Not all packaging is the same – especially in the food industry. Here, parameters such as temperature, film tension or sealing pressure must be exactly right in order not to jeopardize the quality of the goods. The processes behind this are usually highly complex. Packaging specialist MULTIVAC is digitalizing and networking its machines to meet the growing demands of the market. For the customer, this means easier operation and more efficient production processes thanks to Smart Services.
The challenge: Highly complex operation of packing machines with increasing product variety
The product landscape of the food market is characterized by the continuous introduction of new goods. Conversely, this requires an immense variety of different packaging. This circumstance presents manufacturers of processing and packaging solutions with the challenge of producing machines that offer their customers individual packaging options – and do so in the most user-friendly way possible and with the least amount of materials in terms of the environment and costs.
The highest maxim in food packaging: the protection of the product and its shelf life. To do this, machine operators must first select the right material for the product, determine the optimum temperature for the film, and do all this at the necessary speed. Accordingly, the knowledge today lies with the operating personnel, who know individual technical parameters from experience. This manual work requires a high level of expertise on the part of the employee and costs time and money. Although packing machines already offer some functions that assist with film changeover, many steps are left to the operator, such as configuring the machine for new products or packaging materials. In addition, the previous packaging assistants do not allow remote maintenance and run on locally installed industrial PCs. To date, this has led to a high susceptibility to errors, downtimes and further costs. Error history and machine usage has also been recorded to a limited extent.
MULTIVAC has therefore set itself the goal of addressing precisely these problems in order to make its latest generation of machines more intelligent and user-friendly. The idea is to make clever use of digitalization and offer customers smart services. This is where IT partner diva-e and Microsoft Azure come into play.
The solution: Microsoft Azure IoT Hub as a scalable data center
In order to tackle the project in full, MULTIVAC first looked for a digitalization partner. The choice fell on diva-e, a digitalization expert who could convince with empirical values from past mechanical engineering projects. They provided support from the initial consultation to the final implementation of the cloud technology. Cloud partner of trust became Microsoft Azure. Azure IoT Hub enables reliable and protected communication between the IoT application – the Internet of Things – and the devices it manages. By providing a solution back-end that is hosted in the cloud, virtually any device can be connected.
The solution project of the use case: the MULTIVAC Pack Pilot, a digital assistant that accompanies the user throughout the entire machine configuration process. Simple commands such as “Pack product A with top film B and bottom film C in a protective atmosphere” replace manual entry of technical parameters. The ruleset resides in the background on the Microsoft Azure Cloud and provides all the ready-made machine settings and automated configuration. The machine availability and performance data stored in the cloud provides information on the quality of machine settings, information on error history and machine usage. The Pack Pilot web application, which can be updated remotely by the manufacturer, also runs on the operator interface of the machines and gives the user the feeling of working directly on the machine itself.
With the aim of providing the highest possible transparency for its customers, MULTIVAC has also developed its own customer portal – myMULTIVAC. With its help, the maximum availability of production at the customer’s site is to be realized, bottlenecks are to be detected and production-relevant key figures are to be kept in view at all times.
The result: A new business model for MULTIVAC, simpler and more stable processes for the customer
The solution offers machine manufacturer MULTIVAC new opportunities to meet increasing customer expectations and requirements. Customer contact is no longer limited to the time of sale and the occurrence of malfunctions, but there is a constant dialogue and exchange of knowledge between the user of the packaging solution and the manufacturer. The result is shared learning and massively reduced service response times, as remote access to data in the Microsoft Cloud is possible.
The result on the customer side: changeover times are shortened, sources of error are eliminated, and packaging processes are optimized. In the case of malfunctions, it sometimes turned out that the problem was not induced by the machine, but was caused by process deficiencies, such as faulty layer distribution. Machine operation could be fully improved in this way. Commissioning of the machines has also become much easier and faster. Thanks to the Azure Cloud, MULTIVAC is also prepared for future evaluation of the machine sensor data using machine learning.