Interview with Vattenfall

Startups as drivers: Industrial Analytics supports digitalization at Vattenfall

Don’t stand still now! In times of increasing digitalization, new ideas and technologies are more in demand than ever. Large companies like Vattenfall are also clearly sensing this – and are opening themselves up to working with young, innovative startups. In a joint pilot project, Industrial Analytics is currently monitoring a natural gas compressor at the Berlin-Mitte combined heat and power plant. Oliver Kueter, Digital Maintenance employee at Vattenfall, and his colleague Tatiana Gómez Londoño, Head of Monitoring, draw an initial conclusion in an interview.

Ms. Gómez Londoño, you have been supporting Vattenfall in digitalization projects as an external consultant for some time and are now head of the monitoring department. What do you currently see as the biggest challenge in your area of work?

Tatiana Gómez Londoño: We want to carry out digitization projects centrally in the future. In the past, such measures were tackled individually by each power plant or facility. Our main goal at the moment is to obtain more data from the individual plants and to combine them in order to create standards that will serve to increase efficiency and safety in the long term.

Does Vattenfall have a direct digitalization department?

Oliver Kueter: There are various digitization departments at different levels of the Group, but most of them are still being established. Different approaches are being used. Certain digitization measures are controlled from above. For example, the aim is to digitize normal day-to-day office work or contact with end customers. But there are also digitization projects that come from the individual areas, such as the Digital Maintenance and Monitoring departments. We are looking at how we can digitize the processes of energy generation and distribution.

In my area, we are the wish-fulfiller for everything related to plant maintenance. Other departments approach us and point out where something needs to be done. We then look together at how we can solve it. We also have a working group in which employees from different areas of Wärme Berlin AG come together and talk about current digitization measures. In very few cases, however, these are people who work on this full-time. Most of the time, it happens alongside normal work activities.

What role do startups like Industrial Analytics play in driving innovation at your company?

Tatiana Gómez Londoño: We are noticing more and more how important it is to think outside the box. Right now, we have the opportunity to improve many of our processes and framework conditions. And the Group wants us to bring in external expertise and new ideas.

Oliver Kueter: I would say that these efforts have intensified in recent years, especially with the topic of digitization. We are an energy supply company and digitization is not our core competence.

In order to accelerate this process and keep pace with our competitors, we have started to work with startups in certain subject areas in recent years.

What conclusion can you draw from the collaboration with Industrial Analytics so far?

Oliver Kueter: At the moment, we are still in the project phase. In a large corporation, the decision-making paths are somewhat longer than in a startup. We also notice this in our collaboration with Industrial Analytics. The team can react and adapt very quickly. What particularly surprised and also impressed me was how much prior knowledge Industrial Analytics entered the race with.

The team was able to tell us exactly which sensors a specific plant needed. That was the “aha” moment that also prompted us to work with Industrial Analytics. We hope that in the future we will be able to generate more knowledge about our plants together and also derive concrete steps from this.

What steps might these be, for example?

Oliver Kueter: We want to use data analyses to better assess the condition of the plants. In the past, there were engineers who walked through the plants and simply heard when something was wrong. But we have to adjust to the fact that in the future we won’t have these engineers who have been at the same site for 20 years. The additional knowledge we generate with Industrial Analytics should make it easier to make maintenance decisions. We hope to successfully complete the current project and we can start joint projects at other plants in the future. We have many other components in our power plants about which we would like to collect and use more data.

Tatiana Gómez Londoño: It is important that we not only obtain data in the individual power plants, but that we can also compare the plants with each other. At the moment, the main goal is to learn more about the current condition of the plants. In the long term, however, we would also like to be able to make forecasts. If a plant doesn’t run so well for two or three days, for example, it’s important for us to know what the cause is. Only then can we take maintenance measures that prevent the plant from being damaged and incurring costs.

Oliver Kueter: In addition to the cost factor, security of supply is a very important point for us. Our customers want to have electricity and hot water. The additional knowledge helps us to carry out maintenance measures at suitable times and prevent our plants from simply breaking down.

The interview was conducted in December 2019.