How the mechanical engineer Uhlmann digitizes

How the mechanical engineer Uhlmann digitizes

In its digital transformation, Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & amp; Co.KG does not stop at the company’s borders. The new Digital Solutions division has built a platform for the entire supply chain in the pharmaceutical industry. […]

Uhlmann looks like the prototype of the typical German medium-sized company: mechanical engineer, founded in 1948 in Laupheim in Upper Swabia, family-run, hierarchically shaped organization, currently about 1,600 employees – rock-solid, traditional, conservative. The business with packaging machines for the pharmaceutical industry went well. So no reason to change things or even turn the whole company upside down. The Swabian perseverance was strongly pronounced in the sense of: “Des hot ma hier scho immer so gmacht”.

At first glance, Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & Co.KG does not give the impression of presenting itself as a spearhead in terms of digital transformation in the market. But far from it: the Uhlmann managers have always been open to innovations-and had to be. The pharmaceutical sector has been sharply regulated worldwide for many years. For example, drugs must be traceable from pharmacy to production. Comprehending this completely and precisely is elementary in product recalls. Uhlmann has also had to adjust to this. Since 2008, the Swabian medium-sized company has been developing and building so-called “Track & Trace”solutions.

A digital transformation cannot happen on the side, but must be part of the corporate strategy, says Kathrin Günther, who heads the Digital Solutions division at Uhlmann Pac-Systeme GmbH & amp; Co. KG (c) Uhlmann

So it is not surprising that the Uhlmann managers asked themselves early on what digital transformation could mean for the machine builder. Kathrin Günther, who was hired as “Head of Sales Support Software & Automation” in March 2016, should find an answer. The industrial engineer tackled the topic with verve and did not stop at the company boundaries. The digital transformation should not only be limited to the individual machine and not only to the packaging process. “Beyond packaging” is the motto for Uhlmann’s digitization plan, the entire pharmaceutical value chain should be networked with digital solutions.

The jury of this year’s Digital Leader Award (DLA) was impressed by how Günther put the digital transformation on track at Uhlmann. These were the most important steps:

  • The manager started with design thinking workshops together with customers to learn more about their requirements and wishes. All areas at Uhlmann were involved in this process in order to look at customer relationships from as many perspectives as possible and thus achieve a completely new customer orientation.
  • in 2018, a digital lab was founded. It should offer everyone involved a protected space for new leadership, thinking and working and serve as a catalyst for digital transformation, for example with Digital Experience Days to promote the new topics. Externally, the lab networked with partners, start-ups and digitization teams from other industries.
  • In 2019, Günther formed the “Digital Solutions”business unit from the Digital Lab and the three existing software teams. Thus, the digital transformation got a place not only in the strategy, but also in the organization of the company.

The first results were not long in coming. With “Pexcite”, the Uhlmann digital team has built a modular software platform for the digitization requirements of pharmaceutical production. The platform connects machines from all manufacturers along the pharmaceutical production and packaging process. Dashboards and analysis tools give users insights into all data-for a production line, an entire plant or worldwide.

Through Pexcite, for example, it is possible to monitor the cold chain during the filling of corona vaccines-from the frozen delivery of raw materials to the ready – to-ship pallet. “What would previously have been difficult to solve with manual time entries in a run sheet now works easily and securely via scanners, 2D codes, combined with Track & Trace,” reports Günther. Pexcite addresses the pain points in pharmaceutical production-complex system landscapes, processes on paper and in Excel as well as inhomogeneous data and individual reports for each machine.

Uhlmann’s transformation from mechanical engineer with service and IT department to total solution provider is bearing fruit. Digital solutions are establishing themselves as a third pillar in the business model of the Swabian medium-sized company. From Günther’s point of view, the changes go deep: The digital transformation is not a product but a company transformation, says the head of the Digital Solutions division. It requires the 100% commitment of the management and the owner as well as willingness to invest and change in order for it to succeed. “It does not run on the side, but must be part of the corporate strategy.“

The Digital Solutions team at Uhlmann obviously enjoys the digital transformation (c) Uhlmann

This also requires a cultural change. Classic leadership must be replaced by agile leadership – with a strong orientation to the customer, the acceptance of uncertainties and mistakes as well as a great trust in the teams. “This path means constant further development – a digital transformation is not completed after twelve months,” Günther notes. In addition, you get further if you do not go alone, but collaborate in the network.

Success proves the manager right. In the 2020/2021 financial year, the approximately 160 employees of the “Digital Solutions” division generated sales in the mid-double-digit million range and thus contributed five percent to sales. But it should not remain, Günther sets the next goal, ten percent are already targeted. “We started our digital journey in 2016 – and we haven’t reached the end yet!“

* Martin Bayer: Spezialgebiet Business-Software: Business Intelligence, Big Data, CRM, ECM und ERP; Betreuung von News und Titel-Strecken in der Print-Ausgabe der COMPUTERWOCHE.

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