Interview | "Automation is Never at an End"

Interview by Wirtschaftsforum magazine with Dr. Wolfgang Trier, Chairman of the Executive Board, and René Schneider, Director of the Automotive segment at Softing AG.

Digitization and digital transformation, as well as e-mobility, are topics that are currently keeping the automotive industry very busy. Trends such as remote work and cloud solutions as well as 4G and 5G technologies are currently in great demand. Among other things, they enable on-board access to the vehicle. And there are always new topics with regard to automation as well. In the area of diagnostics, the requirements are becoming increasingly complex, not least due to extensive safety measures.

We spoke with the German magazine "Wirtschaftsforum" about the current development of the vehicle industry, especially in vehicle electronics, and Softing Automotive's position in the market. 

The interview was originally published in German by the magazine Wirtschaftsforum. You can read the English translation below. 

"Automation is Never at an End"

The right diagnosis is not only a matter for doctors, but also for vehicles. With the products and services of Softing Automotive Electronics GmbH, based in Haar near Munich, automotive electronics can be tested throughout the entire process, from the initial idea to development and aftersales. Softing Automotive Electronics is a company of the Softing Group that has a lot more to offer besides vehicle diagnostics.

The history of Softing AG began in 1979 with the founding of a company that dealt with diagnostics and measurement technology and offered corresponding products and services. "Even then, the focus was on automotive topics," reports René Schneider, who has been with the company since 2021 as segment head and managing director of the automotive division.

In 2000, the decision was made to establish a stock corporation to act as an umbrella company for various subsidiaries. In 2001, Dr. Wolfgang Trier joined the company as CEO of the Group and member of the Executive Board of the AG. He had previously worked for a management consulting firm. "I wanted to change. My experience as a management consultant, especially in the field of corporate restructuring, came in handy. As an electrical engineer with a doctorate, I also came from the right technical background," he says.

Wolfgang Trier reports on his early days at the company: "In the first few years, the stock was very weak. I got heavily involved and bought shares from my private assets." He acquired 15 to 20% of the shares and is thus still the largest shareholder. Another individual shareholder holds 15% of the shares. Under the management of Wolfgang Trier, the three segments of the group were formed: Automotive, Industrial Automation and IT Networks.

All-round Diagnostics

In the Automotive segment, Softing offers numerous products such as test and diagnostic tools and hardware. These can be used in the entire period from the idea to after sales. René Schneider cites a few examples: "In the development process, for example, they can provide information on whether the vehicle software needs to be adapted or error messages need to be analyzed more deeply. But our products can also be used to bring new software versions onto the vehicles. In production, we support the correct assembly of vehicles and also check the vehicle software. In the aftersales sector, our workshop tester is used to read out fault memories or give repair instructions, among other things."

In the automotive segment, Softing also offers test systems, test equipment, test devices as well as adapters and special cables. The company also offers training courses in the relevant areas. The offering is aimed at OEMs in both the premium and basic segments as well as suppliers.

Softing Automotive Electronics' customers also include start-ups, especially in the field of e-mobility. The second large segment, Industrial Automation, comprises products and services related to automation topics in industry. The third division, IT Networks, deals with measurement systems for IT cabling. "Here, we build devices that enable service providers to measure large and complex systems," explains Dr. Wolfgang Trier.

Data remotely and out of the box
René Schneider explains what makes Softing Automotive special: "We have a product range that can be used in all phases of a vehicle's life. These are not only standard products, but also individual solutions. We always tailor our solutions to the customer."

In the Corona era, stand-alone solutions were particularly in demand because of their remote capability. Simulations can also be implemented with certain products. "This already gives you results without having to produce a prototype beforehand," says René Schneider. Wolfgang Trier also points to a very special product developed by Globalmatix AG, a provider of global telematics services that has been part of the Automotive division since 2018: "Globalmatix offers a box that is installed in the car. It collects data and sends it. The product has a mobile communications license. With it, we are unique in the market because we are the only provider able to detect minor damage. This is particularly interesting in the car-sharing sector."

An industry in transition

According to René Schneider, digitization and digital transformation are topics that are currently keeping customers very busy. He cites other trends in the market: "Remote-work and cloud solutions are in demand among customers, as are 4G and 5G technologies. They allow us to access the vehicle onboard."

In the area of diagnostics, the requirements are becoming increasingly complex due to extensive security measures, he added. Because of its size and individuality, the company has a good standing on the employer market. "We have very loyal employees, some of whom have been with us for decades. Our setup promotes open cooperation. Young employees can learn a lot with us thanks to our technical expertise and also quickly take on responsibility," emphasizes René Schneider.

What attracted him to the position at Softing was the responsibility and the family atmosphere. He draws his motivation from change: "The world is changing, the market is consolidating. The industry is moving in the direction of e-mobility, and I find it exciting to be part of this further development," he says. Looking to the future, he says, "There are always new topics in automation. We will never come to an end here."

Wolfgang Trier is also still enthusiastic. Asked about his future personal plans, he says half seriously half jokingly: "My motto in life is: from 80, only half-day - there's still a lot to do."