„We want to open the spectrum of automation”

On 1st April 2015 Bobbie Linkenbach took over the operational management of VIPA, a producer of control systems. A&D asked him about the first 100 days, the challenges he has to face and how the company is oriented in the future.

A&D: Three months have passed since the handover. What are the most important things which you have tackled?

Linkenbach: We are currently working on two change processes. With the YASKAWA products, which we now have available, our market position is changing from a pure component producer to a system supplier. Previously we were mainly in the control cabinet, now we are going out of the cabinet and to the machines and trying to improve the machines for and together with the customer. This means, we do not only talk on the component level to the customer, but on the level of applications. For sales and marketing this means no longer only using the argument of Siemens compatibility to deploy VIPA components but also having system thoughts in the foreground, including support right up to consultation during the initial application.

What is the second change?

Siemens started a technical change with its new software portal and the appropriate new hardware systems, which also affected our strategy on controllers. Beside the pure Siemens users we also want to reach new customer groups and market segments. For this reason we are developing new products which remain software compatible as well as programmable with our own software SPEED7 Studio. This allows us to make new offers with hybrid and pure VIPA solutions. Thus, our customer portfolio will expand significantly.

What will the portfolio look like in future?

The previous very successful systems will remain and continue being developed, and this for many years to come as there is still a high customer demand. With SLIO we have already started to develop our own PLC system that is not hardware compatible to Siemens any longer. We are also developing a micro PLC with its own form factor for the lower range. We will launch stand-alone systems for the upper range, too. The software compatibility will remain unchanged, but in addition the customer can use SPEED7 Studio, which significantly allows us to represent more functions. In this way we integrate the subject Motion Control in matters of software and hardware and support, in addition, EtherCat as a master next to Profibus and Profinet.

What does this mean for the OEM?

Customers who want to keep the software compatibility can still do this with our hardware. We offer a complete platform for their demands with our SPEED7 Studio for power users or system users who want to change to VIPA and YASKAWA completely. All inverters and servos from YASKAWA are integrated in the hardware catalog. At the end we try to offer our customers a complete solution with perfectly matched components that allows them to program, configure and to parametrize their machines and plants right up to robotics from a single source. Furthermore, we want to simplify the deployment of VIPA and YASKAWA products by using pre-assembled modules, libraries and templates. This allows the customer to reduce the time for engineering and the efforts for programming. We intend to achieve this by the end of 2018.

This means, the customers do not have to make a tough decision betweenSiemens and VIPA technology?

Exactly! That`s the big difference to other market competitors, where the customer has to make a black and white decision. With us, users can continue using their existing software, optionally also SPEED7 Studio. According to our experience there are many customers who want to use both in order not to be dependent on one supplier. Here we are positioning ourselves as second supplier who, in its systems, is relatively similar, and in the look and feel of the software too. Siemens programs that were written with Siemens Step7 are importable and still usable in the SPEED7 Studio. Only re-export is not possible.

How strongly does the decision depend on the supported bus systems between VIPA and Siemens?

That is an interesting question. From our point of view in Europe Profinet and EtherCat will mainly prevail as Ethernet-based bus systems.  The Siemens community will keep to Profinet, but we have a lot of customers who fancy EtherCat but want to retain the Step7 programming environment. We support this with our hardware and SPEED7 Studio. Our philosophy was always that we want to open the spectrum of automatization a little further, not define any fieldbuses for the customer, but to represent the best solution for him.

You have already mentioned the parent company – are there also changesbecause of the cooperation with YASKAWA?

Technologically speaking, we have jointly developed IMC7 on the basis of the existing systems SLIO: the first VIPA PLC with integrated motion controller whose sales release is planned for the end of the year. Additionally there is intensive cooperation with our subsidiary company Profichip for the development of future ASICs (Application Specific Integrated Circuits) for the drive technology, the PLC controllers up to the communication processors. Thus within the concern we are successively becoming more and more a technology location. Hence, many developments in the future will be implemented with consideration to European and also American interests.

And you are now selling the common range of products….

Yes, first we have access to the entire portfolio and together with our colleagues from the robotics we can offer clear advantages in competitive comparison and are also available worldwide at the same time. Secondly, we can also rely on the global service network of YASKWAW as well as the worldwide existing VIPA network, which in sales and marketing is a strong argument. Not least, it makes a tremendous difference at announcements and customer releases when you are perceived as an integral part of a worldwide group with over 14,000 employees. Suddenly, the doors of larger machine and plant manufacturers open as well as those of end customers that were previously always closed.

Text: Harry Jacob, A&D