Industry 4.0 in machine construction – How MULTIVAC is driving digitalisation forward and equipping itself for the future

Interview with Guido Spix, Director and CTO of MULTIVAC Sepp Haggenmüller SE & Co. KG

Industry 4.0 is talked about everywhere, including within the machine construction industry – can you give us a brief insight into the relevance of Industry 4.0 for German machine builders?

It can basically be established already, that the domestic machine construction industry is very well set up for the challenges of Industry 4.0, and that it has now come of age as regards the first phase. Many different technologies are already available for approaching the various solutions. Quite a number of companies have established networked or self-controlling processes and are already using IT-based automation solutions. But the topic of Industry 4.0 can not be assessed with sweeping generalisations. In my view there are principally two distinct lines of action for companies in the market: the first is the huge challenge of introducing and implementing Industry 4.0 with its core elements of digitalisation and networking within one’s own organisation – starting from the improvement of production processes right through to networking outside the limits of the company itself and beyond national borders. This includes among other things clarification of the questions about secure data exchange, data use and the legal framework. This is because Industry 4.0 is not conceivable without the free exchange of information. In addition to this, the necessary infrastructure for digital networking must of course be created. Each company must develop its own strategy for all this, taking into account the economic benefit, and this strategy has to consider not only technology and processes, but also people and the organisation itself. And last but not least, there is the task of skilfully linking together the existing technology and solutions.

Secondly, companies within the machine construction industry have to direct their sights on their own range of products: it is conceivable that existing solutions can be further developed, so they are capable of Industry 4.0. But new product innovations and the establishment of new business models, which are created through the digitalisation and networking of products and production, are also a completely realistic scenario, and one in which we at MULTIVAC have already been working intensively for some time.

Let’s look at this first, Mr Spix – how relevant is Industry 4.0 for MULTIVAC itself?

Digitalisation can result in a wide range of beneficial prospects for our company. The first – and one that is close to home - concerns the digitalisation of existing processes, with the aim of making these even more efficient and thereby also creating additional benefits for our customers. We have already implemented this in many areas – I am thinking here of our Logistics Center in Wolfertschwenden, which was successfully put into operation last year, and which future-proofs the supply of spare parts to our customers and subsidiaries in Europe. The latest warehouse technology, powerful IT and modern logistics structures are all perfectly intermeshed, and they ensure all the sequences in the process run smoothly as well as being highly efficient and transparent with the maximum possible output.

Another catchword is “digital production”, in other words the integrated representation and control of all our manufacturing processes. But here also, it is necessary to have intelligent, efficient and above all software-supported and networked production technology, because it is not possible to achieve Industry 4.0 with IT systems alone. The benefits are obvious: real-time tracking of orders, current data status, optimisation of throughput times and therefore adherence to delivery dates, as well of course as the opportunity to be able to react quickly to the needs of the market.

We have also digitalised our processes in the Sales area – I would refer here to our Customer Portal and the many e-commerce platforms. We are already doing a significant share of our spare parts business through our Webshop, and we can create considerable benefits for our customers through linking them via EDI and OCI to our shopping systems.


You spoke just now about the first aspect being the digitalisation of existing processes in your own company. Do you see a second aspect as being the provision of digital services to your customers?

Absolutely. We call these Smart services. Under Smart services we collate all those service packages, which contribute to further optimising the packaging procedures at our customers and making them even more efficient. Examples of Smart services are those such as predictive maintenance or analysis of overall equipment effectiveness, which enables the operating company to create a status analysis of the packaging machine and thereby to further optimise the packaging procedure. It is also conceivable, that packaging machines could be linked to our Customer Portal and shop systems, allowing spare parts orders for wearing parts to be automatically triggered. This would enable our customers to relieve their maintenance work considerably. In addition to this, we are equipping our new X-line machine generation with Pack Pilot. In addition to ensuring the maximum output of the machine, Pack Pilot also contributes significantly to maintaining constant pack quality and maximum packaging reliability.


How exactly does Pack Pilot function?

With the aid of Pack Pilot, machines can be set up without profound expert knowledge. When creating new recipes, the operating company simply selects the features of the pack, packaging material and product. In conjunction with the data for the dies used, the machine parameterises itself to virtually the optimum operating point. Thanks to Pack Pilot, the machine is already set up to the optimum level when the machine is started, which means that during production start-up it produces packs with maximum packaging reliability, consistent quality and very high output without any significant production loss. An important aspect of this is that, thanks to Pack Pilot, the machine can also be operated without user knowledge. The reduction in start-up production loss also leads to significant savings as regards product, packaging materials and production time.


How is the Pack Pilot loaded with current data?

The Pack Pilot has access to MULTIVAC’s expert knowledge via the link to the MULTIVAC Cloud, and this includes things such as information about the optimum machine parameters for running different packaging materials. In this context I would like to point out that MULTIVAC’s expert knowledge is continually being expanded through the installation of over 1,000 new automatic packaging solutions every year. Our customers benefit from this comprehensive know-how via the link to the Cloud. 


What are the preconditions that have to be created for providing Smart services?

A fundamental requirement is the equipping of our packaging machines with a suitable sensor system. The MULTIVAC X-line has a large number of sensors for monitoring and controlling the processes. As part of this, the Multi Sensor Control captures all the relevant process parameters. By capturing these process values and sequences, we firstly ensure the machine is run permanently at or near the optimum operating point, since the individual part-processes such as forming, evacuation and sealing are optimised within closed control circuits. Secondly, any deviations from the predicted processes and sequences are quickly detected, which ensures the quality of the packs is maintained. These process values also form a valuable basis for the provision of our Smart services, such as preventative maintenance for example. Now we come to the second precondition, namely the linking of the machines to the MULTIVAC Cloud, so that the packaging machines can transfer the necessary process data to it.


Many customers are undoubtedly critical of linking machines to cloud systems. How does MULTIVAC position itself as regards this question?

MULTIVAC differentiates very precisely between process data and production data. The linking of our packaging machines to the MULTIVAC Cloud serves solely to transfer the necessary process-related information. Production-related or customer-relevant data, such as information about the packaged product, is on the other hand much more critical for our customers. It is for this reason, we only make this information available to the customer.


Have you already received feedback from the market?

As you know, we will be presenting the X-line to selected customers for the first time at interpack 2017 – and I am absolutely convinced that the new machine concept will receive a very positive reception thanks to the significant advances made, particularly as regards packaging reliability, pack quality and production output. As part of the development work, we have already discussed the concept with several customers and received nothing but positive feedback.


Does MULTIVAC see further prospects for digitalisation besides the digitalisation of business processes and the provision of digital services?

In our view thare are of course new prospects, which will arise from changes in business models within our market. Here I would give the example of online retailing of food. Market researchers predict that over the next ten years there will be a significant breakthrough in online food retailing, even though consumer behaviour is currently still fairly restrained due to the high density of possible shopping outlets and a certain fear of contact with new concepts. As regards food suppliers and retailers, there is a lack of cost-effective and consumer-friendly logistics concepts, to which can be added statutory food regulations, product shelf life, high delivery costs and low margins. Nevertheless, it is expected that turnover in online retailing will increase within a decade from the current one billion to more than seven billion euros per year.

This all has an effect on the food industry. And the changing behaviour of consumers has direct effects on the design of packaging. In addition to ensuring protection of the product, packaging has traditionally also had the role of presenting the product attractively at the point of sale. This function is of course much less important with online retailing. Here we have to concern ourselves much more with the design of packs for efficient dispatch and optimum product protection. Another point is the progressive individualisation of packs, from which will arise new challenges with regard to production of small batch sizes. And last but not least, it must also be mentioned that online retailing places far-reaching demands on the industry as regards traceability throughout the logistics chain.

MULTIVAC is currently involved in various initiatives with other market participants to develop answers to these questions.


Mr Spix, thank you very much for this stimulating and very interesting discussion.