Mrs. Stejskalová, you are MD of MicroStep and from your position you supervise the areas of finance, innovation and software. In your opinion, what are the factors that make MicroStep one of the technology leaders in the cutting industry also in future?
Eva Stejskalová: MicroStep entered the cutting business as a university spin-off with extensive experience and know-how in automation technology. With its strong research and development capabilities the company was able to meet even those customers’ requirements which were previously considered unfeasible by incumbent companies. Until now the most innovative solutions result from close cooperation between customers with visionary concepts of their production facilities and MicroStep which is ready to take challenges and turn their visions into reality. However, at present the pace of technological change is faster than ever and particularly digital technologies have already shown immense potential to shape manufacturing industries. This trend can shatter the position of innovation laggards who will fight to stay relevant in the long term. For MicroStep it is a huge opportunity, as the company has always been investing heavily into development of its own control systems and software, and so it is well prepared to take the path to digital innovation.
Digital innovation – what does it mean in context of cutting business?
Eva Stejskalová: Digital technologies can address all sorts of challenges that cutting businesses face nowadays – demand for productivity and quality enhancement, or lack of skilled operators. Some concepts like the “connected factory” are widely known and accepted already. Real-time production and inventory data enable efficient planning and scheduling processes. People responsible for monitoring cutting production can do so remotely without being physically present on the shop floor. MicroStep delivers such functionality with its Machine Production Management software and the MicroStep Dashboard. But digital technologies can offer much more. Machine learning will compensate for the lack of skilled operators as decisions and actions can be based more on data analysis and less on experience. Parameter adjustment or tool wear forecast is an example. In order to gain insight a big amount of data must be collected from the process and analysed through complex mathematical models and algorithms to identify patterns and trends. Based on the results the machine can make autonomous decisions. In case the correct algorithms are used, machines will learn faster and more reliably than a human being.
As a member of the High-level Strategy Group on Industrial Technologies within the EU Research and Innovation programme Horizon 2020, MicroStep CEO Eva Stejskalová is advising the EU Commission on Key Enabling Technologies.
Do your customers realize the potential of digital technologies for their business?
Eva Stejskalová: Yes, the vast majority of companies realize the benefits, but many of them think they lack the resources needed for their digital transformation. It is necessary to understand that fully digital factories are still rare and the digital transformation can be phased depending on the possibilities of an individual company.
For example, hardly anyone would challenge the fact that unexpected equipment breakdown is a major threat to manufacturing revenues. Advanced data analytics together with machine learning can be used to monitor whether a piece of equipment is prone to failure and predict when it will breakdown, thus preventing unexpected downtime. However, relatively simple centralized monitoring of operating hours and scheduling of preventive maintenance can also bring major benefit.
„However, at present the pace of technological change is faster than ever and particularly digital technologies have already shown immense potential to shape manufacturing industries.“
Managing Director| MicroStep
I can see that digital technologies are an extremely complex topic. How will MicroStep cope with research and development in so many areas?
Eva Stejskalová: This is the age of open innovation. MicroStep has a long history of collaboration with the Slovak University of Technology in Bratislava and our joint projects significantly supported product development in our company.
Nowadays open innovation goes beyond simple collaboration between two entities and that is why MicroStep actively participates in designing a pan-European innovation community of 50 companies, universities, and research institutes focused on added-value manufacturing. If the project succeeds in receiving funding from the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, MicroStep will have a chance to contribute to the concerted effort aimed at transforming the European manufacturing industry into the most sustainable and competitive industry world-wide.
Eva Stejskalová and company founder Dr. Alexander Varga were announced EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2014 in Slovakia by the “Big Four” consulting and auditing giant EY.