Interview: “Gather as much information as possible”
If a paint manufacturer wants to start digitising his manufacturing process, where do you think he should start?
Norbert Kern: First of all, end-product quality depends not only on the processing parameters but also on the quality of the raw materials. For complete traceability and the ability to analyse and optimise the manufacturing process, it is essential to have all the information at one’s fingertips. When we know what we are supplying and how we do our processing, we are in a position to understand how end-product quality evolves.
We start by gathering as much information as possible from the manufacturing process. That includes all the key processing parameters. Then, we gather data on the product. This typically entails gathering information about the quality of the end-product. Then we add more information about the supplied raw material. The more data we have, the better we are able to visualise and interpret it.
In the case of fully continuous processes, we also need inline product information. For this, we have systems which can be integrated into the product stream. For example, we have inline systems for measuring viscosity, solids loading, density and even particle size. Bühler has already deployed these systems in other industries, such as lithium-ion battery manufacturing, and we are now transferring them to the paints and coatings industry.
Just collecting data in paints and coatings manufacturing is one thing. But how difficult is it to interpret the data and learn from it?
Head of Product Management and Process Engineering for Grinding and Dispersion, Bühler
Kern: This is where the real expertise comes in. Understanding the process is straightforward with the aid of our visualisation tools. These include, for example, a pie-chart for visualising error messages or correlated process data for each alarm. There are also options for comparing different product batches so that the customer can identify the most important process parameter in manufacturing. All of this information goes into optimising one location. However, there are also options for internal benchmarking across different locations of the same paint manufacturer. We can even go one step further and curate the information for industrial benchmarking. In that event, the paint manufacturer would see be able to how the efficiency of his manufacturing process compares with that of others in the same industry.
We have developed different levels of data collection and analytics:
1. Smart Pro Cockpit: data collection for full traceability
2. Smart Pro Statistic: long-term statistics for consistently high quality
3. SmartPro Optimisation: algorithms for automatic process optimisation
Bühler offers cloud solutions for handling production data and performing data analytics. How do you address security issues for this service?
Kern: Data security and safety is a very important topic. To ensure that our customers have the latest digital services, we are continually working on developing our solutions. We are applying for ISO 27k certification and are cooperating with Microsoft on the latest data security technologies.
A strong partnership and common understanding of data security is key to success. We believe that the only sustainable solution for staying up to date is a cloud-based one. The latest information and algorithms for data analytics are then always available and the customers are able to derive the maximum profit from the system. This is important, as the technology in this field is constantly evolving. We are also able to offer our customers an in-house server solution. In this case, the data stays inside the company only. However, there are then limitations surrounding data analytics and visualisation, as most of these solutions run in the cloud.