"Our IoT project is one of the few that is actually operational. It was implemented quickly, is completed implemented and is helping us increase productivity while saving energy."
Markus Hammer, Managing Director of Pulver-Color Beschichtungs-Ges.m.b.H.
The Pulver-Color Beschichtungs-Ges.m.b.H. (PUCO for short) is a medium-sized company based in the Neustadt district of Vienna. The family business has been firmly established in Lower Austria’s business landscape for more than 20 years. Its customers include automotive suppliers, aircraft manufacturers, and numerous small and medium-sized companies. PUCO not only has an extensive standard program for industrial products, but also provides coatings for individual custom-made articles in large or small batches. The quality level is in the upper segment of the market. Since no toxic fumes are produced during the coating process, it is considered to be an environmentally friendly alternative to conventional painting.
PUCO has been working with the ERP system Microsoft Dynamics NAV for almost three years. The enterprise software was implemented by the COSMO CONSULT Group, Europe's leading Microsoft Dynamics partner. When deciding on a system, PUCO had an eye not only on the upcoming ERP project, but also possible follow-up projects in the area of the Internet of Things (IoT). The goal of going digital was to help to make production processes more efficient and flexible in the future. "The ERP software is important for corporate management. At the same time, it is the platform for digital transformation. These two aspects were what we focused on when choosing a system. Dynamics NAV covers the entire production planning field and all manufacturing processes, but that was not enough," explains Markus Hammer, Managing Director of PUCO. It was simply not possible to determine exactly at what stage in the process a particular order was. "These data were not just available in Dynamics NAV," said Hammer. Exactly this problem was the starting point for an IoT project, which was later even nominated for the prestigious Constantinus Award in the field of Industry 4.0, as the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies is known in Germany.
In the coating process, the parts to be coated travel on cars through the production line. Then the color powder is applied in the coating room, which is then heated in a special oven for about twenty minutes. This is where the IoT idea of Managing Director Hammer comes into play: "The objects roll on transport cars through the operational process. Why not equip the cars with RFID transponders? If the transponders are linked to a specific order on the software side, we can identify the respective production status based on the location. In this way, the Internet of Things helped us keep a close eye on what's going on in production, including in terms of resources in use."
Another area of application for smart technologies is the analysis of manufacturing parameters. Quality assurance improves when it is easy to analyze the parameters that have been used, such as powdered raw materials, temperatures and firing times.
During the planning out of the IoT scenario, further, equally important optimization potential was discovered - this time in terms of energy efficiency. Each oven is loaded on a cycle of 20 minutes. This ensures that the powder coating is heated long enough. Whenever a transport car arrived late, it could either be put in the oven late, which meant taking the risk of falling below the minimum heating time, or it had to wait until the next loading. With IoT data it was possible to eliminate this classic bottleneck. Last but not least, as part of the IoT project, it was possible to automate machine and production data acquisition to a great extent.
The entire IoT system was programmed generically, in order to be able to use it flexibly in the future. At the same time, 90 percent of it is based on Microsoft technology. "This means we have a stable and above all cost-effective solution. The fact that we have been able to implement seamless process support within a relatively small budget framework makes this project something very special. It shows that Industry 4.0 is realistic and useful for small and medium-sized businesses," says Hammer.
Today, PUCO employees can see the current status of the individual processes directly in Dynamics NAV. The ERP system shows the PUCO employees exactly how long the individual carriages are in the oven down to the second and what color is being fired. Parallel to this, the IoT system provides data on how many transport cars and which batch numbers were required for an order. Dynamics NAV uses the information, for example, for the final costing or for comparing the current order volume with the available capacity. "Put simply, we can now better understand how much we earn on each job," explains the Managing Director.
Above all, thorough preparation and internal communication were decisive in the success of the project in Markus Hammer’s opinion. In this way, it was possible to motivate the employees about the project. In its day-to-day business, PUCO benefits from the flexibility it has gained. Without the rigid 20-minute oven cycle, the processes run smoother and largely without interruptions. The higher efficiency has led to a better utilization of existing capacity. As a result, PUCO was able to take on additional orders, confirms Markus Hammer: "Due to the better utilization of the oven, we can expect an increase in sales of almost 80,000 euros per year."
Another advantage is the real-time data. "Our employees can actually do something with it. There used to be a production management report four times a day that was outdated by the time it was printed," says Hammer. In order to implement new ideas for process improvements more quickly in the future, the Dynamics NAV system has been expanded to include an internal communication tool. This allows employees to send their suggestions directly to the management. "People are using this a lot. It is great to see our employees actively supporting the transformation process," says a delighted Hammer.
In light of this rapid success, the first follow-up projects are already about to be implemented: PUCO is focusing on the topic of "transparency" in particular. For example, evaluations and reports will be visualized in even more detail using the Microsoft Power BI analysis tool. In addition to this, the cloud-based IoT platform Azure IoT provides even more targeted control over production facilities, for example to minimize the need for energy-hungry components. "Our IoT project is one of the few of its kind that is actually operational. It was implemented quickly, is completed implemented and is helping us increase productivity while saving energy," adds PUCO’s Managing Director.