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Open source in manufacturing with FLECS

Interview with FLECS Technologies Managing Director Samuel Greising

 

FLECS Technologies, manufacturer of the Linux-based automation platform FLECS, (- one of the platforms on Smart Automation -) was founded in 2021 and is based in Kempten, Germany. The founders and managing directors are Alexander Reichert (Technology), Patric Scholz (Finance/Sales) and Samuel Greising (Product Planning).

The company has achieved astonishing success within a short space of time. Its partners and customers include Baumüller, Lenze, Salz Automation, SEW Eurodrive, Software Defined Automation, TTTech and Weidmüller. Together with Wibu Systems, the manufacturer offers cybersecurity for industrial apps. And Samuel Greising heads the Application Management working group in the Open Industry 4.0 Alliance (OI4).

The offering is aimed at manufacturers of programmable logic controllers (PLCs), machine builders and app providers in the manufacturing industry. FLECS aims to simplify the software development and marketing of industrial apps and offer them as an automated service.

Samuel Greising explains the company’s strategy in an interview.

The founders and managing directors of FLECS Technologies, Patric Scholz, Alexander Reichert and Samuel Greising (from left, Copyright Allgäu GmbH , Tobias Hertle)

Ulrich Sendler: Mr. Greising, you were most recently Product Manager at CODESYS for their Automation Server software platform. How did you and your co-founders come up with the business idea of a new Linux-based platform FLECS?

Samuel Greising: We got to know each other at CODESYS and saw in our work with industrial customers that more and more new PLCs and industrial computers were being used on Linux. I would estimate that this already applies to more than 90% of new solutions today. This makes it possible to work with apps in production as easily as we do with smartphones. But not every company has the know-how and resources to build its own platform for this. That’s why our idea was to bring this to the market as open source. And via our marketplace, customers can offer and purchase hardware and software regardless of the manufacturer.

Ulrich Sendler: What is the big difference between Linux and other operating systems?

Samuel Greising: The real-time capability. All software development on the shop floor, Operation Technology (OT), took a special path decades ago away from general IT because, in contrast to working with PCs and smartphones, machines and their control systems require a reaction that is at least very close to real time. Manufacturers have developed their own systems for this purpose. For specific, usually proprietary hardware and with a predefined range of functions. But these monolithic and proprietary systems are far too rigid for the current requirements in industry. With Linux, this special path can be abandoned. Batch size 1 and a partially self-controlling factory cannot be realized with it. On a Linux basis it is.

Samuel Greising is responsible for product planning at FLECS Technologies (Source: Allgäu GmbH, Tobias Hertle)

Ulrich Sendler: That sounds like a no-brainer. Will FLECS be the platform for automation everywhere in future?

Samuel Greising: First of all, we have learned that automation and PLC manufacturers continue to have a great interest in marketing hardware and software under their own branding. FLECS therefore offers white labeling. We leave it up to the customer to decide under which name the platform is used.

Some of them, such as SALZ Automation or SEW Eurodrive, call it “Powered by FLECS”. But the platform has to be really open. Open source. Not just called that. All those who have tried this have quickly disappeared from the market. In future, everyone in the industry will want to work with hardware and apps from completely different sources.

Ulrich Sendler: So your openness and your expertise in real-time Linux are a cornerstone of your rapid success. Are there others?

Samuel Greising: Our customers are also very happy to leave the management and security testing of their apps to us. Now also together with our partner Wibu Systems.

We offer Continuous Integration Continuous Deployment (CICD). And we deliver the monetization of digital services via apps as an automated service. This is our second unique selling point.

The advantages of Linux are obvious. What was missing were good options for simplifying industrial application. What is possible for large corporations is a major hurdle for most companies.

Ulrich Sendler: Will openness and the use of standards eventually lead to there only being one or two operating systems or runtime environments in industry?

Samuel Greising: No, we don’t think so. The fields of application and the devices and machines used are far too wide-ranging and the functionalities far too specific. More platforms will emerge. But the decisive factor will be that everyone will be able to obtain the best hardware and software for a very specific task on the market very easily and quickly. And that the optimal products for them can then communicate and function smoothly with each other, i.e. that they are compatible. This is precisely where we want to be an important factor with our offering. Industry 4.0 is only just beginning to get exciting.

Ulrich Sendler: Many people are currently saying that German industry is too slow in terms of digitalization and not innovative enough compared to other countries. How do you see the location of German-speaking countries in terms of automation compared to China and the USA?

Samuel Greising: There are currently no major competitors with Linux-based industrial platforms in either the USA or China. We are probably still ahead at the moment. In the USA, the industry even sees our solution as typically American. After all, e-commerce in general has its origins there. And we now offer them something similar for the manufacturing industry. In China, the situation can change very quickly because the government there is promoting technological innovation in a very targeted and massive way. It is to be expected that a global player in automation will emerge from this. But we are currently in a good position here.