Within a few weeks Covid-19 paralysed the world. What first started as an epidemic in a few countries soon turned into a global pandemic. Business as usual was no longer possible since many countries imposed strict measures to contain the virus: social distancing, movement control, closed boarders, etc. As a consequence, many companies had to downsize operations or even shutdown totally unless they were deemed “essential” to healthcare or infrastructure. In many cases, globally active companies had to rethink their business models on how to best support their customers as long as international travel is restricted or impossible. Not so the Austrian machine manufacturer Starlinger & Co. GmbH.: The company could rely on its network of international branch offices and service technicians it had built up for the past 20 years. In addition, in-house production and industry 4.0 helped to continue operations and provide customer care.
“In this unprecedented situation it paid off that Starlinger has decentralized the global service for our customers in the woven plastic packaging and plastics recycling sectors”, says Paul Niedl, Commercial Head of Starlinger recycling technology. “In addition to our branch offices in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Thailand, Russia, South Africa, USA and Uzbekistan we also have locally based technicians in countries such as Egypt, Algeria, Jordan, Turkey or Vietnam, among others. Along with technicians and engineers from our local business partners, Starlinger could provide technical support and even conduct machine installations during the Covid-19 lockdown”, Niedl adds.
In this context, industry 4.0 played an important role: Initially developed for after sales service, the Starlinger remote support software gives full access to hardware, software data of the control system of the machine, and the connected components. Now it is also being used for remote installation, commissioning and start-up of machinery. This way, equipment that had been delivered before or during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic could be installed and put into operation. The technicians from the local service bases carried out the installation work with online guidance from the technical experts at the Starlinger Headquarters in Weissenbach, Austria, who supported their colleagues via video calls and remote connection to the PLC of the machines.
Another aspect is logistics: When the measures to contain the virus were first introduced there was some uncertainty in the market whether or not the supply and logistic chains would be disrupted. Starlinger has a high level of in-house production and sources from central European suppliers, which allowed the company to continue operations without significant interruptions or delays. To meet the legally required social distancing measures, shift systems were introduced also for areas that normally operate during regular office hours to reduce the number of employees working simultaneously. This made sure that the employees stayed healthy and the workforce needed to support the customers was available.