On filling lines located in some 400 factories around the world, food and drink manufacturers rely on Swiss-based SIG not just to supply the packaging they need for their products, but also the equipment to pour those products into those cartons.
According to Christian Alt, director of digital transformation at SIG, the company’s customers use its cartons to package 10,000 different products – including soups, juices, milk and stocks. Last year, the company produced 33.6 billion carton packs for customers.
But there is a great deal more that SIG could be doing for customers, says Alt, and one important goal is improving the Operational Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) of the filling machines that SIG makes, once they’re up and running in a customer facility.
OEE is a widely used standard for measuring manufacturing productivity, based on identifying the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive. It’s based on three key measures: quality, performance and availability. So, an OEE score of 100% means a company is manufacturing the best quality products, as efficiently as possible, with no stopping time.
A 100% OEE rating is clearly a pipedream in most plant floor environments, regardless of the type of product being made. Food and beverage comes with its own particular complications - it’s highly regulated and hygiene measures must be scrupulous, so stoppage time for cleaning equipment between product runs, for example, is a given.
Among SIG customers, according to Alt, an OEE in the 50s or 60s is the norm. The highest performing customers maybe score in the low 70s, he says, but what they’d all really like to achieve is an OEE rating that lies somewhere between 80% and 85%.
APM meets FSM
That’s why SIG has recently announced a tie-up with GE Digital to build a digital platform to maximize uptime for its customer-based equipment. To do that, GE Digital will integrate two key applications on SIG’s behalf: its Predix Asset Management Performance (APM) system and its Predix ServiceMax field services management (FSM) software, which it acquired in 2016.
What this means is that Predix APM will monitor the health of factory filling lines populated with SIG equipment. The system will then pass maintenance data to ServiceMax, so that SIG field technicians can be summoned for routine maintenance and problem-solving tasks and keep a record of work performed on a specific machine on behalf of the customer.
The loop then closes as that data is funnelled back into Predix APM, fuelling the system’s ability to predict future breakdowns, using artificial intelligence capabilities. Says Alt:
The service work we do now is more preventative. Our field technicians visit every 1,000 or 2,000 machine hours and work through a checklist of machine parts to see what work might be needed. But with this new platform, we'll be able to predict what's going to happen ahead of time and bring the right person, with the right experience, the right skills and the right replacement parts to the customer before a machine breaks down, driving OEE for the customer which is the ultimate objective that all of our customers share.
For a customer, it's peace of mind, first and foremost. The aim is to end unplanned disruptions to production processes that occur when machines break down and it wasn't foreseen and the part needed to fix it isn't available, because nobody had that breakdown on their radar. What will happen is that the most important components of the filling lines are equipped with sensors and monitored in real-time via modern, bidirectional connectivity. We will analyse the data in the cloud via Predix and we're also already working on edge computing solutions so that certain interventions can be immediately triggered in real time.
New types of contract
In turn, that will lead to new types of contracts between SIG and its customers and, in particular, contracts where improvements in OEE are paramount. As Alt explains:
Today, we can't guarantee performance improvements in terms of OEE, because we can't always measure everything. But with this solution, we will be able to measure a great deal more, create much more transparency and write new types of contracts, depending on what the customer wants. They can have a subscription-based contact and get the data themselves and make their own decisions based on that. Or we can guarantee performance, by measuring where they are today and write a contract to guarantee, for example, a 5% improvement on the OEE. And when we do that, we can say to the customer, ‘This is the price you will need to pay when the target is reached.’ All sorts of new options become available.
SIG is now in a pilot phase, in which it is testing the integrated solution in two regions for six months, before it moves on to a global roll-out that will take approximately one year. The first phase, according to Alt, will focus on SIG’s full-service contract customers, who already work with the company on a pay-per-use basis – for example, paying a fixed price for every 1,000 cartons filled. Here, he says, it will be relatively straightforward to measure the OEE improvements achieved.
And, over time, the plan is to use the new digital platform to link connected machinery to Sig’s Connected Pack initiative, a track-and-trace system using QR codes printed on carton packs, so that data on can be collected on throughput and scrap rates as cartons move through the factory.
It’s a huge step-change for a company that was originally founded in the mid-nineteenth century, says Alt, but one that has a lot of support, including at the group executive board level:
There’s no question in my mind that everyone at SIG is fully embracing our digital transformation strategy and responding positively to it. It's a joy to see a company like ours going digital, but we’re not just blindly following a trend that we don't understand. We’re working with a strong focus on doing what we already do every day – building reliable filling lines, making great packaging, providing good services – but doing it even better, in a way that delivers even more value to our customers.