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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

SIG’s Christian Alt on modernising a legacy machine data system

When Christian Alt, director of digital transformation at SIG, a Swiss-based packaging company, compared his company to others several years ago, he believed SIG had an edge because it had already been tapping into data from its various lines for the last 20 years.

“It’s not new for us to use machine data, to visualise moments and optimise surfaces, but we were looking for a more modern way of connecting all of this,” he tells New Statesman Tech.

The company serves customers in more than 65 countries, and last year it produced 33.6 billion carton packs, generating €1.66 billion in revenue along the way.

A big part of the organisation’s digital transformation strategy was to ensure that the various lines that it had connected decades ago would be more efficient. The key aim was to improve the operational equipment effectiveness (OEE) of the filling machines that SIG makes – a standard that measures quality, performance and availability.

In order to do this the organisation was looking for a digital platform that could connect all of the assets that serves its customers, such as the fitting lines out in the field, as well as the company’s own factories.

It had to evaluate the best products for service, connectivity and field service management and looked at 10 different vendors. With the help of the Gartner Magic Quadrant and Gartner analysts, the company narrowed this down to just four vendors. All four were invited to SIG’s centre in Germany and were given a brief which explained they had three days to connect to the company’s lines, integrate their asset performance management (APM) and field services management (FSM) lines and get production up and running.

“They needed to show how they could visualise the data, and we then tested some interuptions to see how that could trigger service requests,” Alt says.

Eventually, it was GE Digital’s Predix APM system and Predix ServiceMax FSM software which were selected based on a cost benefit matrix that was designed beforehand.

“They convinced us – not through PowerPoint presentations but through a practical and ready-to-use solution. Although the APM and FSM integrated solution is not commercially available we could see it happen on our lines and that was one of the most impressive pieces, compared to IBM and SAP and others, aside from interacting with [GE Digital] people who knew what they were doing,” Alt explains.

According to Alt, it was refreshing to be able to use integrated products, particularly ahead of commercial release, and SIG was also happy that it could provide input for the product to undergo further development.

Predix APM will be used to monitor the performance of factory filing lines that use SIG equipment. The GE Digital system will then transfer maintenance data to ServiceMax, so that field technicians can fix issues and perform routine maintenance tasks. The data is then shifted back to Predix APM, enabling the digital platform to predict future breakdowns, and therefore helping to reduce the amount of time it takes to find the right people or tools that need replacing, and subsequently drive the OEE for the customer up.

The initial deployment has gone live last month with the global rollout anticipated to begin in January 2019.

Thereafter, the company is looking to use GE Digital’s Predix products to also help with tracking and digital marketing. Part of this move would be to link the platform to SIG’s Connected Pack initiative, a track-and-trace system using QR codes printed on packaging.

“So you could sign up as a consumer and put your name and address on the product and if you agree we can collect this data at point of purchase or consumption and then consumers can redeem points and win prizes,” Alt suggests.

The company is also looking at developing near-field communications to integrate into its packaging material to give every pack a unique ID. This would help SIG to trace it within its own factories, but also within its customers supply chain, and then within the retail environment, with the consumer, possibly the fridge and even trace the package throughout the waste and recycling process.

“We believe packaging is a wonderful platform for our customers to interact with their customers – for communication and engagement and it’s an area we are heavily investing in, but also integrating the machine data on Predix with the consumer data and ideally offering these analytics capabilities to our customers through a platform like Predix certainly excites us and we’re working with GE Digital to explore that potential,” Alt states.