Global Perspective: Engineering Poland
Poland has had a promising year. Almost every company that we asked about their post-2009-crisis situation reported significant increases in revenue. Polish automation market drivers include desire for innovations that can increase productivity and flexibility, especially among smaller companies and with technical university partnerships.
Polish automation market
The Polish automation market is increasing after the recent economic crisis in Europe. Many specific factors influence the Polish market, including broad impact from many smaller companies.
The automation market in Poland is more fragmented than in Germany, where the economic stability relies on global exports and imports, according to Tadeusz Glebicki from Bosch Rexroth. In Poland gross domestic product depends on the activity of small companies. Glebicki said, “A lot of small companies operate in the Polish market because of specific job orders from foreign manufacturers,” adding that European companies are eager to source parts for existing products, as well as for new projects, in Poland. “They say that polish engineers are reliable, responsible, effective in their engineering tasks.”
Piotr Huryn from Bernecker&Rainer in Poland said, “In the year 2009, Polish OEMs definitely had a problem with the demand for new machines coming from Western countries; internal demand was also smaller. Their situation was helped a little bit by incoming orders from CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States, former Soviet Republic] countries. There was growth by atypical OEM markets – connected to medical and domestic industries. In the year 2010 Polish OEMs finally could breathe – orders for them started to increase.”
Some Polish market investments are on hold, said Wojciech Kmiecik from Astor – general distributor for GE control systems and Kawasaki robotics. It is hard to judge the global situation – it is really unique, he suggested. On the basis of Polish distributors, one could conclude that stagnation prevails, but that is a bad diagnosis derived on short-term results. The Polish automation market has more potential for automation robotics compared to the European average. Astor distributes Kawasaki robotics products; Kmiecik sees a steady increase of the robotics market in Poland.
Thorsten Mayer from National Instruments said Poland has had a strong economy in the past years, outperforming most countries in Europe posting positive GDP growth in the low single digits, even in 2009. With key markets being energy, fuel/gas, machine building, and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), Poland is the largest contributor to industrial production among the countries in Central Eastern Europe. This makes it an important market for advanced industrial and embedded machine controls for National Instruments in this region.
Innovation doesn’t require winning the Noble prize. Nowadays, technology emerges so rapidly that engineers are really confused about what is best for their applications. European new investment funding typically requires an assessment of a solution’s innovation, prepared by domain experts.
Many product-based innovations can help an automation or control system – new designs of HMIs, new CPUs within the industrial computers, and new functionalities within engineering software.
The Polish automation market is very receptive to automation technologies. B&R’s Huryn noticed that power panel, a PLC integrated with panel, is still the leading product at B&R in Poland. There is slight change among middle-range users: they are changing to high-end solutions (bigger screen dimensions, better performance) – or low cost solutions, which was caused by price pressure, related to weak demand.
Speaking optimistically about propagation of innovative products, Kmiecik from Astor said, “Networked control systems with the use of industrial Ethernet as well as wireless communication systems are an efficient alternative for hardwired systems and are a very well known and desirable technology in Poland. Touch panels for HMI and industrial computers are often offered as solution for end-terminals for MES and SCADA systems. A PAC solution is also an accepted solution for the overall reduction of investment cost within the implementation of DCS systems.”
Apart from typical and innovative automation hardware, there is a strong competition in engineering software, including very innovative tools for PLC programming and efficient research and development of new control algorithms. These are tools for rapid prototyping of digital control strategies. The new trend in the PLC market is automatic code generation.
Most popular products
In a time of crisis, more economical products are the most popular. Simple controllers, simple panels with touch or buttons interface, and networked control hardware were the main areas of interest last year. “Companies typically looked closer for the necessary functionalities, eliminating everything that was too expensive for that particular application. More demanding applications were divided into smaller implementation stages,” explained Kmiecik of Astor, reflecting on his customers’ experiences.
Lack of big investments last year limited the number of new complex automation applications in Poland, but market suppliers have returned to pre-crisis sales volumes. One strong area of investment last year was in networked control systems.
“With a shift from high-volume (high quantities, less sophisticated products) to high-value (low quantities, more sophisticated products) in Central Eastern Europe, the need for machine and process optimization often requires functionality, such as high-speed data acquisition, integration of image processing and advanced analysis and control. While conventional PLCs provide extreme reliability, they often can’t fulfill more advanced requirements in areas mentioned above,” stated NI’s Mayer.
This gap is filled by PACs, programmable automation controllers. PACs combine PLC reliability with the computation power of a high-end PC. In recent years, various companies have released many innovative products in this category. PACs boost innovation by providing high-end, industrial-grade tools for data and image processing, customer control and high-speed data acquisition. Graphical software tools, such as NI LabVIEW, can help engineers leveraging this technology to create custom solutions for any engineering task in industrial and embedded control.
Engineering rejuvenation, technical universities
A fresh outlook helps with implementation of innovative, high-technology tools in new and existing applications. Does the market in Poland, with an aging engineering workforce, follow the newest trends in automation? B&R’s Huryn said that in Poland, “There are more young engineering companies – established by the new generation of very educated graduates. They did not have an easy start-up, as end users decreased all modernization as much as possible, although a little bit work for them came because of outsourcing.”
“Poland graduates more engineers than any other Central Eastern European country. More importantly, their strong technical education gives them a competitive edge over many other engineering graduates in Central and Eastern Europe. We work closely with universities and research institutes country-wide to support engineering education and research in various areas. Examples in research include next generation communication systems [MIMO; multiple input, multiple output], structural health, and monitoring of large industrial machines,” said NI’s Mayer.
Polish technical thought is very valuable to potential foreign investors. Also, technical universities are strongly involved in the evolution of specific automation projects, claimed Glebicki of Bosch Rexroth. “Polish collegiate education is at a high level thanks to cooperation with companies, like ours. We are trying to help with technical education of young engineers.”
Cooperation with universities is important for B&R. Young people are open for the newest, high-technology solutions – and more PLC complexity. Piotr Huryn, B&R observed: “The interest of the universities in modern automation systems is also visible – their target is to attract and educate students as well as possible. This kind of competition among universities is always good for the students.”
Astor is among Polish companies well known for cooperation with technical universities. Flexible areas of cooperation include technical support for laboratories and lectures, apprenticeship programs, and master’s thesis collaboration with the most talented young people.
“To educate engineers and scientists on our products to help them being successful using latest technology, we conduct regular professional seminars and instructor-led training,” added NI’s Mayer.
A lot of work in Poland is conducted by companies in cooperation with universities. Market expansion means new opportunities for young engineering companies that want to be innovative with technology, marketing, and other things. Many younger people at technical universities want to become the next generation of highly professional engineers. That’s more readily accomplished with strong automation-vendor partnerships.
– Krzysztof Pietrusewicz, Ph.D., is currently an assistant professor at the Control Engineering and Robotics chair, Faculty of Electrical Engineering at the West Pomeranian University of Technology, Szczecin, Poland (formerly Szczecin University of Technology), and contributor to Control Engineering Poland His current research is in control engineering, computer controlled systems, hybrid control systems, real-time systems, artificial intelligence and mechatronics. He has introduced simplified engineering design methods of fuzzy-logic PI/PD, PID, and PIDD controllers. He is also coauthor of two books: Two-Degrees of Freedom Robust PID Control in Practice, Polish, in 2006 and Programmable Automation Controllers PAC, in Polish, in 2007. He teaches courses in embedded control systems, hybrid control systems, programmable automation controllers as well as PLCs, and digital control of intelligent servodrives (digital motion control). Reach him at email@example.com.
-Lukasz Urbanski, MSc, is a PhD student at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering, West Pomeranian University of Technology. His specialty is the digital control of machines, such as computer numerically controlled milling machines. He is also a contributor to Control Engineering Poland.
-Edited by Mark T. Hoske, Control Engineering, www.controleng.com.
Also read from Control Engineering:
Hybrid control systems: Advances in simulation, tools predicted; andWhat do you get when you cross a PC and PLC?