Analog Becomes Digital

Interview with Thomas Brunner, CEO of KATHREIN Solutions GmbH

KATHREIN Solutions Distribution Center
The drugstore chain relies on loading aids with RFID tags from KATHREIN Solutions for the transport of their picked goods from the distribution center to the stores

When does the package leave the warehouse, when does the local train arrive, which vehicle passes the toll station, or when does the livestock receive which feed – these questions are concrete examples from our daily life, demonstrating how important digital technologies have become to measure and adjust distances, quantities, delivery times. That is exactly what KATHREIN Solutions GmbH is also about – the company wants to find practical digital answers to situations that were previously handled in analog.

Economic Forum: Mr. Brunner, your company is a leader in AutoID solutions for a wide range of industries. It's fascinating to see how the solutions developed by KATHREIN Solutions have become a part of many aspects of our daily lives.

Thomas Brunner: We started about twelve years ago with the development of the new RFID technology and founded our company out of the KATHREIN Group. RFID stands for 'Radio Frequency Identification', which is the contactless identification of objects and beings. Consider, for example, contactless payments via smartphone. This is widely used today. We perform this transmission over longer distances, using passive wireless technology, so-called transponders.

Economic Forum: How should one envision this?

Thomas Brunner, Managing Director KATHREIN Solutions GmbH
Thomas Brunner, Managing Director KATHREIN Solutions GmbH

Thomas Brunner: A transponder is a cost-effective piece of technology that operates without its own power supply in the form of a battery; it essentially 'harvests' the necessary energy from the radio waves in the air. It can be applied to package and pallet shipments and can be incorporated into all production processes. Thus, process steps can be digitized. There is an RFID label on the object to be recorded, this transponder, with an integrated antenna and a memory chip, on which the data can be found. Think of it like a USB stick. The antenna of the write/read station generates the radio field for the energy and data transmission. Thirdly, there is a reader that can read and write the digital data from the chip in the transponder, or even filter it.

Kathrein Solutions Vehicle Registration
Vehicle registration can be automated with intelligent solutions from KATHREIN Solutions
Kathrein Solutions E-Bike Tracker
KATHREIN Solutions developed a motor-close integrated E-Bike Tracker for Corratec

Economic Forum: What specific applications can you mention here?

Thomas Brunner: Vehicle registration can be very effectively digitalized. Vehicles can be uniquely identified by the license plate and/or by a transponder attached. Thus, a digital ID can be created for the vehicle already at registration. Interesting are also various solutions in agriculture. With AutoID, it can be precisely determined when an animal gets how much feed. Thus, processes in livestock breeding can be controlled and monitored using RFID technology. A cow can be milked automatically if a transponder is additionally inserted into its ear tag. This allows to determine how much milk it produces and what feed it requires.

Economic Forum: These are exciting examples that one does not directly think of. But solutions for toll systems are also increasingly coming into focus, right?

Thomas Brunner: Toll systems are used to monetize the use of roads. We have developed corresponding solutions that have been applied in Asia, South America, and the Middle East. Here, transponders are integrated into windshields or license plates. As soon as they pass by the reading stations, they are detected. We have realized large projects globally. Currently, the demand is especially increasing in South America due to new infrastructure projects.

Economic Forum: You offer comprehensive solutions?

Thomas Brunner: Exactly, we can plan, design, and execute such projects. In 2015, we acquired a software company in Munich, so we can provide not only the hardware but also the suitable software that can also be used in critical infrastructure. This includes many European railway operators.

KATHREIN Solutions Vehicle Identification
Vehicles are uniquely identified with automatic vehicle identification

Economic Forum: Are there any concrete examples of how your technology is used?

Thomas Brunner: Public transport is becoming increasingly important, but users want trains that convince them in terms of price, time, and comfort. With our technology, trains can be monitored in high quality during the journey to detect defects early on. For example, there are intelligent sensor measuring stations that detect defective or overheated brake discs. With thermal cameras, the temperature is measured from below, allowing the individual axles to be checked. The ID of the train, the carriages, and the individual axles are obtained via RFID, so we can plan maintenance in a predictive manner, and damage is not only discovered in the workshop. In the same way, the cleanliness states of trains can also be detected. But these are just a few examples of how our technology can be used very concretely.

Economic Forum: What do you attribute the company's sustained success to?

Thomas Brunner: It is certainly the joy of innovation that all the main responsible persons share. We want to place digital solutions with the customer and excite them with it. We have always tried out new things. This spirit is an essential part of our corporate culture.

Economic Forum: And what comes next?

Thomas Brunner: Internationalization and partner networks are certainly important topics, as well as the development of new business fields to continue generating growth. A brand new product is an e-bike tracker, which is integrated close to the motor and is always automatically charged. We specially developed this solution for Corratec, a leading e-bike manufacturer. We will continue on this path and bring innovations to practice.