As every year, we started 2020 with a lot of momentum, among other things with the preparations for the embedded world Exhibition&Conference. We were really looking forward to presenting our new product highlights, to meeting our partners, customers and press contacts and the very special atmosphere that characterizes good trade fairs like the embedded world. But then suddenly there were reports of rising infection rates, followed by concerns for our employees and internal risk assessments. Eventually we decided that the safety of our employees and customers comes first and that we would not participate in the fair. Only two weeks later, this initial thunderbolt was followed by a second one: the complete shutdown of the economy and the announcement of a state of emergency. In addition to the internal coordination with home offices and the protection of our staff, we were naturally concerned about the possible impact. Which effect will this have on the economy, on our company, on our customers' projects - what will we have to face?
Looking back, despite all the restrictions, the year was unexpectedly innovative and positive for Kontron. The Corona virus has accelerated digitalization in all areas of our lives - and in every crisis there are also opportunities that need to be seized quickly. This is exactly where we come into play, because in order to exploit these opportunities in the best possible way, innovative technologies and strong partners are required; in the best case "full-service providers" who provide competent support throughout the entire process - from consulting to the definition of suitable HW/SW products, HW/SW development and proposed process optimization, all the way to implementation. With this full-service approach, we are also meeting the trend towards ‘inshoring’ production to Europe. Inshoring promises shorter distances and partners in the vicinity, but is only possible with competitive, i.e. highly automated production facilities; for this, companies need new technologies and digitalization. In 2020, despite difficult circumstances, we demonstrated our innovative capabilities by strengthening our portfolio of products and services and further optimized our global processes. In addition to our existing ODM services, we now also provide a European network of locations for EMS services.
Our Supply Chain Defies the Crisis
One of the biggest challenges in 2020 was maintaining the global supply chain during the lockdown. With our effective precautions to protect our staff, their high personal commitment and exemplary handling of the new safety rules, and our long-term and trust-based partnerships, we have overcome this challenge at all levels. We were also able to supply our customers during the lockdown, albeit with small delays here and there. Top priority was given to supplying our customers in the medical technology sector with ventilators and systems for patient monitoring. With the 'Infrastructure' and 'Medical' divisions, we were able to compensate the drop in sales in other sectors and even reported positive business development in spite of the crisis. Despite the Corona lockdown, we were also able to seamlessly take over and continue the production of motherboards from Fujitsu. Motherboard development and production will remain in Germany in the future.
Workload Consolidation is Advancing
With the introduction of numerous products with new processor technologies, the so-called workload consolidation in the Intelligent Edge is advancing. Sufficient computing power is now available to enable - in addition to control, SoftPLC, visualization, communication and security tasks - AI/ML/DL applications that previously took place in the cloud to be carried out in the Intelligent Edge.
New Standards Support Digitization
Some standards were expanded or newly established in 2020. The first products based on the extended SMARC 2.1 module standard of SGET were introduced. The new COM-HPC® standard for future IoT applications such as 5G, AI, Edge Server and autonomous vehicles from PICMG has been completed. In December, the SGET approved version 1.0 of the new OSM standard (Open Standard Module). In addition to the Computer-on-Modules, this defines one of the first standards for directly solderable and scalable modules in the size of a postage stamp.
The TSN functionality has been extended for time- and security-critical applications with new functions such as preemption and redundancy, and OPC UA pub/sub has now established itself on all levels, from the sensor to the edge to the IT/cloud for data exchange.
My Personal Conclusion
I really miss personal contacts in the private and professional areas as well as the trade fairs with many personal contacts to editors, customers and partners, which have been cancelled due to the pandemic. In our company, we use virtual meetings to keep teams together and to exchange information. We practice home office work whenever possible. Despite the limited personal contacts in the office we maintain a great team spirit throughout the company; and a good portion of humor and laughter are not neglected either. This is very refreshing, especially in times of a crisis, and it is good to see that we were able to maintain the “we”-feeling and a sense of “togetherness”. Despite the many challenges, we are facing the year 2021 with full confidence and with the hope that the digitalization push and the COVID-19 vaccinations will help to positively change our economy and possibly even the whole of society. In a crisis, one recognizes the strength of community and as a saying famously states: “When life gives you lemons, ask for salt and tequila.” My heartfelt thanks go to our customers and business partners. Despite the limitations, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a good start into a (technologically) exciting year 2021!
Norbert Hauser (Vice President Marketing Kontron)