The 54th episode of the IIoT Use Case Podcast is all about new, smart (customer) services in manufacturing and engineering enabled by manufacturer-independent router and gateway connectivity. The solution provider is INSYS, a long-standing expert in secure communication and remote networking of machine data. The user of the INSYS complete solution presented in the podcast is the CHIRON Group – known as a globally active specialist for CNC-controlled milling and turning machining centers. The use case is about new services that CHIRON provides to the customers of its machines and devices using remote maintenance and IIoT.
The goals here are quite clear:
- Establish more customer proximity and reduce distances
- Increase machine availability and ensure machine productivity
- Enable predictive (remote) maintenance
- Respond more quickly to unpredictable malfunctions and thus reduce downtime
Important keywords in this podcast episode: routers, gateways, device management and condition services. On behalf of the two participating companies, host Madeleine Mickeleit welcomed two experts in their field: Daniel Fritz, Head of Key Account Management at INSYS icom and Johannes Strobel, Service Specialist at CHIRON Group. What challenges there are in the specific use case, how they are overcome and how the solution works exactly in practice – that’s what you can hear in this podcast episode.
Daniel, could you briefly introduce yourself and what exactly you do at INSYS in terms of core business?
My name is Daniel Fritz. I am Head of Key Account Management at INSYS icom. We are premium manufacturer for routers and gateways Made in Germany. So we offer our customers and partners a complete solution for their IoT or IIoT projects, and have been doing so for 30 years now.
Who are your traditional customers and partners in the IoT context; who do you work with here?
We are represented by our products, because we are so flexible, in all industries. From mechanical engineering to renewable energies, or, another very interesting topic: smart city areas. Here we work together with large system houses or also specialized solution partners.
Perfectly said: Mechanical engineering – Johannes, there I would hand over directly to you. What exactly do you do at CHIRON? Many who come from the machine tool industry may know you. But for the listeners out there who don’t know you yet – maybe you can introduce yourselves and you briefly?
My name is Johannes Strobel and I am affiliated with the CHIRON Group’s service department. As you said, we are machine tool manufacturers. The CHIRON Group, based in Tuttlingen, Germany, is a specialist for CNC-controlled vertical milling and mill-turn machining centers as well as turnkey manufacturing solutions. Our main customers are the automotive industry, in mechanical engineering itself also medical and precision engineering, but also aerospace and tool manufacturing. Personally, I’m in the service department and have been through all kinds of stations there – I’ve also done field service myself, so I then worked in the hotline, and in various levels of internal service. I’m now in the area of our digital services and accordingly familiar with INSYS and their products that we use.
Exactly, today is also about the topic of service and digital services. Perhaps briefly in advance, a milling machine is ultimately a cutting machine tool, where material is removed from a workpiece by means of a tool in order to bring it into a certain shape. After all, you produce a wide variety of complex parts. Do you have an example of what’s being produced? Primarily automotive, for example body-in-white?
Bodies-in-white are usually sheet metal parts that are welded. So in the automotive sector, all kinds of, for example, die cast parts, which are then drilled, milled. Any housing covers. But of course also compressor wheels of turbochargers. That’s very broad.
We are also talking about digital services today. Could you tell us about the CHIRON Group, what is your vision here? Online you can read something about the SmartServices you offer.
The vision is of course quite clear that we want to be close to the customer with this; to reduce the distance and simply be a good partner that ensures the availability of the systems and the productivity of the machines. That we can react specifically and quickly, but also offer our customers suitable services with foresight.
Your milling machines are used in a wide variety of processes by your customers. How do you imagine the job in classic service? What kind of daily tasks do you guys face?
Our daily job, from the hotline’s point of view, is troubleshooting. Of course, we hope that people have little contact with us – but if it is necessary, because the system is down, you call or can reach us by e-mail or contact form, and the hotline staff will take care of it to meet the customer’s concerns in all respects. It doesn’t matter whether these are really only spare parts, because the customer can carry out repairs himself, or he needs more support, also in the area of programming and operation of the system. But of course also simply the technical troubleshooting.
If we go a little deeper into the daily challenges – now these are complex systems with a corresponding upstream and downstream process at your customers. What are the classic challenges you face? What do your customers ask? What kind of topics do you have to deal with?
“Complex problem” describes it very well – the equipment and the control system are, of course, complex products that also sometimes produce difficult errors. A good example here is perhaps the classic way it was done for a long time: The customer has a problem, calls, describes something. But then, for example, error messages are also important, and then one often simply acted according to the motto Take me a picture of the screen. However, this is again a matter of interpretation, because if I am standing at the machine, I may find one corner of the screen clearly more interesting and relevant, but the person sitting on the other side may need information located in the other corner of the screen. Language barriers are also a general hurdle. We have an international setup, so a lot of things come together, and it’s very challenging in the daily hotline business to do justice to everyone. With remote access, we can get around a lot of these issues and then we’re really very close to the customer.
You have to recognize all kinds of malfunctions immediately in order to help the customer as quickly as possible, because otherwise downtimes will occur, which you want to eliminate as quickly as possible. Now when I think about VPN, it’s about remote access – when I remotely access a machine like that, what data are you primarily interested in there when troubleshooting?
In this reactive area of troubleshooting, error messages are some of the most interesting data of all. They can be very specific, always have numbers, texts, additional parameters and info in them. However, there are several other machine states that are significant for us depending on the error. Sometimes we also need data backups of the controller. Or if it comes from the operating, NC application, the machining program is also often very helpful, or even the cause. We can then exchange any data with the customer via the VPN.
From the controller directly – is this then classic drive data? Or what kind of data comes from there?Johannes
Yes, it really depends on where the problem is located. We always have the NC control itself on the machines. We have a PLC that then controls the parts we make as OEM and communicates with the NC. And additionally also the drive data.
Can you say very briefly what the abbreviation NC means?Johannes
NC is the numerical control, which then ultimately provides for the path movements of the machine, i.e. controls the drives. It provides the interface that the user sees in front of him.
VPN – Daniel, I’m looking in your direction. The Virtual Private Network, it’s about a virtual private network, which in the end is just a kind of network connection. You know this a bit from the home office: You get an account somewhere as an employee and can dial into the company network from the home office. In your solution, i.e. your joint project, it is also the case that the machine is given permission to connect to an assigned network. Have I understood this correctly? Or how would you explain that?
That was already almost perfectly explained! A virtual private network is basically about combining small networks into one large one, and of course securely, or even highly securely. This gives me the possibility to make the devices reachable in the network, also in different IP networks et cetera; there one could go even further into depth. And then I can access my machines, the system – especially in the case of service or maintenance – and thus make them accessible.
That means that once you have the network at the customer’s, who owns the machine from CHIRON, so to speak, and where it then connects to CHIRON and the service department via the VPN?
Exactly like that, yes. Once you have the network at the customer’s site, or maybe a customer has several machines from CHIRON at different locations. These nevertheless receive an IP address in the CHIRON VPN, as i call it now. Then there is the possibility to connect the machine to the network.
Johannes, you had talked about different services that you offer to the customer. How do I have to imagine this in practice? What services do you offer exactly?
We are very active in the area of condition service, so that means the condition-based service. Most axes in machine tools in general are driven or moved by recirculating ball screws, which are ultimately wear parts. However, this is very load-dependent. That is, you can not generally say, exchange every x hours exactly these components. Instead, we try to use measurements at the control level to determine friction characteristics, for example, and conclude whether or not we have reached a wear limit. Of course, this offers the customer the advantage that there are no unexpected downtimes and he can therefore plan preventive repairs of this kind. This saves production downtime.
What exactly are these services called in your case? On the website you can read RemoteLine – are these your services that the customer adds to the machine, where you have this possibility to use such analytics solutions?
That’s right, they’re all grouped together under our SmartServices. RemoteLine is one component of this that runs under Efficiency Service, because we are still in the area of reactive here. Condition Service is then the predictive – that you can do something in advance. There are then various SmartLine products, but they do not fit exactly into this range.
Daniel, we’ve already talked a little bit about the router or the gateway, that’s attached to the machine. Can you explain the approach again? Let’s assume I am a customer and have booked a SmartService from CHIRON. How does that work exactly? How does the data necessary for the team to troubleshoot get into the cloud; what do I need to do that?
In principle, very simple. I need a router, a gateway from us; depending on the requirement. At the CHIRON Group, it is our MRX5. It is permanently installed in the machine. By default, it then also gets VPN access, i.e. a fixed IP address. The access data is stored in the higher-level system, and then it dials in – or I can dial in again separately if necessary, in the event of service maintenance. This makes the machine accessible and also allows me to equip it with an alarm function, for example.
That means that I connect your MRX5 to the machine – but isn’t it the case that the customers then also have different infrastructures? For example, I have a particular controller from a particular manufacturer, I might have another sensor or any issues that I might want to connect as well – how do you also connect that controller across manufacturers with your gateway?Daniel
We are manufacturer-independent and can therefore be used everywhere. I think that is now very, very important when I talk about IIoT, and because there are also many different machines in a company plant, with different controls.
Johannes, I don’t know if you’re allowed to mention names, but what controllers do you use, or how do you network? What are your requirements for this cross-manufacturer networking?
As Daniel said, we generally have these routers built into the system. We also need them internally in the machine because we have a number of components that have to communicate with each other. Even apart from the customer network; simply plant-internal. The nice thing for us then is that we always have the same procedure, regardless of the control manufacturer, which is based on a network here – where we can also diagnose many other of our components at the same time.
Is this the beginning for CHIRON to move in the direction of IIoT? Or how would you classify it?
Yes, definitely! For us, connectivity is clearly the basis for all other services that we can build on top of it.
Daniel, how is that for you? You have a wide variety of projects with a wide variety of customers. Is that how you see it?
I agree with Johannes on that one. In fact, connectivity is the foundation for getting data securely into a data center, into the cloud. That is our day-to-day business.
Johannes, do you still see certain challenges coming from the customer side? It is also a question of security when I access the machines from outside. What are your experiences from individual projects?
In fact, it is part of my daily business to discuss this issue again and again with our customers’ IT departments. Understandably, IT security policies are becoming increasingly stringent. The things that have happened in the area in the recent past also indicate that it is right to be really very restrictive here and to protect one’s networks from the outside. Here we have the challenge that many customers are very different in nature; sometimes have a different mantra. Then there is the small business that has an external IT service provider whom it sees once every three years; who helps it briefly when it calls him. But there are also the large corporations that have extremely strict guidelines and regulations. Some of them are so strict that no connection is possible.
I think that’s a huge issue depending on the customer. Somewhere risk and opportunity at the same time. If we look more at the opportunities: What potential do you see? You had already mentioned eliminating the malfunctions. But when we talk about IIoT, what potential do you see in the future?
At the moment, first of all – which is always a good argument for customers at the same time – of course the savings that result when you extrapolate downtimes, with the machine hourly rates and the production downtime. Downtime is a huge factor. If you add to that what it costs to have a service technician come in – there are significant costs involved that might not even grow that much with remote services, our RemoteLine. Looking to the future, of course, the topic of ConditionLine, which is a huge topic for everyone who have plants in the manufacturing sector; with this, we will create further added value for our customers.
Daniel, I do like the practice in the podcast – I always try to make that handy and tangible. If I want to start tomorrow, what do I need to address this issue? What do I start with and what components do I need to make it happen?
The first step is quite simple: You need a test device from us that fits your requirements. A short registration on our icom Connectivity Suite, i.e. the VPN portal, and off you go! Very important for this proof of concept, the test phase: You don’t need any specialist personnel in the first step. We support you there. We have our own know-how and are at your side for all questions regarding setup or commissioning.
That means the test device is your router, so to speak, right?Daniel
Exactly. For example, like CHIRON, an MRX, or a slim router – if you say you don’t need another switch function or IOs, a small LTE router is enough for you, then it would be an SCR. So it always depends on your need.
Johannes, what kind of knowledge did you need for this? Would be quite exciting to know how I approach this.
Generally, a bit of network savvy; a bit of IT affinity certainly wouldn’t hurt there. Of course, this was not a big deal for us, since we already had the network in the machines anyway and could fall back on the know-how of our IT for the VPN topic, but we also experienced a great service from INSYS itself.
On the topic of cost savings, I’d like to go back to that business case a little bit. Daniel, what are you seeing from your customers on the topic of remote services? What classic advantages do you see in practice with other customers?
Of course, as Johannes said, our solution saves me a lot of time and money during service calls. I no longer have to send the mechanic halfway around the world because maybe a small component is broken. Another very important point, in mechanical engineering as well as in general, was also the time during Corona, which showed what happens when I can no longer get on site in a plant, in a hall, and the machines has downtime. I simply need a rock-solid VPN system, a remote access for such cases. Johannes also mentioned other important points, such as predictive maintenance. That service and downtimes are also immensely reduced. I think we all know – or many of your listeners do – what a machine downtime like that can cost. Of course, very essential to exclude such a thing. With the help of this data obtained from the systems and machines, when I analyze it, I can already do a lot. Especially in these predictive maintenance issues. And of course, there are also many interesting things in the area of new business models – as-a-service models, pay-per-use models, and so on.
Johannes, what are you at CHIRON thinking about for the future in terms of what else you can do with IoT? What is your business case for the topic?
In principle, we as a manufacturer have to provide a warranty for new machines anyway. This means that during this time, the RemoteLine is also always free of charge for our customers – after all, both sides benefit at that moment. After that, there are different cost models. For RemoteLine, in the area of condition services, the whole issue of data analysis. These are condition-based services that we also sell as contracts. At the end of the day, of course, we have to pay for our services, because there is a real analysis of data – there is really a person sitting there who actually does something to provide the customer with real added value, ultimately also a cost saving.
Daniel, do you do anything with other customers in the remote services area? How can this use case be transferred? What other use cases do you guys have that might go in that direction, or projects based on that?
The use case of the CHIRON Group can definitely be transferred. We’ve also published two more use cases with you for listeners to enjoy. We would like to take this opportunity to thank imo TRAFFIC from Switzerland and SMC Germany. Just maybe the example imo Traffic – it’s about mobile traffic lights for construction sites – which controls these very flexible systems using MQTT. Roughly speaking, this means bringing data to a cloud, to a data center, which is then processed in a dashboard for the various cantons and road operators.
In the end, this is also a use case with a similar background, minimizing service calls and saving costs in such projects, right? To do this, you have a wide variety of devices located somewhere – for example, a traffic light system – and you use a certain protocol to transfer data to the cloud?
Absolutely, yeah, sure. In the past, traffic lights on construction sites were supplied by cable. Today, you do that from a virtual workstation. The traffic lights are set up, programmed, and that’s it.
It was really an exciting project that gave us a good understanding of how a router or gateway works. Very specifically, too, Johannes, on your project, on your milling machine and all your machines – which is, of course, an incredibly exciting service for your customers to leverage the potential in the area of remote maintenance. The added values were also made quite transparent in the two other topics towards the end. Many thanks from my side!
Thank you very much, I had a lot of fun. Thanks again to the partners, especially CHIRON, for being here.
Thanks to you too, it was a great conversation. I wish you both a great day and a good connectivity!