While prices for raw materials and energy costs are rising at an unprecedented pace, manufacturers in the food and pharmaceutical industries are looking for ways to increase their production efficiency. The key to higher overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) lies in the vast amount of production data that accumulates daily – if manufacturers know how to use it to their advantage. Elisa Hein, Product Manager Expert Services at Syntegon, explains how digital solutions help to unfold the full potential of this data treasure.
Digitalization is quite the buzz word these days. Let’s put it into context for food and pharmaceutical manufacturing processes. How is this trend shaping these two industries?
Elisa Hein – Both industries have invested significantly in automating processes over the past years and making them even safer. In the food industry, the focus is on maximizing output rates, often with the help of pick-and-place robots, which work tirelessly at high speeds. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are concentrating on reducing product loss – particularly when producing costly and highly specialized drugs in small batches, for example for individual cancer treatment.
Both industries have one important requirement in common: they need ever higher flexibility to remain competitive in quickly changing market environments. They must be able to produce varying products in quick succession, switching between formats and pack styles, or formulations and containers. At the same time, the lack of skilled workforce (especially in the food industry) is further increasing the need for automation and digitalization. With all these challenges ahead, manufacturers must be able to rely on easy-to-operate equipment with as little downtime and as few malfunctions as possible. This is where new digital solutions come into play to increase performance and product quality.
How exactly can digital solutions help increase OEE?
Hein – Digital solutions can help to identify improvement potentials for cost reduction, productivity increase, or resource savings. Software lays the groundwork for data-based decisions. It collects, evaluates, and visualizes production and machine data – and provides full performance transparency. Let’s take a look at some application examples of digital solutions: The most frequent reasons for machine downtimes can be identified by evaluating alarms, which are then visualized by quantity and time, e.g., in a pareto chart.
Another example is the close monitoring of the equipment’s power consumption to identify saving potentials – a huge advantage when aiming for more sustainable production processes. Finally, software increases overall process transparency. It enables manufacturers to compare production data from different machines at varying time periods to identify parameters for increased productivity – even across multiple production sites.
Sounds like digital solutions offer a range of benefits. So why aren’t more manufacturers using them already?
Hein – Many manufacturers are reluctant to invest in digital solutions since they are not aware of the huge potential they offer in terms of performance improvement and cost reduction. The first implementation also comes with quite a few challenges: many manufacturers have equipment from different suppliers, of different types and age on their shopfloor. Often, they do not have standardized interfaces. Connecting all machines to one platform requires the right partner who offers expert support during implementation.
Is there a solution for this connectivity issue?
Hein – It depends whether we are talking about new or existing equipment. Our new machines are all IoT-ready: they have a standardized digital interface that facilitates connecting the machines with each other, to the Syntegon software solution or to a customer’s own Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Additionally, we are retrofitting legacy equipment and offer an edge device that is compatible with older machines. We are also working on a sensor-based solution for third-party equipment that will allow us to collect information on the output rate and the machine status.
Why should your customers invest in digital solutions from a machine manufacturer instead of turning to a software specialist?
Hein – Machine manufacturers know their own equipment best. This expertise is invaluable if you want to exploit the full potential in production. With our new cloud-based software solution Synexio, for example, our clients benefit from our industry expertise. But even more importantly, we work together with our customers in a true partnership. Our experts are available to help interpret the data, support with required machine modernizations or provide operator training.
Tell us a bit more about Synexio.
Hein – Synexio comes in three packages: Monitor, Uptime, and Empower. Synexio Monitor visualizes various KPIs and provides a secure data connection to ensure that the production and machine data is stored in an ISO-certified management system. With Synexio Uptime, manufacturers gain access to additional features to boost their productivity. For example, they can identify reasons for unplanned downtimes and benchmark various machines and time periods. Additionally, Uptime’s sustainability monitoring provides data on energy consumption and waste production, supporting customers to reduce their carbon footprint.
At this year’s Pack Expo in Las Vegas from September 11 to 13, visitors were able to experience the benefits of Uptime firsthand and get a first glimpse of Synexio Empower, the third and most comprehensive upcoming Synexio package. Empower reduces unplanned downtime with condition and time-based maintenance and empowers customers’ workforce with on-demand training content and improved troubleshooting.
What was customer feedback like, and how did you go about the implementation?
Hein – We really wanted customers to explore the benefits of Synexio Monitor, so we offered a free trial-period. Many were eager to go ahead with long-term implementation even before the trial period ended. Our customers’ feedback was very positive, and many were seeing tangible results from the beginning. One manufacturer, for example, identified incorrect film reel changes on his machines as a source of unplanned downtimes – and was able to take action straight away. Monitor’s intuitive design and easy-to-use interface made it easy to train his operator teams and ultimately increase productivity. In fact, he was really impressed with the results and decided to upgrade to Synexio Uptime.
Sounds like Monitor had a good start indeed. What’s next for Synexio? How will you keep pace with the ongoing trend towards even more digitalization?
Hein – Now it is all about bringing Synexio’s benefits to even more of our customers. And we will continue to work with those who are already using Synexio in a true partnership. This includes taking into consideration their specific requirements, feedback and experience for the next releases of our software to design a tool that optimizes user experience. Furthermore, we are already developing further features for monitoring the condition of critical components in the machines, which will minimize downtimes even further by notifying manufacturers when reaching critical thresholds.