If you’ve ever berated yourself for your inability to pour milk, juice or soup from a carton without slips or spills, consider the manufacturing sophistication involved in getting that product into millions of cartons in the first place - cleanly, at speed, in exactly the right quantities and without unnecessary wastage.
In order to ensure that the filling machines that it sells to food and drink manufacturers can consistently deliver on those goals, Switzerland-based SIG Combibloc (SIG) recently announced the launch of Plant 360 Asset Management. This is a new digital solution that will enable SIG to detect and correct potential issues with equipment installed on customer premises, so that manufacturing customers get better quality, performance and availability from their filling machines.
Plant 360 Asset Management is the result of a tie-up between SIG and GE Digital previously discussed by diginomica, and based on two applications from GE Digital’s portfolio: its Predix Asset Management (APM) system and the Predix ServiceMax field services management (FSM) software, which GE acquired in 2016.
Ready for roll-out
In the year or so that has passed since I last spoke with SIG, a great deal of work has gone into Plant 360 Asset Management, according to Christian Grefrath, global service product manager at SIG. This has included achieving the necessary integrations between the underlying products, building out interfaces and testing the solution at two SIG customers, one in the Middle East/Africa and one in Thailand.
With that work complete, a global rollout has now begun. The first SIG customer on board is Almarai, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest food and beverage producers. Grefrath, meanwhile, was speaking to diginomica from SIG’s offices in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he was introducing the company’s sales and field service staff in that region to Plant 360 Asset Management:
Preparing employees in different countries so that they can build out this solution for our customers is important work, because this will really change the way our company delivers services. It’s a lot of preparation work and, yes, it does take some time.
To put that effort in context, some 900 SIG employees need to get familiar and up-to-speed with Plant 360 Asset Management. These include field service engineers and back-office service staff working for SIG, as well as a crowd of data analysts, many of them new hires for the company.
APM meets FSM
In effect, the new solution brings together condition-based and predictive-maintenance data collected from SIG machinery and held in APM with work being scheduled for field-service engineers in FSM. Basically, it’s a question of translating alerts into efficient action on the ground, but beyond that, it’s about getting as much notice as possible of a malfunction and intervening before that issue disrupts a customer’s operations.
There are three main modules, Grefrath explains. The first is the Connector module, which enables the collection of IoT data from machinery-based sensors and feeds it into the Predix Cloud. This module is also used to support SIG’s other smart factory solution, Plant 360 Controller, which was built and launched in January 2019, independently of the GE tie-up, and provides manufacturers with tools to monitor, control and optimize filling plant operations. Says Grefrath:
Connector provides a common infrastructure for both Plant 360 Controller and the new Plant 360 Asset Management, and we did this because customers have a lot of equipment in their factories and while they’re looking for lots of new ways to become smarter, they don’t want to have to implement a new connectivity approach for every smart factory solution they adopt. So this was an important way for us to standardize.
The Connector module might also be used, he adds, to collect data from non-SIG machinery that sits downstream from filling lines in factories - machines for sealing cartons, for example, or tightening bottle caps.
The second module to Plant 360 Asset Management is a Smart Maintenance module that gives customers a single source of information for all maintenance-related activities. The third is Smart Performance, and is based on asset health monitoring and predictive asset data analytics. It’s this module, says Grefrath, that will provide a launchpad for new services in the future:
This is where we will be able to optimize maintenance strategies based on data collected over time on the health and condition history of machines. So next year, customers will get the asset health monitoring product that will enable customers to preventatively take actions to avoid issues and, looking forward, we want to go towards a predictive maintenance approach that is also part of this Smart Performance module.
OEE improvements ahead
It’s still early days, but Grefrath claims that by adopting Plant 360 Asset Management, food and drink manufacturers can make serious progress in tackling the challenges of maximising output and reducing cost - ambitions that tend to take a serious beating when a filling line goes down.
That’s why this class of process manufacturer is so obsessed with Operational Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as a measure of productivity. A 100% OEE rating - indicating that machinery runs at top capacity, delivering top quality, all of the time - is clearly a pipedream for an industry where machinery must be stopped and cleaned down scrupulously between product runs. But there’s plenty of room for improvement on industry average OEEs that run between 50% and 70%. Many food and beverage manufacturers would be highly delighted to achieve an OEE of 80% or more.
And with that in mind, the new solution could ultimately open the doors for SIG to start charging customers based on the OEE improvements it is able to deliver via more proactive servicing, as opposed to a more traditional model, based on an upfront, capex-based price for machines.