We talked to Maximilian Fischer, founder of Actyx, about digital factories, and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Maximilian Fischer: In the past year, COVID-19 had a great impact on all our lives. Luckily, my family and friends are healthy and safe, thank you.
Tell us about you, your career, and how you founded Actyx.
A mechanical engineer by background, I started my career in academics but quickly realized that I wanted to do something with a direct impact on the manufacturing industry. This is why, from day one, the ambition of my co-founders and me was to fundamentally change how factories work. By talking with hundreds of factories and writing software for them, we realized how challenging it is to build digital factory solutions. That’s why we built the Actyx platform over the last few years. It is based on a fundamentally new paradigm: without central servers, message brokers, or central PLCs, an approach that changes the way factory IT is built and makes the life of a developer easier.
How does Actyx innovate?
Maximilian Fischer: I think the most important thing is to keep an open mind and be bold. Getting to where we are today required us to continuously challenge ourselves and our assumptions. Of course, if you bring a radically new technological approach to an existing market, you have to make bold decisions without knowing that they are the right ones. You cannot wait around until every loose end has been tied. So, in the end, it is a journey of continuous learning.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business, and how are you coping?
Maximilian Fischer: In the first months of the pandemic, it felt like everything stalled. Everyone seemed to be focusing inwards, so it took a while to get back to normal conversations with our customers. But with time, I think the pandemic revealed a need for digitalizing our production processes. And for many companies, it has moved up on the agenda. This is definitely a development that we think will be lasting.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Maximilian Fischer: Definitely. I think in a startup, you are continuously confronted with difficult choices. As a product company, you continuously struggle with, on the one hand, making a specific customer happy, and on the other hand, pursuing your product vision. This means that you are not able to build all the features that a customer wants. This is particularly difficult at the beginning of your startup when you only have a few customers.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Maximilian Fischer: Our company has been 50% remote already before the crisis. So in terms of daily work, it was really not such a difficult change. Of course, we miss the regular team get-togethers. But you wouldn’t believe how creative people get when it comes to games for an online team-event. We introduced a virtual social event every three weeks, where we play games together or just have a chat over a few beers. I really enjoy this time with the team.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Maximilian Fischer: The Actyx platform is based on a novel technological approach, the local-first paradigm, so there are few companies that are technically doing what we are doing. But what this brings along is that there is an established way of doing things and a preconception of what can and can’t be done in the realm of factory automation. In this respect, breaking through this convention and establishing a new way to approach factory-IT is our real competitor.
Your final thoughts?
Maximilian Fischer: Corona really showed us how fragile factories and supply chains still are. Factories are the backbone of our society and produce all the goods and products that we are using daily. We need to be bold and ambitious if we want to transform factories to become resource-efficient and resilient. This is a combined effort of technology vendors and manufacturing companies, and we need to work together to make this happen.
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