Internet of Things: “Technologies are significantly ahead of the real situation in the industry
What have you observed regarding how the Internet of Things is changing the production technology in the coatings industry?
Martin Mádle: Today, almost everyone is talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). For years, we have been using smartphones, we are increasingly buying smart homes, cars or smart televisions, and some of us may even be greeted by a smart fridge when we get home. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that this concept is also being promoted in industrial segments. The coatings industry is quite specific in one thing – you will not find many segments where the production-customer chain is implemented in two completely different ways simultaneously. From our point of view, these methods divide production technology in the coatings industry into two groups:
1) In the first method, the customer comes into the point of sale and selects a finished “off-the-shelf” product. That is, the usual retail method that we all know from most supermarkets and shops. In this scenario, production usually takes place centrally in a relatively small number of factories on high-capacity production lines. The final product is then delivered to the customer through a distribution channel. The key role of these production facilities, their low number and their high acquisition, servicing and operating costs allow for (or rather require) the integration of modern tools. The aim of these tools is operational planning and optimisation of the production process, prevention of production outages, maintenance planning aimed at minimising costs and loss of profits, or obtaining data for making strategic decisions.
2) The second method represents a situation where the customer comes into the point of sale and the final product is tailor-made from available semi-finished products, very often while the customer waits. This is a decentralised production, one example being dispensing machines. The production process takes place closer to the customer and therefore at multiple locations – we most often talk about tens, hundreds or, in case of the largest companies, even thousands of production sites. This requires a fundamentally different approach, more affordable technology and cheaper and less demanding maintenance. There are also higher demands for intuitive control and mobility of production facilities, etc. Moreover, it is significantly more difficult for management employees at all levels to flexibly manage production, service capacities and logistics, to make strategic decisions, or simply to keep track of overall events occurring at this particular part in the entire chain. This part of the chain is the closest to the customer and is, therefore, more susceptible to the occurrence of critical errors.
There is no reason why companies should back down and not support their capacity management requirements precisely when, from the headquarter's point of view, these capacities are less accessible due to the increased volume, lower concentration and thus also greater distances? The IoT interconnects the production capacity network into one system, eliminates distances and the complexity of the management process caused by the large number of machines, significantly improves maintenance and offers considerable savings. In addition, the IoT also allows for expansion of the network of dispensing machines, as it makes the entire network more efficient and accessible.
What do you see as challenges in the coatings industry to integrate the ideas of digitisation?
Mádle: The biggest challenge is probably for people involved to change their way of thinking. Technologies are significantly ahead of the real situation in the industry, making many of them well-available and economically efficient. The industry has grown accustomed to working at a certain level and moving forward today is rather cumbersome. In 2013, we presented the beta version of our product called “Tinting Management Center (TMC)” at the European Coatings Show. It is a Business Intelligence system developed specifically for the coatings industry. The system connects dispensing machines into one network, significantly streamlines maintenance and provides easily accessible and clear management information about what is happening throughout the network at a single click. On many occasions, we have seen enthusiastic reactions and comments that this is a great tool that has been missing on the market so far. At the same time, however, we have heard that we must be careful with such innovations, that the market may not yet be ready and that a revolution may not be successful. But it is definitely not that bad: Market development is accelerating which is evidenced by the increasingly visible Industry 4.0. At the ECS 2017, we and several of our partners presented a new version of “TMC” and it is clear to see how the market has moved forward and that customers are starting to actively search for such solutions.
What are the results manufacturers can achieve when connecting dispensing machines in one network and collecting data about machine operation and production data?
Mádle: An extensive and varied list could be written to describe all the benefits of these solutions, but ultimately, it all comes down to the following four points: 1) the ability to offer better services to end customers, 2) savings on the operation and servicing of machines, 3) an increase in the loyalty of sellers, or the expansion of the sales network through better and more efficient services, and 4) new managerial decision-making capabilities and their streamlining thanks to the availability of detailed information about the events on dispensing machines, in the sales network or on the market itself.
The last point in particular deserves a more detailed analysis because each company uses this data in a slightly different way. For some manufacturers, the behaviour of end consumers is crucial – for example, what tones are the most popular, how consumer behaviour differs in different regions, what the long-term trends are, etc. Some companies focus on the technical aspects of machines operating itself – whether machines work properly, how and where to avoid future problems, why some problems have occurred and how to solve them, discovering the so-called effective life of a machine (that is, whether it is still worth investing in repairs or whether to buy a new machine), how efficient servicing is, etc. Another approach focuses on controlling – whether the machine is misused or improperly maintained and operated, whether the total consumption of materials matches the number of final products, whether the concerned departments or shops meet established objectives, what the total cost of a machine throughout its life cycle is, etc.
The connection of machines into one network and gathering so-called Big Data is not the main issue here, but rather how this data can be utilised. Larger companies in particular are already collecting a lot of data, but when we ask how they use this data, the answer is usually “very sporadically” and the potential is largely untapped. The reason for this is almost always poor accessibility of this data (access is restricted to a limited group of users), unsuitable output forms which only few can prepare and read, or the complexity of data interpretation. We have specialised our software to the coatings industry and its needs.
Service overview of whole machine network allows proactive approach. Source: Deso
Is the system able to work with all machines or can older machines simply be upgraded?
Mádle: The means of integration may vary slightly depending on the manufacturer, machine type, dispensing software or other specifics of each customer. Our goal while developing “TMC” was, however, a solution that would bring value to customers instantly and without the need for secondary investment. We have succeeded in doing this, and can now offer the benefits of to the vast majority of the market section, including older dispensing machines.
The core strategy of our company is to offer custom-made solutions that meet all clients’ needs, and therefore we also expect custom-made integrations that may frequently spread the benefits to entirely new areas. Today, we receive requests from our customers or partners who wish to integrate shakers and other devices, to integrate our product with their existing internal systems, or to cover other processes that are related to dispensing machines and which customers have currently covered only partially or not at all.