Climate change, automation, the coronavirus, the US election – 2020 was fraught with challenges for the German economy that will continue to impact the industry in the years to come. VINCORION Insights spoke with market experts about the trends and opportunities.
Whether in the air, on land, or at sea, 2020 was not an easy year for the products and solutions offered by the German and international supplier industry. And at the same time, tremendous opportunities for new processes and solutions have emerged. Whether in their supply chains, in production, or with respect to the way they interact with customers, very few companies and markets were prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic.
Multimedia Online Showroom for Customers and Partners
“The business environment has changed forever,” sums up Thomas Paustian, head of the Customer Support business unit at VINCORION. By the spring of 2020 at the very latest, it was clear that flexibility, agility, and a pragmatic approach were must-haves for the entire materials management sector and ultimately for the manufacturing industry as well. The coronavirus significantly accelerated the digitization of work processes and customer relations activities across national borders and entire continents. “With our virtual acceptance test and our VINCORION online showroom, we’ve implemented new processes and tools that allow us to reliably support our customers, even in the era of COVID-19,” explains Philippe Euzennat, head of the Power Systems BU.
VINCORION invested heavily in 2020 in order to keep up with the times and respond to changes with flexibility and agility. For example, the company developed its own state-of-the-art PCB assembly line in order to meet the enormous demand for power electronics even more efficiently in-house. Establishing manufacturing execution systems (MES) throughout the entire process chain, from development to production to customer support, will continue to keep the mechatronics specialist busy in 2021. This is a process that, above all else, benefits the company’s customers.
Climate Change Impacts the Defense Market
One of component supplier VINCORION’s long-standing partners and customers is the German armed forces, which celebrated its 65th anniversary in 2020. Power supply and predictive maintenance are topics just as relevant to it as to the entire defense market. After all, even if the CO2 emissions from military equipment are negligible compared to the overall carbon footprint: “Combating climate change is important in the military as well,” explains Astrid Biesterfeldt, head of the Energy & Drive business unit. This is why hybrid power systems, hydrogen technology, and fuel cells also play a key role in VINCORION’s research and development activities. “Our expertise can be put to excellent use here, for example when it comes to field camps.
But hybrid power solutions will also dominate the military vehicle sector in the coming years, for example in combination with a Powerpack powered by diesel or, in the future, also synthetic fuel.”
In addition to power management, VINCORION also continues to focus on drive and stabilization technology in the military sector – while always keeping an eye on shifting, global deployment scenarios. Mobility and flexibility are guaranteed with the modular solutions that the mechatronics specialists in Altenstadt, Wedel, and Essen develop and manufacture, which are always designed with an eye to the entire product as well as life cycle. But even if all the technological requirements have been met, in many respects it is the politicians who will ultimately be the deciding factor: “We are not only competing with the world economically, but also strategically,” emphasizes VINCORION Managing Director Dr. Stefan Stenzel. “Major German and European projects such as TLVS or FCAS are driving innovation and are a significant contribution to NATO. Our supplier industry has all the competencies ready and waiting, but it needs a clear political signal in support of the pending major procurement programs.”
From the Product to Maintenance, Modularity Creates Efficiency
While VINCORION successfully develops state-of-the-art, tailor-made, rapid solutions for the specific requirements of customers around the world, another of the company’s competencies is also crucial: long-term obsolescence management and module overhaul, particularly in the military sector. “Our customer support technicians are experts in maintaining nearly all of our platforms and systems so that they will continue to operate reliably and durably for the next 30 years,” explains Thomas Paustian. Similar to the design of products and solutions, modular processes are increasingly being used in customer support as well. This makes maintenance even more efficient for customers in the defense, civil aviation, and railway industries.
Security, flexibility, durability, and sustainability will continue to dominate the defense, rail technology, and aerospace markets in 2021 and beyond. “With the knowledge and skills gained over 60 years and our dedicated engineers, we look forward to playing a leading role in shaping these trends,” says Dr. Stenzel.
What does it take to transform a vision into reality? Technical expertise, tremendous dedication, and clear political backing.
Greater flexibility, greater power, greater connectivity – in the coming decades, defense systems will have to meet ever-increasing demands. This is mainly due to changing, globalized, and unpredictable deployment scenarios, high technology such as hypersonic weapons, and 360-degree missile technology. With the TLVS tactical air defense system, the German government and companies in the country have painted a vision of the future that could soon become reality. And some of this vision has already been developed by German companies, including mission-specific defensive missiles, enhanced sensor capabilities, advanced software algorithms, and increased cybersecurity. As a result, the system will be the first integrated air defense system capable of simultaneously tracking and intercepting multiple threats – at short and medium range – for comprehensive, 360-degree protection.
Autonomous and Uninterruptible Power Supply
This requires power supply systems that cover the tremendous power requirements efficiently and with flexibility. This is the only way to guarantee that the TLVS will always have a reliable supply of power in all future deployment scenarios, while at the same time minimizing fuel consumption and replenishment logistics – a considerable tactical and financial advantage over the system’s decades of use. In addition to particularly efficient diesel gensets, the commercial power interfaces, which enable parallel operation on existing power grids, are a highlight of our VINCORION power systems. Robust, field-tested, durable, and reliable, all of VINCORION’s power systems can therefore be used with the TLVS – both autonomously via a primary genset and without interruption via the public grid.
The heart of the TLVS is the new MC4IS command post. It needs to have reliable and sufficient power available in every situation. To ensure that this is the case, a genset converts all available power sources into the appropriate form and makes them available to the system. The decisive factor in this respect is that all of the components are designed to save space and weight so that the power system can share the limited installation space with other technical systems in the 20-foot ISO control container.
VINCORION Calls on Politicians to Strengthen Germany as Center for Technological Innovation
The expertise and the components behind this system come from VINCORION, among other companies. With its expertise in the field of power management of safety-critical systems and platforms, the company’s location in Altenstadt, Bavaria, can serve as a particularly reliable partner.
“Major German and European projects such as the TLVS are driving innovation in the German defense industry as a whole and make a significant contribution to NATO,” emphasizes Managing Director Dr. Stefan Stenzel. This is one of the reasons why the German government has declared its support for the project in the 2021 draft budget. “What’s missing is the financial backing for this declaration of support – a clear signal to companies and especially to the supplier industry to help strengthen the competitiveness of Germany as a center for technological innovation.” The message from Altenstadt, Wedel, and Essen, VINCORION’s locations in Germany, is clear – as a reliable partner to the German Armed Forces for safety-critical systems and infrastructure, as an innovative mechatronics specialist, and as an important economic factor at locations in three German states, VINCORION is ready for next-level defense systems.
The Customer Support Department of the Future Will Act as a Service Hub.
Manufacturing customized components for airplanes, helicopters, land and air defense systems, or rail vehicles is one thing. Technological solutions that focus on the customer extend far beyond development and production, however. Providing reliable and unlimited support, even years after the original project has been completed, is a core element of our business model. At the same time, digitization, globalization, and new application scenarios also require companies to fundamentally rethink what customer support means. VINCORION Insights spoke with Manging Director Dr. Stefan Stenzel about the customer support team of the future.
What do you think of when you hear the term customer service?
I think of reliability. In an ideal world, our customers would require as little support as possible – simply because our products work perfectly. Achieving this requires low-maintenance, customized solutions. But it’s also clear that this wishful thinking quickly reaches its limits, especially when dealing with products that have extremely long life cycles. That’s why it’s essential for us to take a holistic approach to MRO and consider all aspects of life cycle management right from the very beginning of the development process. This also encompasses spare parts and service technicians being available worldwide and around the clock. We need to already know how maintenance and service could ultimately be structured and implemented early on, during the development stage. It’s also important to ensure that the necessary spare parts and expertise remain available for maintenance and mitigating obsolescence. Preparing this process in an ideal manner is also a part of professional customer support.
It is also clear, however, that a workshop or a logistics system with customer support staff and spare parts is by no means the end of the process.
In what direction is customer support evolving?
The assembly was developed together and fits perfectly into the customer’s platform, the customer and contractor are satisfied, everything has come together perfectly. It goes without saying that our components and solutions are long-lasting and work reliably. But technology advances at a breathtaking pace. Energy management systems must become even more powerful, more rugged, lighter, and more modular. We continue to work on this while the solution is in the field being used by the customer. Or the other case – challenges arise in the field that were previously impossible to foresee. Even in this situation, it’s important to adapt the components to the conditions and not the other way around – and respond to this as quickly as possible. Or have the customer perform this work themselves under our guidance. Data analytics, sensor technology, intelligently connected components, stockpiling – all of these play a critical role right from the initial project planning stage.
What would this form of life cycle management look like in the real world?
We collect exactly the data needed for reliable life cycle management via our on-site and obsolescence service, via remote access, but of course also during development and production. When it comes to power electronics, for example, this means that we not only collect and utilize data and events from product testing and prototype engineering, but also directly from the field. The automotive industry is a trendsetter in this area. But our technologies also support remote and predictive maintenance. Take, for example, our new electronic rescue hoist – its modular design and built-in test equipment (BITE) give the system the ability to inform the user not only that a functional module needs to be replaced, but also exactly how to do so. The next step would be remote maintenance and advance warning long before the end of the life cycle as well as augmented reality access for maintenance purposes.
That sounds like a lot of data. How can you be sure that it will be stored properly and securely?
This is the tremendous advantage of having everything flow together into one service hub – from development to production to operation to analysis and ultimately to advancement. We impose the highest standards not only on our products, but also on the data behind them. That’s why compliance with international standards and specific industry requirements is a matter of course for us, and our numerous certifications are proof of this. In addition, we have decades of experience with security-critical infrastructure and in processing and saving data from the German Armed Forces. Moreover, we have the expertise and the will to integrate such innovative approaches and advanced systems into long-lasting platforms.
The power supply is a critical challenge when it comes to the tactical use of high-energy weapons in drone defense. Conventional energy sources quickly reach their limits under peak loads and load changes. Hybrid systems with intelligent power storage systems – which VINCORION is developing at its site in Altenstadt, Germany – are an excellent solution.
In future deployment scenarios, airspace control will continue to be a factor critical to a mission’s success. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), whose capabilities are rapidly growing, are playing an increasingly important role in this context – whether for combat missions, surveillance and reconnaissance, or for logistical purposes. Conversely, this means that countermeasures to defend against UAVs are an integral part of future defense and security strategies.
A Wide Variety of Threat Scenarios
In this context, a threat isn’t only posed by highly sophisticated special drones, but also by swarms of numerous small and relatively inexpensive drones. These allow attackers to cause extensive damage with relatively low resources.
In the future, conventional, ammunition-based defense systems will no longer be effective in countering an increasingly asymmetric threat posed by drone attacks, especially if they are deployed as part of intelligent swarms. One factor that shouldn’t be underestimated in this respect is that the use of hundreds of rounds of expensive special ammunition or even defensive missiles is hardly an economically viable solution. From a security standpoint, one particularly critical aspect is that existing expensive conventional defense systems can be easily overrun, even with very limited financial and organizational resources. As a result, unforeseeable gaps in the defense of individuals and infrastructure may increasingly become apparent in the future.
On the other hand, high-energy weapons are considered to be particularly effective against all types of drone attacks if they bring their targets down by hitting them with an enormous amount of energy – such as via laser or other electromagnetic pulses, for example. A particular advantage of lasers is that the “deep magazine” concept provides a virtually unlimited and extremely cost-effective supply of ammunition. In order to achieve a mission-capable cadence during combat, sufficient energy for the pulse phases must be available.
The Limits of Conventional Energy Sources
One critical yet often neglected challenge facing these systems, however, is precisely this mission-capable power supply. This is particularly true with respect to size, weight and ease of integration, their tactical transportability, the supply of materials and fuel, and their reliability.
The power requirements result from the defense systems’ mode of operation from a technical perspective – eliminating a drone requires an extremely high energy charge at certain points during firing. Measured by its effective power, a laser briefly consumes three times the amount of energy needed for the entire system. At the same time, however, it must be noted that the systems remain almost entirely in standby mode during their entire service life and thus consume significantly less power in base-load operation.
Conventional energy sources such as on-board alternators or auxiliary power units quickly reach their limits due to the high peak loads and rapid load changes and are at risk of malfunctioning. And even the power supply systems used in field camps and on ships are frequently unable to adequately meet the enormous power requirements, which also endangers critical primary or self-protection systems.
The Solution: Hybrid Systems with Intelligent Power Storage
VINCORION’s hybrid systems, which can be configured to meet the special demands of high-energy weapons, represent a promising solution for the future. The power systems consist of three components: a conventional alternator, a high-performance power storage unit, and an intelligent energy management system. This design makes it possible to provide the buffer needed to fire a pulsed-energy projectile with a minimal use of primary energy and a hybrid storage system designed for a realistic load profile, as well as the entire pulse phase within the required combat cadence.
Solutions that can be specially adapted to the respective defense system include, for example, the P2M2 portable power management module. The flexible system is capable of using all available energy sources. It can be connected to several storage modules and can be variably connected to a wide variety of output modules depending on the deployment scenario – including mobile high-energy weapons used in drone defense. Several P2M2 modules can also be interconnected, if required.
Customized Mechatronics Solutions – for over 60 Years
The development of this product is based on VINCORION’s technical expertise in the generation, management, and storage of power in civil and military applications. The Jenoptik Technology Group has consolidated its mechatronics expertise under the VINCORION brand since 2018, bringing together more than 60 years of successful company history.
Zunächst einmal moin und herzlich willkommen. Wenn du gerade diesen Text liest, stehen die Chancen nicht schlecht, dass du dich für den Beruf des Elektronikers für Maschinen und Antriebstechnik interessierst. Doch gerade bei der beruflichen Orientierung schwirren einem viele Fragen durch den Kopf. Ist der Beruf was für mich, was mache ich täglich, kann ich leisten, was von mir verlangt wird? Ich hoffe, dir bei der Beantwortung dieser Fragen mit meinen persönlichen Erfahrungen ein wenig unter die Arme greifen zu können.
Ich möchte damit beginnen, zu erläutern, warum ich mich für eine Ausbildung zum Elektroniker für Maschinen und Antriebstechnik entschieden habe. Als ich mich dazu entschieden habe, meine Lehre zu beginnen, war ich im dritten Semester eines Hochschulstudiums im Fach Schiffsmaschinenbau. In diesem Zeitraum wurde mir klar, dass die fachliche Richtung definitiv die richtige ist, allerdings die Art der Vermittlung viel zu theoretisch für jemanden ist, der wie ich vorher in keiner Form berufliche/praktische Erfahrungen im Bereich der Elektromechanik hatte. In dieser Situation kam mir ein Ausbildungsberuf, der sich genau mit der Schnittstelle von Elektrotechnik und Mechanik befasst, wie die perfekte Lösung vor. Von dem, was ich bis dahin gelernt und erlebt hatte, war diese Entscheidung genau richtig. Was ich damit sagen will, ist: Wenn du dich für Elektrotechnik, Mechanik und Physik im Allgemeinen interessierst, wirst du auch mit den Berufsinhalten des EMA sehr zufrieden sein.
Welche Vorkenntnisse benötigst du?
Eventuell wirkt es auf dich ein wenig einschüchternd, dass ich von einem abgebrochenen Studium als Vorqualifikation spreche, aber da kann ich dich auf jeden Fall beruhigen. Das fachliche Wissen, welches mir an der Fachhochschule vermittelt wurde, ist zwar unglaublich hilfreich, aber in keiner Weise nötig, um einen guten Start in die Lehre zu gewährleisten. Eigentlich ist es schon ausreichend, wenn du nie Probleme mit Mathematik in der Mittelstufe an deiner Schule hattest. Mit anderen Worten: Solange du Gleichungen umstellen und lösen kannst, weißt du alles, was du zu Beginn der Ausbildung wissen musst. Dazu sollte ich allerdings nochmal betonen, dass jegliche darüber hinausgehende Qualifikation trotzdem sehr hilfreich sein wird. Dies gilt sowohl für theoretische als auch für praktische Kenntnisse und Erfahrungen. Das Wichtigste ist jedoch, wie so häufig, ein grundlegendes Interesse und deine persönliche Lernbereitschaft. Ein gewisses handwerkliches Geschick ist natürlich auch wichtig, viele Tricks und Kniffe wirst du allerdings auch während der Ausbildung vermittelt bekommen.
Kurz gesagt: alles, was mit elektrischen Maschinen zu tun hat. Hauptsächlich wird es später darum gehen, Elektromotoren zu warten und zu reparieren. Doch bis man diese Tätigkeiten selbstständig und eigenverantwortlich ausführen darf, muss einiges gelernt werden. Dazu gehören vor allem elektrotechnische und mechanische Grundkenntnisse. Dabei ist unter anderem der Elektromagnetismus von entscheidender Bedeutung. Des Weiteren durchläuft man eine Metallgrundausbildung, konkret geht es darin um Feilen, Bohren und Sägen. Der Hauptteil der Ausbildung, zumindest im ersten Lehrjahr, besteht aber aus Steuerungstechnik und Automatisierung. Ein grundlegendes Beispiel für Steuerungstechnik wäre eine Schiebetürsteuerung, das heißt prinzipiell: Wie steuere ich einen Elektromotor so an, dass sowohl alle Sicherheitsvorschriften beachtet als auch alle geforderten Funktionen implementiert werden. Eine konkrete Aussage zu den Lehrinhalten der kommenden Lehrjahre kann ich zu diesem Zeitpunkt leider noch nicht treffen.
Tätigkeiten bei Vincorion
Grundsätzlich findet die Ausbildung an drei unterschiedlichen Orten statt: bei Vincorion, in einer separaten Ausbildungswerkstatt und in der Berufsschule.
Während du in der Firma bist, wirst du dich so gut wie ausschließlich im Kundendienst aufhalten. Tätigkeiten, die ich dort bisher ausgeübt habe, reichen vom Reinigen gebrauchter Maschinen über ihre Befundung bis hin zur Fehlersuche an defekten Antrieben sowie deren Reparatur.
In der Ausbildungswerkstatt findet vor allem die Vermittlung der Grundlagen und Lehrinhalte statt. Darunter fallen die oben genannte Metallgrundausbildung, allerdings auch Grundlagen der Elektrotechnik, Steuerungstechnik und Automatisierung.
In der Berufsschule fängt auch alles recht fachunspezifisch an und entwickelt sich dann langsam Richtung Elektrotechnik.