INTERVIEW

Direction automation

Artur Pollak APAGroup

“These two potentially mutually excluding trends of high quality and costs reduction can be reconciled by progressive automation, since it makes the process repeatable. As long as a given machine or production line works as it should, manufactured product keeps its high quality” – says Artur Pollak, General Manager of APAGroup.

PolandWeek.pl: When was APAGroup set up? How has it expanded? How fast?

APAGroup was set up in 2001. At first, the company provided services from the scope of industrial processes automation. In 2004 we decided to expand the second pillar. We have established innovation department. To this department approached a client with an interesting project of building a retirement home in Thailand. Norwegian investor was going to come with rentiers by ship to Thailand. From there, cruise participants were supposed to go to the house that would take care of them. That was smart home. We started creating IT system that would be able to tackle these challenges.

How did the work on the system look like in practice?

We started creating algorithms that would be able to identify people in the space. At that time, we wanted to rely on face recognition. It is a technologically hard thing. We have created the system for five years. After a year from the start of cooperation, the investor has changed conditions. For this reason, we turned the project from commercial into R&D one. We have developed the project into a product.  In 2009 we created the control system for buildings. The system links infrastructure with all facilities for people living in the building as well as those, who manage it. We also created specialized electronics dedicated to the system such as access control and identification cards.

That is Internet of Things.

That’s right but at that time unnamed. In 2009 our first client invited us to join the project of mall’s automation in Torun. We have received a task to create a lighting control system in the whole facility. Additionally, we were asked to address the issue of energy and electrical efficiency. We began by introducing electricity metering for all tenants known today as smart metering. Each meter has been made available for all renters who were able to see their profiles. We provided information about consumption results in the form of a chart.

The first month was very eventful. Some of the tenants started paying more, some of them a lot less. It turned out that renters had many devices plugged into the power grid, even though they didn’t use them.

So it was a matter of usage of the equipment.

Just imagine that in the following month the mall’s need for power decreased by 11 percent without any interference in the infrastructure. That was only a change of people’s habits. It is a spectacular example, how people can change behavior if they know what purpose does it serve.

How many projects did you carry out?

We automated over 150 facilities. We created a system that is customizable for different buildings both private and commercial. We have good business relations with investors. Therefore we can show live how our solutions work.

Where can one find your technological solutions?

We realize large-scale projects. On the day-by-day basis, we work for Volkswagen group as a car manufacturer. Our another client is MAN, for which we carried out projects related to robotization of very complicated technological processes. In the meantime, we realized automation of six factories for Amazon in Europe. We work for Fiat, for which we designed automation in the plant in Serbia and Italy.

Which market is the most promising for you?

The part related to machines automation is already available abroad. Our systemic solutions are a global product and don’t have language barriers. From the perspective of control, we are ready to expand. In the first place, however, we enter Western Europe’s markets and places with high needs.

Do you partner with other companies in creating solutions?

We are a business partner of Samsung and Microsoft. So we work using global technologies. I see in it an opportunity that we are ready to provide modern and scalable solutions. We, while executing projects, integrate solutions of others producers. We create the system, build electronics but we don’t manufacture equipment such as TVs, air-conditioners, and street lamps. Therefore we develop a partnership with other companies. Thanks to this, the company is expanding.

Which direction is the automation market heading? Is it a constant quest for reducing costs?

Market goes in the direction of reducing costs of manufacturing to maintain competitiveness in the market. At the same time, individual and business consumers as well, are used to products of the highest quality. In such a situation, a producer would have to employ a huge group of specialists to meet market needs and reach required results. That is impossible.

These two potentially mutually excluding trends of high quality and costs reduction can be reconciled by progressive automation, since it makes the process repeatable. As long as a given machine or production line works as it should, manufactured product keeps its high quality.

There is also one issue concerning this process. The ability to acquire knowledge by human beings is limited. Of course, one can be a specialist it the respective field. Nevertheless, it is still a matter of learning, what takes time. It is different in the case of automation. It is enough to change the algorithm to transform an entire process, and changes can be applied virtually instantly.

In turn, training in a given process would take much more time. Therefore, technology entering into production and automation, robotization are an inevitable trend.

Where do you see the company in five years?

From the perspective of technology and technique, new solutions will emerge for sure. However, they will still touch on same topics – people and processes. We are planning to expand into foreign markets. We are going to offer our solutions to a wider range of customers. We also want to scale our business. Ultimately, we strive to open several offices abroad. However, this is not a determinant of our success. Today you can run a business from anywhere in the world.

How do you spend your spare time?

Recently I have less of it. However, what I enjoy doing is to read books. I drive a car a lot, so I use audiobooks. I also like listening to music. When it comes to sport, I am fascinated by long distance running. I run a marathon three times. Running has changed my perception of the business. I know today that success requires perseverance and determination. It is important to have a rhythm and set goal. Without this, we will never reach the finish line.