Cross-system and cross-site PLM data connection with business case

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The conservation of resources and cost efficiency are playing an increasingly important role, and not only in the production environment. Machines also need to become increasingly intelligent. This is why machines, for example, can not only anticipate when they need to be serviced, but also learn from the circumstances. This is exactly what the 51st episode of the Industrial IoT Use Case Podcast is all about and welcomes Jürgen Pfeifer (IoT & Cloud Partner Manager, WAGO Kontakttechnik) and Matthias Morath (PLM Innovation Consultant, Liebherr IT-Services) who demonstrate the benefits that flexible IoT and digital solutions can offer.

Podcast episode summary

Companies that want or want to be fit for the future are above all one thing, they are already extensively networked or are working on it. The problem is that everything that has not yet been connected to IT will have to be connected at some point in the future. This is especially true for machines. Most companies today are not prepared for this. Thus, the existing machines and equipment are not able to send data. For this purpose, the WAGO company has developed the IoT Box, which integrates the machines into the Internet of Things. It is a complete system that includes all the functions a company needs for digitization. The range extends from signal acquisition to cloud connectivity.

However, today’s use case focuses not only on WAGO, but also on a customer, Liebherr-IT Services. They develop organizational and programming IT solutions for the entire Liebherr Group. They currently support 31 development and production sites with more than 13,000 users. The focus of this podcast is the IoT box.

No hardware needs to be planned for the IoT box, because it is designed according to the ready-to-use principle. This gets the data into the IoT application quickly. Depending on how the IoT box is to be used, flexible I/O cards can be retrofitted. This allows each system to be customized to the required specifications. But there are other options available. The IoT box is a prefabricated solution that can be retrofitted to any machine or system without much effort. The trick here is that the production process does not have to be interrupted. This means that the IoT box can not only be used universally, but also optimally records data streams, production cycles and voltages.

Podcast interview

Hello and welcome to the IoT Use Case Podcast. In today’s use case, I’m talking to the company WAGO, the expert in connection and automation technology. Today, among other things, the focus is on the topic of IoT. The customer Liebherr-IT Services, the heart of the IT infrastructure of the Liebherr Group, is also present. In this episode, we will find out exactly what this means, which use cases and projects Liebherr is currently working on, and what WAGO is contributing. I would say let’s start right into the episode. I would like to welcome Jürgen Pfeiffer from WAGO and Matthias Morath from Liebherr-IT Services. Glad to have you with us. Let’s start with a round of introductions. Jürgen, I’m looking in your direction. Could you briefly say something about you as a person and about WAGO as a company, and perhaps describe briefly what exactly the interface is for you in the area of Industrial IoT?

Jürgen

Yes, I would start with the company, because I think many listeners know WAGO from connection technology, i.e., from the terminal blocks, which almost everyone knows. But we have well over 20,000 items and we also have Linux computers and apps devices, among other things, and they are wonderfully suited for the IIoT topic. Why IIoT? We have the IoT, of course, as the Internet of Things, and then the IIoT as the Industrial Internet of Things. It is simply a matter of ensuring that the devices are suitable for production and for the application, as Matthias will show us later. Perhaps briefly about myself, I have been with the company for 20 years. I think that’s endlessly long for other companies that are in the IIoT. Of course, neither I nor WAGO have been involved in IIoT for 20 years, but I have been with us in Business Development for four years, and it is great fun to be involved in this new subject.


Then I would hand over to you Matthias. Glad you joined us too and took the time. Would you also like to introduce yourself and briefly say something about the company and its core business?

Matthias

Yes, very much so. I am Matthias Morath and I work as an innovation consultant at Liebherr-IT Services. Liebherr-IT Services is located in Baden-Württemberg and Oberopfingen, respectively. This is very close to Memmingen. On site, we develop organizational and programming IT solutions for the entire Liebherr Group. In this context, we are also responsible for the coordination of cross-standard IT applications. I work in the PLM department. Our goal is to harmonize product lifecycle management, or PLM for short. To give you a few numbers, we currently support 31 development and manufacturing sites worldwide with over 13,000 Windchill users. Windchill is a family of PLM software products from the company PTC, which we continuously adapt to our needs. About my job: my personal challenge is to find new, innovative ways to improve the product life cycle of our products. These innovations are tested exclusively in small, agile concept trials. On the one hand internally, but also with external strategic partners. 


Briefly, an interposed question. The Liebherr Group is an incredibly large company. You are in the field of refrigeration, freezing, construction machinery, mining, mobile cranes, aerospace and so on. Can we put that in at the beginning for a moment. Are you (from IT) now responsible for the production sites in general or for a specific area? Where do you belong?

Matthias

This is a question that I am asked very often. Each site has its own IT department, but there are certain IT or organizational issues that can only be solved centrally. For example, the central parts master, the networking of the individual locations, core ERP solutions, the hosting of portals, such as ticket and CM systems, office products and, of course, the departments responsible for the IT security audit. About the Liebherr Group itself, Liebherr is a wholly owned family business in its third generation. Our family consists of approximately 48,000 employees working at one of our 40 sites worldwide. We have sales of around 10 billion euros as of 2020. Our product range is very diverse. What may not be known to everyone, we also operate six first class hotels in Ireland, Austria and Germany. 


I didn’t know that yet either. You just mentioned PLM as a buzzword, product lifecycle management, and also digitization to some extent. Also, you had just said the innovative solutions that you find internally as well. Can you explain that a little bit? Digitization at Liebherr, what is your goal here and what does that mean in the context of product lifecycle management? Can you elaborate on that to get into the topic?

Matthias

My customer is now primarily not the customer who buys our construction machinery, for example, but my customer is the individual Liebherr sites. My department supplies these locations or the development department with the corresponding design tools. For me, this means a concept for the seamless integration of all information as well as data flows that occur in the course of the product life cycle. A life cycle extends typically from design, through construction, to production and finally to service or service to our customer. Optimally, digital information from a machine flows directly back into the design. This helps us understand how our customers use our products. Possible added value for the customer here is the subsequent optimization of the product to suit the conditions on site or the application in which our machine is used. If we manage this perfectly, we achieve savings for our customer. When our customers are satisfied, we are satisfied. This is a guiding principle of our company founder Hans Liebherr. To make all this come true, our development department or our development environment, the IT landscape, must offer this possibility. This means offering interfaces, making data exchangeable without barriers, and doing so with reliable and secure data and process quality. 


Exactly, the issue of development and also the interfaces. I would come back to that in a minute. Now you had just already explained to this Continuous Loup between development, construction, production and also service. That’s where I would go into a little more detail now and jump into practice again. We always talk about specific use cases now in this podcast and that’s where I would like to understand, what are your use cases today and what is kind of the day-to-day job that you actually have to do. Just to get a virtual picture. Maybe we can take a look at one area, for example, production. What are use cases being worked on here? And what does it look like? Can you tell us more about that?

Matthias

Of course. My hobbyhorse or focus at the moment is smart manufacturing. I try to find solutions here that can be integrated universally. The image here is figuratively a puzzle. The individual pieces of the puzzle, the innovations that can be seamlessly connected. And just like in real life, you start at the corners or with a base and that’s exactly the kind of corner piece we want to talk about today. This is about the machine connection. How did it come about? Some time ago, I was asked to assist with machine connectivity. The primary goal of the machine connection was to introduce a new MES program across four manufacturing sites. The prerequisite for this was to make the various production signals available to each production machine via an MD interface. We saw an opportunity here to link development even more closely with production, or to do preliminary work, to further advance the digital twin in manufacturing, to lay the cornerstone, so to speak, for a future-oriented, expandable infrastructure. 


Okay, now if we come back to the topic of machines or data acquisition. That’s where I would go into a little bit of the challenges now. Can you give us an explanation of what the initial challenges were for you in this project, perhaps also the problems with which you went into this project?

Matthias

Future-oriented expandable infrastructure or machine connectivity is a mission, and the challenge is to describe it in a way that doesn’t lose the customer. The topics must be prepared in such a way that they are understandable for everyone. This means not only for top management, but also for the many different departments and, of course, the machine operator himself, because he is the most important person for us to convince. 


Sure, now you had just mentioned the machine operator. I’ll now try to go into this use case more and say that it’s now about holistic networking, but the person of the machine operator is of course also in the foreground. What is it here, I’ll say data or key figures, that are interesting for you or which individual use cases arise from this? You’ve already said it’s about networking across the board. But are there certain use cases that you guys have defined that are relevant to you? Where we can talk a little bit about metrics, data?

Matthias

Every project needs added value that simplifies daily work and does not generate even more organizational overhead. For example, we uncovered potential for improvement in joint interdepartmental workshops. Which deals with the faster and safer connection of machines. Concepts developed to automate IT inventory and diagnostic capabilities. And last but not least, the oT-IT issue and IT security were also considered. The result of these efforts is ultimately the IIoT box, which we now have manufactured internally at one of our plants. Without completely encrypting the box, we are able to automatically incorporate any modernizations internally also called variances, for example in the form of a conversion kit. What we have achieved with this is a clear allocation of the costs of a machine connection. 


Perfect, I would come right back to the business case as well. Maybe just to go back to that IoT box that you just mentioned. We now have this use case of networking the various machine connections that you are now implementing. So how does the data from this infrastructure that you’ve just outlined to some extent now get into the cloud or not get into the cloud? How does that work in terms of infrastructure? How do you approach the issue? You had now talked about the IoT box. Is that right?

Matthias

Exactly. In the future, each machine will be connected via an IIoT box. The two main components here are an edge-capable switch to which the IT subscribers associated with the machine are always connected in the same order. The latest controller from the WAGO company is used to record all signals from the IoT Box itself as well as from the machine. If the basic connectivity is not sufficient, an extension can be made relatively easily via WAGO’s modular system in the form of Io modules or bus couplers. 


Jürgen, I’m looking in your direction now, if we’re now talking about the IoT boxes or generally about networking on the hardware, that’s your part. How does this networking work today? Matthias has just outlined that a bit. There’s an IoT box on every machine, and it comes from you. What does that look like and how do I also bring some of this expertise into the digital realm from these IoT boxes? How does it work?

Jürgen

After all, we have heard the very different use cases from Matthias Morath. And when it comes to digitization, it’s certainly the case that today we have innovation drivers like Matthias Morath’s colleagues, also in other companies and corporations. We have initial ideas today and the ideas continue to develop. I think that’s important when you have flexible hardware, also to reduce the complexity again. Because as we have just heard, it is an IoT box, where everything is then aggregated and brought together by a machine if possible. I think it’s important to have a flexible system that can accept a wide variety of signals. Then it needs a data standardization, for example, to map to a data model, which is usually then defined in the company, in the group. Specifically, again on the IoT box. WAGO has a variety of different components. The IoT box is also a product that can be used out of the box and ready to use. But always with the thought that, for example, also for listeners who are present today, to individualize, because each company ultimately has its own needs and then the different ideas are added. This is where the interfaces IT, oT and business and so on all come together. That’s why, we said, these very component- and automation-heavy components that we have, but which are ideally suited for the IIoT topic. We are thinking this through together with customers such as Liebherr in order to provide initial ideas or to be able to move quickly into joint use cases in order to demonstrate the added value of combining a lot of data, as we have just heard. 


Okay, that means that if I just think about it for a moment, it means that I have this IoT box somewhere with a flexible system that comes with you. Then I have a data model somewhere, which either runs on top of it somewhere in a data center, and somehow these different use cases have to be mapped. I don’t know if that’s then the manufacturing order or somewhere start, stop, power, water, gas, whatever data values are there. Somehow I have to preprocess that a little bit now. Is that something that’s already running on your IoT box or where exactly does that data processing take place?

Jürgen

Absolutely it CAN run there, because here, as in other technical use cases, there are different philosophies. Some say they would like the raw data and then only in higher-level servers or perhaps cloud systems to merge the data into a data model. Others say, No, I want to do that as close to the machine as possible and maybe use case oriented. The nice thing is, if you have this central point, that then of course all the signals from the machine are aggregated, so to speak. Still, if you then aggregated them and maybe pre-processed them or even already merged them into a data model. I can then assign them to different use cases, we have just heard of PLM, then we have heard of predictive maintenance or maintenance management or also the classic MDE. I can then feed them back into the most diverse systems. And I think that has enormous charm, because you don’t have to bring a separate system, a separate technology to the machine for every digitization domain, as I put it. Otherwise you can imagine it so figuratively, looks the sometime quite cluttered, to put it cheeky. No, you merge this into an IoT box that is placed as compactly as possible on the machine or near the machine and can then feed it back digitally to the different use cases accordingly. 


Matthias maybe again the question to you, how do you do that? So you do the data processing then also in this IoT box itself? Or do you still have a data center running? How does it work?

Matthias

Regarding the data trying to harmonize the machine signals on the machine. Harmonization can take the form of a classic PLC program or a microservice that runs as a Docker container on the WAGO controller. An unbeatable advantage of microservices is, for example, CI/CD infrastructures, as well as the free choice of programming language. The focus is clearly on-prem at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we’re not evaluating the possibilities of cloud solutions. Regarding the introduction depending on the plant, there are several existing solutions here in terms of data processing. Middlewares on the one hand from well-known manufacturers, but also open source solutions. 


Yes, I’m keeping an eye on the time a little bit. Towards the end, I would like to talk about the business case. Somewhere you have now also made a decision, for example, to work together with WAGO now. Before I go into that a bit more, let me just say a few words about the business case. You had just hinted at it a bit with the individual machine connections, that has to pay off. Are there any insights you can share with our listeners about your business case, what are your cost savings? Is that even a return investment issue? Is it even possible to calculate this? How do you approach the issue? What’s the business case behind it from you guys?

Matthias

The business case varies from plant to plant. We want to use the IIoT box to make connectivity even better, so that we can easily implement detailed planning, production data collection, palliative maintenance, product analytics, resource efficiency, and cost structure per manufactured component. I tried to calculate two business cases. The first refers to the failure of a production machine. The other has to do with resource efficiency. Regarding the downtime of the production machine: depending on the capacity utilization and the hourly rate of the machine, amortization pays off quite quickly. My target: no AEG. AEG here means switch off, switch on works again. We have production machines in operation that take from a few minutes to half an hour to get back online. And we can save this time. How do we achieve this? Relatively simple by continuously polling the machine master switch and all connected IT subscribers and services. If a subscriber stops responding, the machine operator, the specialist department and first and second level support can be informed more quickly and in greater detail. If the defect cannot be fixed quickly, we want to change the production program in an agile way to counteract bottlenecks. The second business case is particularly close to my heart. There are still very many machines and plants that are not shut down automatically when not in use. The same applies to lighting and heating control, as well as compressed air and the cooling units, which are not actively controlled based on performance. There is also still room for improvement in resource-saving part production by optimizing production parts and batch sizes. Savings here are not only good for us, but also for the environment. 


Now with regard to the cooperation with WAGO. I’m just going to ask this offensively. Why did you choose WAGO here? Have you had this in the past in terms of infrastructure or how did the cooperation come about?

Matthias

WAGO and we have a lot in common. Both companies are owner-managed family businesses, and for me that means they make longer-term investments in the products, just as they do in the employees. For both of them, the customer is in the foreground, and this is noticeable not only in the advice they give, but also in the way they work out special solutions to problems. But of course, we did not choose WAGO because of this, but based on a benchmark regarding hardware and software. And here the scope of services has clearly and distinctly differentiated from the competition. 


Jürgen, one more question for you. After all, it is now also about this flexible infrastructure. Is that a focus that you guys set for yourselves as well? Or whats generally your focus with the products where we are talking about now?

Jürgen

Yes, that’s absolutely the case, because we’ve seen in the past that this variety and this flexibility simply makes the customer and the user sleep more relaxed, I’d say. One can expand the systems and the requirements. We have just talked a lot about the hardware. How do I detect the signals? Of course, also about the software, how to aggregate the data, but much more important in the future will be more and more, there are also separate podcasts, about A.I., analytics and so on, how then afterwards also perhaps after analytics is realized directly on the machine. Of course, it is reliable, perhaps also on the edge, that in the future, when you have gained experience, you will be able to intervene with this analytics, for example. Then, of course, even more software elements have to run on the devices or in such an IoT box. This also gives rise to the focus that we are systematically pursuing, namely being able to use the firmware in the devices much more flexibly, i.e. adding modular software elements. I’ll mention the keyword Docker or Docker containers, and this creates a really elegant interface to the IT landscape, because we connect the oT, i.e. the control technology, the signals with the IT, where the added business values are then recorded accordingly with the most diverse applications that we have heard about. In IT, it is a matter of course in smaller companies, but even more so in large corporations such as Liebherr, that software can be maintained from a central location, and with Docker and container technology, areas such as Matthias Morath’s as IT Services naturally have the opportunity to maintain the software worldwide with a standard IT tool. In this context, orchestration also means getting these software modules onto the devices in the IoT box in order to be prepared for the future. This means not only being prepared to capture the signals, which is a very, very important topic in digitization, but also to bring software to the machine in the devices in order to be able to serve even more use cases in the future. That’s why we design the software in such a way that it integrates very well with IT systems and the devices and applications can be managed via it. 


Very nice. Matthias, do you have any additions from your side?

Matthias

I can’t say it any better than that. We are currently using up the approaches mentioned at RWTH Aachen University, the European 4.0 Transformation Center, in which we are enrolled. Of course, this includes the IoT Box as well as our strategic partners, such as HPE, Cisco, PTC and WAGO. I am definitely looking forward to future joint projects and innovations. 

Jürgen

Maybe I may say two more sentences, because it was very complex and also diverse, but due to the modularity of hardware and software you can cut everything into nice little slices and use cases and still be flexible in the future. For this reason, there is no need to be afraid of tackling the issue today, provided that flexible systems are used which can then be further expanded in the future. 


That’s also a nice closing word. The point is to look at the whole thing holistically, because it is an overarching use case that we are discussing today. Ultimately, it’s about harmonizing data, networking very different machines and systems, and infrastructure. In addition, a truly uniform harmonization of the data with the corresponding connection, then also the scalability into the field or with the IoT boxes. Thanks for the insights today.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

Ing. Madeleine Mickeleit

Host & General Manager
IoT Use Case Podcast