Published in: TIME Magazine, www.time.com
Due to the exponential increase in the adoption of Industry 4.0 and digital infrastructure, the value of the global automation software market is expected to reach almost US$80 billion by 2030. With their combination of evolutionary growth and pioneering development it is companies such as Germany’s Beckhoff Automation that is blazing the trail for this rapid expansion.
Set up in a garage 43 years ago by founder and managing director Hans Beckhoff, the company has since grown into an international player with an annual turnover of $1.6 billion, 6,000 employees, own subsidiaries in 40 countries around the world, and since the turn of the millennium, an impressive CAGR of 15%.
“We are in the business of automating machines, buildings, processes and smart devices, principally using our proven PC control technology, which integrates the best of IT and OT in one platform,” Hans Beckhoff explains. In operational terms, the main areas that Beckhoff Automation’s product range covers are industrial PCs, I/O and fieldbus components, motion technology and automation software. Today, its solutions are integral to clients active in many different industries ranging from automotive, wind turbines and logistics to yachting and even rock’n’roll.
In 2021, Beckhoff Automation was supplier to the Emirates Team New Zealand America’s Cup entry, with its Ethernet for Control Automation Technology (EtherCAT) being used to control its hydrofoil cant system. Entertainment automation is now also proving to be an increasingly lucrative area for the company and a growing number of global musical tours now rely on the company’s technology for the smooth running of their automated AV extravaganzas. At the very high-tech and nano end of the spectrum, several leading semiconductor manufacturers have turned to Beckhoff Automation’s products and systems to control the process chambers used in wafer production. “Automation technology is a base technology for every part of our society; therefore, our products’ applications are quite diverse,” says Hans Beckhoff with some understatement.
Beckhoff Automation provides very high-performance control technology for the most demanding applications. Control response times down to the microseconds, the ability to generate advanced motion as well as the integration of vison and AI improve the machine performance. This leads to more efficient production and the much-needed smaller ecological footprint. Beckhoff products therefore are used in many sustainability technologies such as photovoltaic, wind energy or battery production for e-mobility. “One of our leading principles at Beckhoff is: The engineers have to save the world!” explains Hans Beckhoff.
The high performance helps to automate all kinds of machinery. Machine tools, plastics industry, and packaging machines – to name just three of many fields of application – account for the large share of business for Beckhoff. “The process industry is also a growing market for us,” adds Hans Beckhoff.
Beckhoff has a worldwide geographical footprint, with 70% of its revenues now generated outside of Germany. Paradoxically, the company owes its status as a multinational success story to the family values that Beckhoff has strictly adhered to from the very outset. “We have built a reputation for quality and leading-edge innovation, and we also offer trust,” he says. “One of the most important elements of our growth strategy has been to guarantee our clients back-up wherever in the world they might be.” To be able to deliver this, more than 30% of the company’s staff are trained engineers, most of whom are hired local to their client’s centres of operation. “They don’t just know how automation technology works; they also have detailed knowledge of their customers’ specific applications. Automation technology is complex and must be supported by human beings.”
In such a competitive environment, holding on to this talented global team is a challenge but one to which the company has consistently risen by treating its workforce as one big family. This was particularly in evidence during the recent pandemic, when it opened a vaccination centre in one of its production facilities and helped inoculate around a total of 12,000 people, including employees, their families and locals.
Such gestures have paid dividends. “We have quite a big marketing department here, but I think we are also growing simply by word of mouth in that our reputation is steadily growing in every industry where we have a customer base,” says Frederike Beckhoff, General Management. “By showing off our contribution to their projects and products for example at exhibitions around the world, they have become our most effective ambassadors.”
The financial stability this has brought has also been key to the company’s part-evolutionary and part-revolutionary approaches to technological innovation, “We are constantly evolving and improving our product offerings,” Hans Beckhoff says, “but every five to seven years we introduce something revolutionary as well.” This approach has raised the bar in the automation industry, through the development of ground-breaking technology such as XTS and XPlanar motion systems as well as EtherCAT. In 2021, Beckhoff introduced its modular and pluggable MX-System. This innovative solution makes it possible to achieve control cabinet free automation of machines and systems. On the software side, the TwinCAT (The Windows Control and Automation Technology) automation suite has been at the heart of the control system since 1996 and is continuously being further developed.
So, what does the future hold for Beckhoff Automation? Further international expansion is on the horizon and, with the next generation of Beckhoffs working with their father, its commitment to family values seems secure. “Our business model is very scalable,” says Hans Beckhoff. “I think we could grow into a $3 billion company by 2030.”