How Industry 4.0 And Digitization Are Driving Innovation And Customer Satisfaction At GEBHARDT Intralogistics Group

Richard Howells

GEBHARDT Intralogistics Group was founded as a machinery construction company in 1952 and has lengthy experience in developing and manufacturing systems solutions for internal logistics. All of its components and systems are produced at GEBHARDT’s globally distributed factories, which provide more than 16,500 square meters of production space. The company is family-owned, earns revenue of EUR 100 million per year, and has an annual growth of 20%.

Its product portfolio ranges from conveyor rollers to aisle stacker cranes and complete intralogistics systems with contemporary electronic control and software. The nutrient mix that supplies the company’s market leadership includes over 67 years of experience in the development and implementation of logistical processes. With its broad know-how, GEBHARDT can offer everything from a single source – from planning through design to realization and provision of ongoing support on to highly integrated, complete solutions. This confirms GEBHARDT as one of the leading intralogistics companies.

GEBHARDT Intralogistics Group’s trademark and unique selling proposition are lean design and robust construction, leading to a higher degree of efficiency and greater operational assurance. Freedom of configuration in conjunction with compatibility ensures progress, and certification in accordance with ISO 9001/2015 is the icing on the cake.

In 2004, GEBHARDT decided to program its machines’ electronic controls and software to strengthen the company’s knowledge. The company has been cooperating since 2010 with the KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) and other high-ranking universities and the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance in the context of Industry 4.0 and IoT. Later, the manufacturer spun off various startups to pursue super-innovative business models outside of its daily business, such as in the services segment. In GEBHARDT’s opinion, these cooperations are key to mastering digital transformation.

Simultaneously, GEBHARDT deployed more IT personnel with software and process control skills and established its highly regarded IoT platform, Galileo, as the central component.

Recently, I had the chance to speak with Marco Gebhardt, managing director of GEBHARDT Group in Sinsheim, Germany, about the company’s operations.

Q: How do you make your enterprise future-ready and expand your competitive edge?

A: Ten years ago, we primarily sold products. Nowadays, 60% of our sales are solutions. With the change to focus on solutions, we had to build up various competences in different areas. This was a huge challenge and transformed our business fundamentally. We needed many employees for various functions, including controls and software engineers. This laid the foundation for our success.

Our customers’ success is the center of everything we do. We are making progress alongside with our customers and employees. In my mind, digitization is key for sustainable company growth and an attractive work environment.

Q: Is digitization a personal hobby for you or an entrepreneurial need?

A: Digitization is a clear entrepreneurial need, although, I have some affinity for the topic itself. Sometimes, I get business-blinded, and then it is very often our employees who are generating and ultimately driving ideas directly. We have a lot of transparency, so no one has “to fear the boss.” It makes no sense to encourage employees to innovate if innovating is not appreciated by their boss.

Q: How would you describe innovation?  

A: We encourage our employees to drive innovation. Most ideas are generated by them. We take away anxiety, as digitization does not happen here with the intent to cut workforce, but instead to secure jobs for the future. I’m convinced that we can no longer act as we did 10 years ago. With advanced technologies in place, times have changed.

If someone says “this is how we always did it,” I respond “OK, but now we have to reflect if this is still the right approach for the future.”

Q: Is it difficult to recruit appropriate staff in a time of workforce shortage?

A: We are not located in Berlin or another metropolis but in the middle of the Rhein-Neckar region, one of Germany’s major business locations, and well-known universities, such as the KIT and the TU Kaiserslautern, are just around the corner. These are definitely advantages in terms of recruiting. Nevertheless, it is generally difficult to find staff in STEM subjects.

Q: In how important is digitization for sustainable growth and an attractive work environment?

A: I would rather work with the latest technology than with any old technology. A powerful 3D CAD program, for example, is much more impressive and sustainable than designs on paper. With that on our minds, we have been able to ensure continued dynamic growth over the years.

Q: What are the challenges of digitization in the midsize segment?

A: The intralogistics industry has always been more digital than other industries. Technology, software, RFID, and so forth have been topics for a long time. Nowadays, we use robots, artificial intelligence, and predictive maintenance. The industry, as well as industrial machinery and components, are best equipped for the future.

I’m driven to strive for excellence, and I only want to sell highly innovative solutions. Our IT talents develop a lot on their own. When we couldn’t find appropriate sensors in the marketplace to meet our requirements, we simply developed them on our own. On the other hand, it is key for companies of our size to build synergies and honor the advantages of cooperations. For developing a cloud platform, for example, we rely on standard software.

Q: Are workers still needed in the warehouse?

A: If you look at a warehouse today, the majority is not yet automated. So, there will be an intermediate phase of partial automation with co-bots like our GEBHARDT GridPick. In my opinion, humans and machines will continue to collaborate for the next 10 to 15 years. Even if humans are no longer manually picking, they have to monitor warehouse operations and machines. And at the end of the day, automation must have a return on investment.

Q:  Please explain the GEBHARDT Galileo IoT platform in more detail.

A: GEBHARDT provides its customers with an opportunity to combine and digitize numerous machines with components from mechanics to controls and software into the cloud, end-to-end, so that intralogistics becomes IoT-ready. Our technology for warehouse management systems, conveyor and storage systems, and the Galileo IoT platform enable intralogistics 4.0 and are key components for the smart factory of the future.

To learn more about Industry 4.0, download the “Open Industry 4.0 Alliance” white paper” or visit www.openindustry4.com.


About Richard Howells

Richard Howells is a Vice President at SAP responsible for the positioning, messaging, AR , PR and go-to market activities for the SAP Supply Chain solutions.