Many plastics processors are already dabbling in Industry 4.0 technologies, such as manufacturing execution systems that track and evaluate machine and process data.
But for injection molding machinery maker Engel Austria GmbH, transparency throughout the entire process is the ultimate goal of this digital manufacturing.
The Schwertberg, Austria-based company says it sees "superordinate platforms," or marketplaces, that bundle products and data from systems at different stages of the value chain as key to this transparency. The challenge, however, has been that plastics processors often use machines, systems and technologies from various suppliers.
Engel's answer to this? A horizontal marketplace specifically for the plastics industry.
Engel is pursuing the effort as an Adamos GmbH shareholder. The Industry 4.0 software firm's Adamos Hub technology bundles digital products, services and domain-specific platforms of various providers on one platform and connects the individual applications.
Plastics News caught up with CEO Stefan Engleder via email before the K show to discuss the company's horizontal marketplace approach.
Q: For the first time, Engel is presenting a prototype of a marketplace, where companies can connect along the value chain. How does this work?
Engleder: We all know marketplaces from our everyday lives. And indeed, the well-known B2C [business-to-consumer] marketplaces like Amazon or Google are role models for the emerging B2B [business-to-business] marketplaces. They provide digital products, services and applications from very different vendors, some of which can be interconnected. Via a single login, the user receives access to all relevant information, whatever their location.
Q: What does "marketplace" mean exactly in the industrial context?
Engleder: Digitalization has arrived in many sectors in the plastics processing industry. From intelligent assistance systems to condition monitoring to MES [manufacturing execution systems], different technologies are supporting processors to collect, evaluate and analyze machine and process data in order to optimize the production processes. So far, this has happened within individual value-creation stages, such as injection molding, for which IIoT [industrial internet of things] platforms are already being used.
These platforms are proprietary, domain-specific solutions made available by industrial suppliers such as machine builders — Engel's E-Connect customer portal, for example.
A marketplace is an overarching platform that bundles the information and products from individual domain-specific platforms. It's no longer about one single value-creation stage, but includes all processes along the entire value stream, which is why we are talking about a horizontal platform.
Q: What are the benefits?
Engleder: Until now, the processors have been able to optimize their processes within individual stages of the value chain. In the future, with the help of marketplaces, the processors will be able to optimize their processes cross-functionally along the entire value chain. In addition to the injection molding process, this includes upstream and downstream processes such as material handling, parts assembly or painting. This is an added value that will be crucial for competitiveness in the future.
We show the first features at the K. Our marketplace provides an OEE app that can calculate overall equipment effectiveness across the entire machinery. In addition to the injection molding machines and robots, the data of the mold and the hot runners, the quality control systems and material handling units will also be included in this calculation. This is a major improvement. So far, the important OEE key figure could not be determined automatically over the entire plant.
Q: What was Engel's reason for developing this marketplace?
Engleder: That's a very important point. Engel is neither the developer nor operator of this marketplace. The solution we present at K is based on Adamos Hub technology. Adamos, as an alliance of mechanical engineering for plant engineering, supports in the development and implementation of digitalization initiatives and functions as an enabler for the industry.
Adamos, therefore, offers a unique combination of network and platform technology. Manufacturer independence and openness are key features of horizontal platform solutions. This is the only way to achieve data consistency across all products and brands.
Even in the future environment of the smart factory, the processors should be free to choose the most suitable suppliers for their individual requirements without having to consider the marketplace they are working with.
Q: How many customers will be beta testing the prototype marketplace? When will this occur?
Engleder: The new possibilities are attracting a lot of interest and, therefore, it was quite easy to find test users. A selected number of customers will start working with the prototype version next year.
Q: When will the marketplace be launched as a commercially available product?
Engleder: The Adamos Hub will be publicly launched in February 2020. For the plastics industry, we expect to be able to start in the coming year.
Q: Is the prototype marketplace solely for injection molders?
Engleder: The marketplace will be tailored to the requirements of plastics processing. From today's perspective, further focusing will not be useful. The companies along the value chain are working together ever more closely, which means that the data from more and more different technologies is being linked to one another. This is very clearly demonstrated by the LIT (Linz Institute of Technology) Factory in Linz, Austria, in which Engel is heavily involved.
The LIT Factory is the first pilot factory for digitalization in plastics processing. Including Engel, 25 companies are involved who collectively represent the complete value stream from raw materials to product development and the various processing technologies such as injection molding, but also extrusion to recycling.
We use our own horizontal IIoT platform with the aim of further exploring the new opportunities in order to continuously expand the product range in the marketplaces.
For implementing a circular economy for the plastics industry, it is crucial that the entire manufacturing process as well as recycling are planned during the product development stage already. And this is even easier the more closely the companies network along the value chain. In turn, this is precisely what horizontal marketplaces promote.