How can special machine manufacturers succeed in harnessing the potential of digitalization for themselves and their customers? The goal of HESS GROUP – a manufacturer of concrete block machines and concrete block plants – was to bridge the gap between physical and digital products and find a solution for the overall process. Together with Kontron AIS, the TOPWERK Group has developed a way to provide a 360-degree view of the machines with just one tool.
The challenge: Connecting plants with a wide age structure and knowledge of stand-alone operation on the part of the machine user
The HESS GROUP is a leading global supplier of advanced concrete block machines, concrete mixing plants, packaging plants and associated conveyor technology. With their machinery and equipment, their customers produce the most diverse types of concrete products, such as paving stones, concrete slabs, curbs or stair treads. Large customers for these products include DIY stores.
When does the stone meet the requirements? When does a wearing component such as a scraper brush or a rubber buffer have to be replaced so that the quality of the end product does not degrade? These are classic questions from customers that the special machine manufacturer wants to answer in a simple way for every machine operator. Until now, however, a 360° view of the plant was missing.
In addition to technological progress, challenges also arise from the fact that existing knowledge about machinery and equipment is not available to everyone who should have it. The shortage of skilled workers and, as a result, lateral entrants with little or no professional experience on the machines are a very big issue in this industry. There is a high need for training. One challenge is to make the knowledge from the minds of experienced employees tangible in order to enable a structured transfer of know-how. Learning phases can thus be simplified and fluctuation efficiently countered. Another challenge in this context is the often unstructured or missing paper-based documentation, which means that important information is not centrally available and information is lost.
Founded in 1948, the HESS GROUP also looks back on a very broad age structure of its machines and complete plants for the production of concrete blocks. Existing customers in particular have several machines of different ages in operation. The goal and challenge is to be able to connect all customers digitally, no matter how old the machine is. While machines less than two years old can be connected directly, older machines first undergo a technical feasibility check and additional hardware may be required.
As a systems and software company, Kontron AIS GmbH has been providing innovative, flexible and economical software solutions in factory and manufacturing automation as well as plant integration and control for more than 30 years and has helped the special machine builder to meet these challenges.
The solution: A cloud-based IoT service platform
Together with Kontron AIS, the HESS GROUP has set up a cloud-based service platform with an integrated knowledge database that provides customers with a comprehensive overview of all relevant data of the concrete block and mixing plants: from production data to the dynamic maintenance calendar to the digital spare parts catalog. The so-called SmartCloud (based on EquipmentCloud®) provides a 360° view of the machine with just one tool. At the touch of a button, machine operators, buyers or CEOs can get the information they need at any given moment.
Data analysis is an important element in the customer loyalty chain: The machine user is given a tool with which they can immediately and directly see cause-effect relationships in the form of evaluation tools and key figure models (OEE). In addition to basics such as machine master data and documents or plant-specific news, shift logs and the maintenance calendar of the machines can be viewed. Alarms, throughputs, almost any KPI you want is available on a custom dashboard you create. If there are any questions or change requests, service requests can be made immediately from the app and there are personal contact persons with direct contact options – with AR technology if requested. In addition, the customer portal offers tutorials for self-service. In addition, all parts of the machine are made available in 3D in a catalog via the so-called SmartParts. The user gets suggestions or sees their order history if they wish.
The prerequisite for obtaining machine and production data is communication with the machines. Once the connection to the cloud has been made, the utilization of the machine can be mapped.
The result: OEE increase and knowledge database for machine users as well as digitalization in service and after sales for machine manufacturers
Kontron AIS offers partners such as SME machine builders like the HESS GROUP not only the software as a solution, but also supports them in the entire topic of digitization in service and after sales. The portfolio ranges from the initial service check to identify potential, through the development of the business model, to the transformation of business processes and the associated legal issues. In this way, machine and plant manufacturers can scale their service and after-sales activities from a cost center to a profit center and are supported in the process. Kontron AIS has paved the way for HESS GROUP to implement a digital business model in the short term and in a measurable way.
On the other hand, the automated provision of daily updated key figures on demand ensures transparency and a uniform understanding across departments for the customers of the HESS GROUP. For complex processes on the machines, insight and comprehensibility are created for both beginners and techies at all levels.
- Information is channeled, processes standardized. Less knowledge and information is lost.
- Overall plant effectiveness is increased through more efficient maintenance, repair, and scheduling.
- By providing tutorials in one place, knowledge is made available and bundled centrally.
- There is an immediate benefit, as the data is visualized directly to the user, e.g. in the form of a maintenance calendar.
- Keyword business model: Depending on the service package, reductions of up to 10% downtime and 3% scrap are possible.
In the next step, the data can be used to teach the SmartCloud more and more in terms of predictive maintenance, so that the customer can operate the machines even more efficiently.
One of the decisive factors for the joint success of Kontron AIS and the HESS GROUP was the continuous exchange – small teams on both sides made rapid implementation possible.