The creative pathfinder
How Pinar Kose Kulacz embraced private wireless
to enhance Arçelik’s manufacturing potential –
sidestepping infrastructure challenges
and stray cats along the way.
Arçelik is a large, multinational household appliances manufacturer founded in Türkiye in 1955. With 40,000 employees throughout the world, Arçelik's global operations include subsidiaries in 52 countries, and 30 production facilities in 9 countries and 12 brands. It’s fair to say that ensuring such a global network runs smoothly while continually looking to the future takes some serious joined-up thinking.
A constant drive for improvement
Traditionally, Arçelik has always been a forward-thinking company, willing to look towards innovative new technology to ensure it stays ahead of the game. Several years ago, as part of its digital transformation strategy, Arçelik installed Wi-Fi hotspots across its operations – and the results had been significant. It has helped automate many critical factory processes. For example, allowing Arçelik to use Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) for material handling and load carrying.
So why, in 2019, was Arçelik’s Innovation Director Pinar Kose Kulacz so determined to develop an even more robust network? Which, deciding after exhaustive research, that a private wireless network was the answer even though Türkiye didn’t yet have the 5G infrastructure in place to make the most of it? The answer lies in open-minded leadership and a woman with an unwavering belief in her vision. Oh, and a desire to work around some much loved – but occasionally obstructive – stray cats.
Cool for cats
Pinar takes up the story. “In Istanbul we have a lot of cats. We love them, we take care of them, and they take care of us in return. We have stray cats running around our plant, and sometimes they ran in front of the AGVs, causing them to stop.”
Pinar and her team were determined to find a cat-friendly solution. “Our digital manufacturing manager was asking me, ‘why can’t we implement a dynamic route around these cats?’”
Of course, as much as Pinar and her team loved their feline friends, the case for investing in expensive new technology needed to be more compelling. Pinar would have to demonstrate that it could improve connectivity and make Arçelik’s operations more efficient. And while dynamic routing is under consideration, it has yet to be implemented.
“We constantly look at new technologies, so in that regard looking at 5G and beyond was nothing special. It was natural that we looked at whether it could be beneficial for our business. We soon decided that a private wireless network could add great value for our manufacturing plants around the world.”
A lack of infrastructure
Pinar and her team were convinced that private wireless could play a significant role in Arçelik’s wider digital transformation strategy, allowing them to automate and improve even more processes across their factories and warehouses. The problem was that this type of network would require low latency and high speeds. Yet Türkiye doesn't currently have 5G infrastructure available to consumers or businesses – something Pinar initially thought would be necessary to achieve her ambitions.
But it was here that Pinar’s leadership style came to the fore. “I believe in flat organizations, and I believe in working together,” she says. “People are what makes innovation possible. So I listen a lot and I talk also, but of course, I have my opinions. I would say that I am a very collaborative person.”
That passion for collaboration – allied with a fierce determination to drive Arçelik’s digital transformation – saw Pinar seek advice on how to make her private wireless vision a reality.
In particular, she started discussing Arçelik’s ambitions with mobile operators, who she would need to play a vital role in making progress. Turkish regulations don’t allow enterprises to operate their own licenses. So Pinar needed a mobile operator to dedicate part of its spectrum to Arçelik. That’s where Türk Telekom agreed to provide Arçelik with the infrastructure to move forward. But Pinar would need further expertise to bring her plans to fruition.
Strength in numbers
Pinar’s open-minded approach to the project, together with the vision of Arçelik’s global leadership team, brought her to seek out Nokia’s help. “We discussed 5G technology with Nokia, and they invited us to their Executive Experience Center in Finland. If you really want to understand the benefits of any wireless technology, that’s the place to go.”
After talking through her ambitions – and the existing limitations of Türkiye’s 5G infrastructure – on her visit, Pinar was more convinced than ever that she could make private wireless work from a technological perspective.
“At the beginning, we thought we needed 5G capabilities for implementing the use cases we had in mind. But then we found we could start with a 5G-ready network and go ahead with what is effectively 4.9G – and this would allow us to implement whatever we wanted to implement.”
A step into the unknown
But it would take a leap of faith to determine whether it would work from a business or financial point of view. “At the beginning, you don't have a business case because you have not implemented it yet, and you don't know if it will pay off,” explains Pinar. “But we believed that this would give us a competitive advantage. So we took a chance.”
Pinar consistently downplays her involvement, but it’s clear that her persuasiveness and diligence played a significant role in convincing the rest of the organization. Suddenly, it was full steam ahead on this ambitious project.
Once the decision to implement a private wireless network had been made, work began quickly, and just five months later, the business was able to see the first AGV running. Given the scale of the project, this was seriously impressive.
Working closely with Türk Telekom and Nokia, Arçelik’s first private wireless use case was to transition from their current Wi-Fi solution and test AGV connectivity with P-LTE. This test would give Pinar’s team and Arçelik the “before and after” analysis and performance data they needed to understand the real capabilities and future possibilities of a private wireless approach.
An immediate success
Although Pinar and her team had done as much homework as possible, she admits they were unsure whether their move to a private wireless network would work. They chose the AGVs as the initial use case because it would be simple to analyze whether the new network had made them more efficient. And the results were clear. “We saw a 25% improvement in the cycle time of our AGVs, meaning that they could get from A to B quicker.” Pinar was delighted. And the cats could carry on as normal.
These results were extremely positive. But they were just the start. Pinar and her team are not ones to rest on their laurels – they have big plans for Arçelik’s private wireless future. “We’re investing heavily in flying drones in the warehouses to count goods,” says Pinar. “That’s a demanding use case. And we’ve also been looking into using drones for security and surveillance.”
And as AI grows increasingly advanced, Pinar sees a future in which Arçelik’s factories become far more flexible – with “only the walls being fixed.” She even has plans to explore using robots as tour guides - directing customers during factory visits.
But with many of these potential use cases, it’s likely that the lack of 5G will eventually become an issue. “If you want robots running around and drones flying in warehouses all at the same time, then we will have to upgrade to 5G. But at the moment it is not such a big barrier.”
Developing new talent
Before Arçelik looks to scale private wireless throughout its global network of factories, Pinar and the team must put their use cases to life. To this end, they have set up an innovation program, inviting start-ups to work with them to solve the issues they have in their factories.
“We recruited thirteen start-ups to work with us on nine use cases. We’ve given them training in the manufacturing industry to give them a better understanding. And we’ve now seen working proof of concepts, seven of which went beyond even our most positive expectations. So we’re now looking into how we can make them work on a commercial basis.”
A humble visionary
So what does the future hold? In a world of sometimes outlandish predictions dressed up as fact, Pinar’s response shows refreshing humility. “Honestly, I don't know. And I'm not afraid of saying I don't know, because everything is changing so quickly. The one thing that I'm sure of is that we will relentlessly pursue and understand new technologies and put it in the hands of the right people.”
And what does she see in her own future? As befits a Director of Innovation, Pinar doesn’t look like standing still any time soon.
“I see myself still pursuing a lot of new things. So for me, going after the new is something I can't stop doing because I love learning, I love reading. But I see myself doing things for humans.”
Pinar has already accomplished so much. She is an understated leader, yet her courage, open-mindedness, vision and attention to detail mark her out as someone any team would be lucky to work with. When asked what she’d like her legacy as Director of Innovation to be, her answer is telling – direct and without fuss. “As a person who worked really hard to bring innovation to all aspects of Arçelik.”
Pinar’s three tips for creative, courageous leadership
Put people first
You need to understand your own people and the needs of the people you serve. So you have to be employee-centric and customer-centric.
Do your homework
It’s vital to define the metrics for digital transformation. You need to put in the work beforehand to know how to measure the success of your changes.
Don’t be scared to fail
Even if you make everything people-centric and define your metrics, you can still fail. But that doesn’t mean you need to give up.
Break your own boundaries
Connect to Nokia’s solutions
Learn about the technologies helping Arçelik build towards a more connected future.