Meet our experts: Thorsten Ulbricht, ERNI Switzerland

Thorsten Ulbricht, expert in IoT and Smart Manufacturing at ERNI Switzerland.

With Thorsten Ulbricht (ERNI Switzerland)

In our series Meet our experts, we move now from MedTech to the Manufacturing domain. Thorsten Ulbricht joined ERNI as Principal Consultant in the area of IoT. Read about his passion for all aspects related to IoT and Smart Manufacturing.

How long have you been at ERNI and what kinds of projects have you been working on?

I started with ERNI in August 2021 and my main focus lies in Consulting and Supporting projects related to any kinds of aspects of IoT. Besides supporting quotations for projects, I have so far tuned into workshops, come closer together with ERNI Developers for an IoT Showcase and actually have been consulting for an IoT Ecosystem for one of our customers for a company delivering end-to-end security solutions for smartphones.

What led you to the Manufacturing domain and what is your educational background?

I started my career as a specialist in communication electronics. Early on, we developed circuit boards. That was the point that led me to scaling manufacturing as a topic. I very much liked this part of manufacturing.

At first, I was blinded by the illusion of countless repetitions without any further efforts. Soon, it became clear that the process of planning and optimising never ends. Even if you think you have achieved a truly lean and rationalised setup, it is necessary to rethink again. This somehow led to something I would call an occupational disease. Regardless of where I am, I automatically try to figure out what the process is and how it can be further optimised.

You can speak to my family, friends or relatives; it can be very exhausting just to go for dinner with me to a, let’s say, mediocrely functioning restaurant.

What is your expertise based on mainly?

Most of the time something starts with sensing something that is not possible to be articulated. I usually start with talking to the customer about how they deal with challenges, expectations, hidden struggles and objectives. I’m curious about what people try to achieve and how they do it. These conversations form something like a feeling (I know this may sound strange, but very often I know without articulable evidence whether something is really good or not). The more details I get to know, the crisper and clearer the picture becomes. Sometimes you look at a perfect process, or at a very nice piece of machinery. Of course, then there is always the question of how these two fit together. Or if there is room for improvement on one side or the other. If so, how did that go in retrospect? What were the reasons for this or that? And now the endless game of optimisation can start.

What do you consider as the major Manufacturing project of your career so far?

One of my favourites was the completion of one of the most modern galenic production facilities in Europe at the time. Due to space limitations, the line needed to be fitted in an existing building that originally was planned in 1927.

The requirements were kind of delicate since the use case was to manufacture High-Potency Material there (for example 30 kg of material was manufactured into millions of pills). On top, the outer shell was applied. All dependencies in regard to IT and energy were, let’s say, somewhat challenging.

At the end of the project, we not only managed to fulfil the requirements but we also managed to connect all package units of the line to the Enterprise Active Directory. That made a huge difference in User Management and ease of use of the facility at the time. Additional areas like Audit Trail, Equipment Monitoring and Remote Access and User Management were ahead of their time.

What do you see as the major trend in Manufacturing? Why?

Of course, I feel that somehow – behind the hyped buzzwords like IoT or Digital Twins – AI and ML will make their way to reality. But honestly, behind all that I sense something else. I personally believe that with the empowerment of digital native people, things will change even more. A classical engineer will take decisions differently than a digital native who rescued thousands of digital ape babies in Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. For the digital natives, Informatics is no longer something to prevent failure. For the digital natives, IT is just something that takes you places.

How do you think this trend will influence companies active in Manufacturing?

This new and fresh perspective is bringing fun back into the game of optimisation. Dead ends will be resolved, and new forward thinking will make the current status quo look old starting from tomorrow on.

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