Collaboration - the fuel for growth and innovation: Interview with Covestro - STARTPLATZ

Collaboration – the fuel for growth and innovation: Interview with Covestro

5. Februar 2020, 15:24 :: Aktuelle Trends | Corporate Services

Autor: Olga Rube

At Covestro, a world’s leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials, safety and technology play a vital role. We asked Dr. Valsecchi, part of the Global Process Control Technology team, about his work and the opportunities that could be brought to the manufacturing company by working with a Startup. During our interview we gained insights into the requirements for a successful cooperation and the potential of the #SNTM program in this context.

Good afternoon, Dr. Valsecchi. Can you give us a quick introduction to Covestro and to your role in the organization?

„Covestro is a world-leading supplier of high-tech polymer materials. Because of our global presence, we are the partner of choice for a wide variety of industries. To give you an idea of the extent of our products, it is very likely that you are wearing items made with our polymers, from glasses, to clothes, to shoes. At Covestro, I am in the Global Process Control Technology team, which, as the name suggests, is responsible for the automation and control in our production plants. My role in the team covers innovation and new technologies, be it for devices, like sensors or actuators, or methodologies, like Artificial Intelligence, or infrastructures, like 5G or Bluetooth. A fundamental part of my job is the continuous overview of new concepts and tools. For that, I have to expand my view beyond the chemical industry. The next breakthroughs and disruptive ideas may come from different areas and fresh points of view, like the Startup world.“


What are the biggest challenges for Covestro and what solutions are being explored for those challenges?

„Of course, our long-term strategy and sustainability goals keep our board of management very busy. I can only answer on a smaller scale through my role in Covestro.

At Covestro, safety is first and foremost, and we strive to constantly improve our safety systems and procedures to maintain a safe production environment. Besides being obviously the right thing to do, it also enhances productivity and reduces losses and downtimes. Digitalization plays a significant role in this challenge. For example, by having a digital twin of a production plant, we can generate more efficient trainings using Virtual Reality, where incident scenarios can be realistically designed and repeated to practice the correct response to complex situations. Similarly, having real-time process data from the plant can help the operator recognize anomalies and reduce errors. Using Augmented Reality, I can walk up to a machine and see all the operating parameters, plus any documentation we have on file about it. In this case, more data clearly makes me safer. Another interesting challenge for Covestro is the long-term nature of manufacturing compared to the fast-paced evolution in digital technology. The time to build, retrofit, or upgrade a production plant is measured in years. This means deciding early on for technology solutions that may be deployed years later and used for the next decades. Take 5G, for example. No one can predict whether it is going to be the standard for wireless connectivity in the industry in five years, yet the decision for investing in it has to be made now. We need to understand it and experiment with it early enough while also keeping our eyes open to other possible alternatives.“


What are the decisive factors for a successful collaboration with Startups and what based your decisions? 

„We are a large manufacturing company. On one hand, we have highly skilled people, a lot of experience, and the ability of making long-term investments. On the other hand, Startups are agile and their fresh perspective generates disruptive ideas. The benefits of a collaboration are clear, as long as we keep these differences in mind. Besides the soundness of their product, the most important factor in a Startup is the team and their ability to grow with the business. While it is important to deliver a product according to the plan, we are also looking at the maintenance of that product over its lifespan and how the vendor will support it. We should not tell a Startup team how to organize their work, but I expect that they produce realistic plans and that they deliver consistently. Well, at least within the usual uncertainties associated with new technologies.

Another important factor in collaborating with Startups is the ability to adapt their solutions and integrate them to our environment. We cannot afford to re-structure our systems every time we have a new tool.“


In your search for Startup partners, why did you look at Israel?

„Innovation, just like the Startup world, is transnational and we, as a global corporation, can afford to look everywhere. This specific event organized by STARTPLATZ targeted Israeli Startup companies and I was impressed by the overall level of maturity of the Startup companies invited. I am aware that the Startup scene in Israel is quite effervescent, backed both by a lot of venture capital investments and by a solid system of universities. Since everyone speaks fluent English and the technology level is very high, the environment is not so different from what I see in Silicon Valley.“


How can the #SNTM Opening Event help you further in your search for partnerships with Startups?

„As I said, the group of companies selected by #SNTM & STARTPLATZ in Cologne and invited to the event showed impressive products and high level of maturity. I wish there were more companies and more time to interact with them. While getting to know the Startups and their products, I realized that they look at out world from a different perspective and therefore bring with them exactly what we are looking for.“


Get to know more about our #STARTUPNATION TO MITTELSTAND program aiming at connecting Germany’s leading manufacturers to Israel’s best IoT Startups to enhance innovation and cooperation.


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