FUTURE ORIENTATION. HOW WILL CONTROLAR’S PRODUCT INNOVATIONS HELP CUSTOMERS IN THE FUTURE
Controlar is a multinational company specialized in industrial automation and test systems with a focus on the automotive industry. The company was founded in 1995 and has since been expanding its business globally to several advanced industrial applications. It has become a reference in the automation and test fields, both nationally and internationally.
The companies operate through a network of production units in Portugal, Spain, Mexico and Malaysia, as well as branch offices or representatives in Germany, India and China.
Interview with Carlos Alcobia, Global R&D Manager at Controlar.
Easy Engineering: Which are the most futuristic products / solutions from your portfolio?
Carlos Alcobia: Controlar holds high expertise in developing over the to perform a diverse number of automated tasks for the industry, from assembling, screw driving, welding to visual inspection for quality assessment and haptics, among others.
Also, we develop products and solutions that integrate Internet of Things (IoT), Augmented Reality (AR), Robotics and Automation, digital tools that are mandatory to ensure the future of some activities in our field of work.
Our Industrial Assistance system with Augmented Reality (AR) is an innovative and intuitive solution that can be used for remote technical assistance in industrial environments and contains several functionalities that improve the experience of remote assistance with no difficulties.
Two years ago, we launched an IoT device management platform (QIO2®) for industrial monitoring applications that uses both LoRaWAN® and Wi-Fi communication protocols to increase the coverage of the factory floor. QIO2® is a highly scalable solution that allows the simultaneous use of a high number and types of sensors and gateways to centralize information digitally.
Another solution that is constantly evolving is the optimization of the factory floor space dedicated to test systems, as well as the reduction of the cycle time of the tests performed.
E.E: What are the characteristics of these products / solutions?
C.A: In what Industrial Assistance with Augmented Reality (AR) is concerned, the system can integrate machines’ internal information (such as user manuals, 3D models, and electrical schemes), and can be used both in an Android phone/tablet or in Microsoft Hololens. Bearing in mind the extreme relevance of information security in this context, it includes an encryption module, that keeps all the exchanged information secure from both internal and external threats.
Regarding QIO2®, all the retrieved data is centralized and can be analyzed with different dashboards, which are freely configurable for each customer. All information is kept secured with the implementation of encryption modules in the communication layers and database.
As for our industrial automation solutions, these include the integration of advanced technologies and collaborative robotics, major players in the future of industry to meet any automation challenge.
The development and design of test systems, simultaneously in the mechanical, electronics and software levels, allow a more efficient use of the shop floor space dedicated to test systems as well as a higher production rate for our customers.
E.E: Tell us about product innovation and how does it impact the future of your organization?
C.A: Controlar has always positioned itself with a strong innovation strategy towards its customers and products, to anticipate and address the different needs of tomorrow.
We have been developing several R&D projects in partnership with major players in the automotive industry, such as Bosch, Visteon, MAHLE, Continental Advanced Antennas and Stellantis.
These projects follow the principles of open innovation management models, in accordance with the best international practices and with the involvement of R&D Centers and Universities, which allows companies to integrate knowledge that does not yet exist in the industry, and the possibility of a comprehensive sharing of knowledge in Controlar’s innovation ecosystem.
We expect that these R&D projects will result in highly innovative services and products, which Controlar will then commercially exploit at an international level to respond to the needs of a wide range of customers and markets.
E.E: How will product innovation help the customers?
C.A: Applying innovation to our products has a direct impact on our customers in several levels of the production chain: from the production processes (by helping to reduce costs and gain efficiency), to the machine operator performance (by improving ergonomics and increasing productivity).
Ultimately, it will be the end user to benefit, by having access to a safer and more reliable/ intelligent product or service, as the result of all the improvement in his supplier’s production processes in which Controlar is involved.
On the other end, the skills acquired within the scope of the development of innovative solutions allow Controlar to apply its know-how to other challenges with similar characteristics. This way, we are increasing the range of opportunities, also for customers, who are searching for similar solutions.
As a technology and innovative systems provider, Controlar can be the right partner to help companies and industries to adopt a new technological paradigm with up-to-date and tailored solutions.
E.E: How do employees shape your company’s future orientation?
C.A: Controlar tries to boost employees’ motivation, innovation and collaboration in the organization by allowing their involvement in the company’s future.
We believe that the company’s roadmap and orientation can be leveraged by employee knowledge and experience, since many of them work in the field directly with the customer and hold a comprehensive perception of the market needs.
In that sense, the company has engaged several teams from different departments in the development of strategic programs regarding core business areas, which are shaping the future of our organization.
Moreover, contests of ideas are being organized to allow employees to share their most innovative ideas. The best contributions for the company continuous improvement are awarded, and if possible, implemented.
Controlar also encourages employees in their studies, contributing to their academic growth and learning. By helping employees grow their skills and talents we hope the outcome is reflected in their daily work, thus contributing to a positive and innovative culture.
E.E: How does the digital transformation affect your products / business?
C.A: Industrial digital transformation is not only about changing the whole IT system, but turning interactions, communications, and business models into (more) digital ones, while transforming the organizational culture and adapting people to it.
These past years led to a need to increase the speed of transformation, with a fast adoption of several solutions so business activities could continue. A greater need has emerged, due to the exponential increase of employees working at home, the precaution and safety recommendations that are required of those working in the field and the difficulties in travelling, with unexpected travel bans and restrictions. To overcome these challenges and ensure the continuity of some activities, particularly those related to production, monitoring, maintenance and repair, the use of digital tools such as IoT, AR and robotic solutions has become even more a reality to Controlar.
E.E: Tell us about research and development in your company.
C.A: Since 2017, the company has been steadily increasing its investment in R&D, reaching a value of 14% of its turnover in 2021.
The growth of the Controlar group has been largely based on the strong commitment to Innovation practices and on its sustained investment in research and development.
Our areas of activity require constant technological evolution, with a thorough surveillance of the innovations of major automotive industry players, to anticipate the needs of this market and offer innovative and excellent solutions.
In addition, Controlar has its R&D and Innovation Management System certified by NP4457. The Portuguese company was also awarded the recognition of suitability for R&D practices by ANI (Portuguese Agency for Innovation) and obtained the Inovadora COTEC status, which recognizes the performance of Portuguese companies that stand out for their investment in innovation.
Also, our Spanish company, EIIT, holds an Innovative SME seal that distinguishes companies committed to innovation.
These recognitions demonstrate not only our sustained growth in areas as innovation, but also our positioning vis-à-vis the competition in the markets where we operate.
E.E: How do you overcome the new challenges and this more competitive environment?
C.A: Firstly, by empowering the company in several technological areas, with the possibility of including new features in all our products, such as modularity, flexibility and intelligence, while following the principles of our circular economy policy and sustainability targets.
The commitment to innovation has shown that the company, even with the Pandemic, has remained solid, consistent and sustainable, with plans for a steady growth in the coming years.
The development of R&D projects in collaboration with customers and with the participation of high-quality scientific partners is, thus, seen as an added value for the company.
Secondly, by maintaining Controlar’s internationalization strategy, which is based on local support, to ensure on-site and continuous support to its global customers on four continents. This strategy reduces the need for potential travel, allowing the company to maintain its response capacity even in times of lockdown.
The past events allowed the group to better prepare itself for such unpredictable situations, with the implementation of diversified strategic plans, considering market trends and the anticipation of different future scenarios.
Finally, the diversity of skills and the collaboration of different teams within the whole group, together with the continuous acquisition of new knowledge, has allowed the development of new projects and solutions with a high technological complexity and of high interest to the market.
E.E: Tell us about the company’s long-term goals, future strategies and how will you adapt to the future.
C.A: Our goal is to reach the highest potential for technological innovation. The company has built its technological roadmap focused on areas such as autonomous driving, electric mobility, cybersecurity and circular economy.
To follow this path, we expect to increase our knowledge in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, computer vision, cloud systems, among others.
The integration of technologies to support the digitization of the industry and the mobility of the future has been explored by the development of R&D+I project, according to certified guidelines and in coordination with strategic partners.
We also seek to diversify the markets in which we operate, having so far invested in other sectors, which are also demanding in terms of cutting-edge technology: health, space and defense. As part of this diversification strategy, we have been developing R&D+I project and establishing contacts with the Major Scientific Facilities (CERN, ITER and ESA).
In addition, the company intends to continue its policy of internationalization, with the aim of strengthening the Controlar group, with standardized policies in the different locations where it operates. Thus, we will maintain the ability to address any technological challenge, providing the best technological solution, always close to our customers.
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