Thanks to courage, experience, knowledge and … robotization relief?
Interview with Stefan Życzkowski, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer from ASTOR, a Polish company that has been providing modern technologies in the field of automation, robotization and digitization for industrial companies for 35 years.
Are Polish manufacturing companies ready for Industry 4.0 – both mentally and technologically?
It depends. First of all, on the size of the company. Our experience shows that micro and small companies are not completely ready. The situation is different with medium-sized and large companies, especially those belonging to groups with foreign capital. Here, the transfer of knowledge, and thus the awareness and the need for transformation, is much greater. Some of them are more prepared. They are slowly developing plans and strategies for technological evolution. It still isn’t happening as fast as we thought or imagined. Especially that we, as a technology supplier, have long been ready to transform – digitize and robotize Polish companies.
It all takes time, especially minimizing or filling the gap in consciousness that often comes from the belief that technologies are cosmically expensive, that this change is costly. How to handle this dilemma? Especially at a strategic level?
Certainly, capital, or rather the lack of it, is still a big barrier. It is true that all new technologies that actually work in modern industry have their own costs. In order not to be too pessimistic, there are various subsidies and tax exemptions available on the market, which, although they operate at a different ‘speed,’ are nevertheless helpful in overcoming the financial barrier in the context of investing in technologies. Quite recently, while working on robotization relief, I heard that from the second half of this year there will be much more funding. Preparing a company to benefit from a subsidy or relief is a time-consuming and difficult process. It is a combination of many dimensions of investment preparation, both specific technical and business knowledge, especially profitability and return on investment. And you have to be able to combine this in order to smoothly navigate the technical issues that are necessary to modernize the industry and the financial issues of subsidies and various exemptions, which are complicated. It seems to me that there is one more aspect: do companies have specialized staff for this process? I observe that the next barrier is based on knowledge. There are companies that know very well how to produce. It is also interesting that many Poles working in companies in Poland, but belonging to foreign capital, acquire this knowledge much more easily. I think this is related to the fact that they often go to factories abroad, where they can simply see and get inspired, and then move, develop or modernize Polish production lines.
So where should you start? Or how to convince entrepreneurs to invest in these technologies.
First of all, this new technology must definitely pay off. So there must be a vision that after installing modern production technologies, the costs incurred will bring a return. Sometimes it may be a year, sometimes two, but sometimes it may be even five years, depending on the model of the company’s business plan. Another thing is the openness of a potential investor to talk honestly about the problems and challenges he or she has to address. This transparency is essential for the best matching of solutions and technologies.
What solutions/tools offered by your company allow you to increase the efficiency of processes and streamline production?
We have been operating on the automation and robotics market for almost 35 years. We have watched and are still observing how Polish companies are changing. It is comforting that we have enthusiasm, that we want to, but… we are often afraid. For my part, I want to assure you that any company that wants to automate or robotize, but does not know where to start, should not be afraid, because there are many institutions on the market that help to go through the planning process, for example by building roadmaps to Industry 4.0. Our experience, confirmed by the number of training sessions, the number of people and companies trained in the hub4industry robotization center and the number of projects in which we advise how to optimally choose a robot or the entire robot-based system, shows that this is always a step in the right direction. If it is not, we are openly talking about it. On the Polish market, often in close proximity, you can meet several units that specialize in facilitating the introduction of the latest technologies to the industry. These are institutions called the “Digital Innovation Hub.” When it comes to a wide range of robotic solutions, such a hub is hub4industry, which is located in Krakow and is a consortium of the Krakow University of Technology, Krakow Technology Park, ASTOR, T-Mobile and business environment institutions: BIM Klaster and the Kosciuszko Institute. It is a place where you can verify the research, technologies needed for effective implementation of robotization and minimize project risks, convert the return on investment and learn how to “get” your first or next robot in order to maximize profits.
As part of the innovation hub, is it still possible to perform a test before the investment?
Certainly, one tool that is not yet common, although our company has been offering it for two years, is the PoC [Proof of Concept]. This is an attempt to allow testing of certain concepts for solutions that are innovative and thus we are sure that they will work. Thanks to the pre-investment tests, we are able to prove to ourselves and the client that it will work and that it will have such and such a performance, that it will be reliable. Often, such tests are carried out free of charge thanks to funding or with microscopic costs incurred by the client.
Let us dwell for a moment on the systemic solution, which is robotization relief, because this subsidy, which was discussed for a long time, went through two ministries. Will this relief change the approach to investing in new technologies at all?
Already has. When in 2016, as one of the first companies in Poland, we carried out awareness raising about Industry 4.0 technology, it was on the zero level or just above it, Now, after six years, knowledge of these issues among entrepreneurs is at the level of 14%. These are in particular large and medium-sized entrepreneurs. This is confirmed by research carried out by UMWM [study of the needs and readiness of Małopolska MSMEs to adapt solutions appropriate to the model of so-called Industry 4.0]. I estimate that the introduced tax relief for robotization will make the robot market in Poland more dynamic. This is the response of the Ministry of Development [the initiator and originator of the introduction of the tax relief for robotization] to the changing socio-economic and economic reality not only in our country, but also globally. The point is to give an impulse to all manufacturing companies operating on the Polish market to incorporate innovations into these strategies when thinking strategically about development.
Where can we find knowledge about the interpretation of the relief? Quite a few entrepreneurs have said it is complicated or, worse, variable?
In the context of the robotization allowance, we make sure that we have the latest and current information, and we also send it to our clients. The recently established institution – Polish Automation And Robotics Association, the supervisory board of which I am chairman, also keeps its finger on the pulse. I am convinced that the tax relief will give an additional impulse to buy new robots and new technologies for Polish manufacturing companies. All this so as not to fall behind the most modern European economies.
Stefan Życzkowski is the founder, co-owner, long-term president of ASTOR and currently chairman of the strategic board of ASTOR. He chaired the University Council of the Krakow University of Technology in the years 2019-2020. He is a member of the Council of the Future Industry Platform Foundation and the Automation and Robotics Committee of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Since October 2020, he has worked as the Chairman of the Supervisory Board in the Employers’ Association of the Polish Automation and Robotics Forum.
ASTOR is a company with Polish capital, a technological brand that has been consistently built up over 30 years. In Poland, it represents global brands, including Emerson, Kawasaki Robotics, AVEVA, Epson, MiR. About 150 people work in seven branches across Poland (Kraków, Warsaw, Poznań, Katowice, Gdańsk, Szczecin and Wrocław). In 2019, ASTOR Robotics Center was established in Kraków. This is a response to the dynamic development of robotization in Poland. The direction of supporting the development and transformation of the company’s customers is determined by Industry 4.0