, it is, therefore, time to leave the start-up mentality behind and extend the product portfolio.

We want to use IDEAbiz to achieve success through the creation of highly promising new business ideas. We test initial prototypes on the market as quickly as possible. We are, therefore, consistently expanding our portfolio and always keeping an eye on our customers' needs.

Roland Schaefer, Vice President Innovation

Although we have only been working on IDEAbiz for about a year, it’s time to draw some interim conclusions. “We have achieved a great deal and introduced new business ideas, which make the everyday work of our customers easier. And we have learned a great deal from this. All of us have gained new experiences in almost every area, e.g. marketing, sales or development. Our exchanges with one another were worth their weight in gold”, summarized Köhler. Getting up early was definitely worthwhile!

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