Founded in 1948, Pilz has continuously transformed itself – from a glass-blowing business to an electronics company, to an automation and digitisation company. In conversation with Susanne Kunschert and Thomas Pilz, Managing Partners, they give their personal insights into the development of the safe automation company.
Pilz is celebrating 75 years in business. How do you feel about this anniversary?
Pilz was founded as a glass-blowing business in 1948, then transformed itself into an automation company, and today is a digitisation company. Can you plan such a development?
Thomas Pilz: It was always a planned, conscious transformation – first from glass apparatus manufacturing to relays, then to controller manufacturer – to the digital Safety and Industrial Security experts of today. Change and innovation are part of our DNA. That’s why we were always able to focus on the challenges and become the company we are today.
Susanne Kunschert: When our father died unexpectedly, our mother continued his entrepreneurial legacy. He had written down his vision, his roadmap; that sustained the company. Our mother then developed Pilz from an automation company to an automation specialist with Safety as its core competency. She has the gift of being able to listen incredibly well. To hear the direction customers want to go in, and pick up on how materials change. She also has an unerring sense of where the future lies. Under her management, Pilz has become increasingly internationalised.
“We want to work for one another – everyone together for the customer.”Renate Pilz
In your opinion, what were the key factors for Pilz’s success?
Thomas Pilz: We addressed the issues seriously. Once we have identified what to do, implementation follows directly at Pilz. For example, we identified early on that the engineering requirements laid down by legislation are very difficult to implement using conventional technology. So we acted and, with the world’s first safety relay PNOZ, provided our customers with a better technology, because it is easier to handle. Our employees play a key part because they are our fellow entrepreneurs. They act on behalf of the customer. That’s why we stand here now as market leaders for functional safety, as an automation company, as a partner for engineering and for multinational consumer goods manufacturers. We have developed that together. Because with many things, we just did it.
Susanne Kunschert: My brother has put it beautifully. We have this curiosity that drives us on, and the joy of innovation, combined with our constant activity. That has carried us forward. Our resilience, our togetherness and the values that connect us, our business culture; all of this has brought us to where we are today. Because we are a courageous company, and a powerful, strong company.
How do you see your automation company at the moment? How is Pilz doing?
What motivates Pilz at the moment?
Thomas Pilz: Pilz is a mature company, part of society and, as ambassador for safety, we see it as our responsibility to be part of the solution for automation tasks globally. We are committed to environmental protection, we develop new materials. We are helping to shape digitisation. I’d like to say, to modify a statement from Professor Baldur Kirchner: “To digitise others, you first ought to learn to digitise yourself”. I think we have achieved this with myPNOZ, the first modular safety relay in batch size 1, with the corresponding software tool myPNOZ Creator.
We can see the current challenge on the market, that there can be no digitisation without cybersecurity, and no cybersecurity without a holistic Industrial Security Management System. That’s why the triad of Security, Automation and Safety are quite clearly enshrined at Pilz. Safety is our strength. This comes into its own in automation. Industrial Security protects Safety. The necessary legal framework is created by current laws such as the Cyber Resilience Act and the Data Act; the new Machinery Regulation also makes Security mandatory from 2027.
“Safety is our strength. This comes into its own in automation. Industrial Security protects Safety. That’s why the triad of Security, Automation and Safety are quite clearly enshrined at Pilz.”Thomas Pilz
How is Pilz reacting to the challenge of Industrial Security?
Thomas Pilz: We are developing a new core competency in our consulting offer. We address Industrial Security at the machine.
Susanne Kunschert: We have been working on the issue of Security for fifteen years already. Six years ago, we launched our SecurityBridge industrial firewall, because even then we were aware that Safety must also be protected. Our development is also secure. We are continually working on the issues of Automation and Security, with Safety as the core competency. That’s the beauty of it. We’re standing on such a foundation because we have always started on these issues at the right time.
We have always cared about environmental protection too, because my brother and I have always really embraced nature in our heart. We both feel it is our duty to pass on a good world and a healthy planet to future generations.
“Our Christian values are our roots, our foundation.”Susanne Kunschert
The motto for Pilz’s 75th anniversary is also a good fit for the issue of sustainability: “Values. Create. Future”. Why are values still relevant and important today?
Susanne Kunschert: Our Christian values are our roots, our foundation. They are expressed in the togetherness, interaction, trust, reliability and helpfulness at Pilz. I have to say, that’s why you really notice the values within the company. They guide us daily. The resulting team spirit enables us to stand strong as we go through crises.