Extending global co-creation and collaboration through hybrid academy
SICK is a leading provider of sensor-based applications in the industrial sector. Its sensor intelligence helps control industrial processes securely and efficiently.
Location: Waldkirch, Germany
Size: 11,000 employees
SICK is a specialist in the production of sensor technology for industry. Worldwide, SICK solutions are powering Industry 4.0 innovation, the next great leap in production efficiency.
This is groundbreaking technology. SICK recognizes that its role is not just to sell the technology, but to educate and inspire customers on how sensors may be best used.
The SICK Sensor Intelligence Academy (SIA) in Buchholz, Germany, is designed to deliver training, showcase products, and discuss ideas. Situated close to the SICK headquarters in Waldkirch, the SIA welcomes SICK employees, partners, and customers. The multipurpose space can house up to 600 people at a time.
"The first version of the academy, built in the '90s, was very much geared to soft skills training to local employees," says Nico Zimmermann, head of Sensor Intelligence Academy, SICK. "Today, the SIA is far more international. It is a place for technical training, leadership meetings, and co-creation."
The emphasis, he says, is on bringing people together. SICK may be focused on sensor technology, but it doesn't underestimate the power of human connection. "A lot of development work takes place physically. It is important [that] we give space for collaboration, for networking," he says.
However, it is also an increasingly digital space. The business is based in Germany, but it is largely international. SICK has 11,000 employees worldwide, with 50 subsidiaries, and major operations in Asia and North America. Not everyone will be able to visit the SIA.
"We're working hard to create a blended learning environment," says Zimmermann. "We have a structured e-learning program, along with video tutorials and augmented and virtual reality."
“We're a business that creates and sells high-quality technology. We need a high-quality collaboration tool. We looked at other options, but the Webex by Cisco experience was significantly higher in terms of quality. There is a smooth link between the physical and virtual.”Nico Zimmermann, Head of Sensor Intelligence Academy
For hybrid learning to work, and to make the SIA a truly inclusive co-creation space, SICK needed a seamless bridge between the in-person and virtual experience. "We're a business that creates and sells high-quality technology. We need a high-quality collaboration tool," says Zimmermann.
Webex by Cisco is the collaboration tool of choice at the SIA. "We looked at other options, but the Webex experience was significantly higher in terms of quality," Zimmermann explains. "There is a smooth link between the physical and virtual."
In total, more than 31 rooms across the 7700-square-meter SIA facility are equipped with Webex technology. Cisco Board Pro, Cisco Quad Cameras, and dual 70-inch screens can be found in training rooms, meeting spaces, co-creation labs, and the 180-seat auditorium. Together, this allows SICK to zoom and track speakers in any room, with 4K broadcast quality onscreen.
"The second important aspect was the support and service we received from Cisco. We were able to visit the Cisco test centers in Frankfurt and Stuttgart. This was great for exploring use cases and getting a feel for the technology."
The technology deployment was accompanied by a revamp of SICK's trainer training program. The SIA is used by 680 trainers (covering leadership, sales, technical, and co-creation training), and SICK has created new training modules specifically for virtual training. The number of modules has increased from four to 42 in the last couple of years.
"We have a community of trainers, and we're sharing best practices," says Zimmermann. "The more we do, the more we learn. It creates a multiplier effect."
The result is a truly hybrid workspace. SICK hosted over 2000 individual events at the SIA between January and October 2022, with an average of 10 people per meeting.
"The pandemic required us to ramp up our remote learning, but the blended environment has stayed even as things return to normal," says Zimmermann." At the SIA, there is no difference between the in-person experience and the experience of those connecting remotely."
This is having a tangible impact on the SICK business. Customers are involved in product development discussions, the tracking of e-learning means that product training is more consistent, and there are more voices contributing to soft skills training. The use of Webex extends the SIA experience into all parts of the world.
"This is important," Zimmerman says, "because Industry 4.0 is a complex, emerging discipline. There are different levels of maturity within the industry, and within SICK's customer base; the SIA provides the ideal place to share ideas and listen to feedback."
"There may be lessons from a customer in the automotive sector that can be shared with a customer in the food manufacturing sector, for instance," he elaborates. "Explaining the impact of Industry 4.0 is not like selling products from a catalog, there is a need to discuss how this trend will change industries."
SICK is in the process of building a new headquarters in the United States. The 26,000-square-meter site in Minnesota will include production, warehousing, logistics, and head office; there are also plans to create a North American SIA on the site, based on the experience of the Buchholz original. "We'll be traveling to the U.S. to advise them on the build," Zimmermann adds.
"SICK may specialize in sensors," continues Zimmermann, "but the success of the SIA is less about gathering metrics and more about the human bond it creates."