SW always has its customers’ productivity in mind – be it in the design of the milling machines or in the software used to maintain them.

When an automotive company has a quality problem, all levers are pulled to fix it. It’s easy to understand why. A problem in one vehicle can result in thousands or even millions of vehicles having to be recalled to ensure passenger safety – all at great cost to the company and its brand.

It’s no surprise, then, that according to a recent Deloitte report, improving quality management is one of the top three priorities for executives in the industry. Manufacturers need to be confident that each company in the vast supply chain that underpins this industry will deliver the best parts -with volumes that will meet the growing global demand for cars.

This supply chain, in turn, relies on machines that must produce high quality at high volumes – and automotive suppliers cannot afford to have unplanned downtime affect delivery schedules. Companies in all parts of the supply chain need to be confident that the machines on their production lines will perform as expected at all times.

As one of the leading manufacturers of horizontal machining centers for automotive suppliers, Schwäbische Werkzeugmaschinen GmbH (SW) therefore bears a great responsibility for consistent quality and productivity.

“Machines that make machines”

SW horizontal machining centers are used by many automotive suppliers in the production of parts for brakes, valve blocks, engine heads, drive parts, transmission housings and much more. As innovators in the field, SW always has its customers’ productivity in mind – whether it’s the design of the milling machines or the software used to maintain them.

The company helps its customers increase their productivity through innovative technologies. SW’s multi-spindle machining centers allow its customers to produce up to four machine parts simultaneously – competitors can only produce one part in comparison. Customers save money and space because they only need one SW machine to produce more output – ideal for boosting performance. But it’s not just the machines that increase productivity – software also plays an important role.

Since 2003, SW has used a Siemens-based application to monitor the functionality of its machines worldwide. Data from this solution was stored centrally on servers in Waldmössingen. However, customers today needed extensive training to benefit from the data each machine collected.

Doing more with data to increase productivity

This solution helped SW improve quality and productivity for many years. However, as the cost of storing and hosting data has increased, they needed to find a more sustainable solution that could scale better across their 1,600 connected machines worldwide. Jochen Heinz, head of Industrial Data Services at SW, explained:

“Initially, SW wanted to continue with Siemens’ software solution, but before we did, we discovered GE’s Predix as a platform for the Industrial Internet of Things. After a market survey, we decided on a scalable platform as a service solution. That was when the Predix platform finally came into play. Predix offered the most mature industrial PaaS system on the market. At the same time, we decided to hire more development engineers for our IDS (Industrial Data Services) department to develop our own application. Now – in May – we will go to market with the first release of our Predix-based cloud platform.”

Avoiding unplanned downtime is imperative for productivity

The solution SW is now using enables its customers to optimize their maintenance schedules. Most importantly, this helps identify potential downtime before it occurs and minimizes customers’ total cost of ownership. This makes customers more competitive – and makes SW machines more attractive for use.

By using machine data more effectively, SW also sees an opportunity to significantly improve its customer service. Today, their business model works like software services on a Tesla car. While each machine is fundamentally similar, customers have the choice to purchase different digital services that they want to use. These services boost performance that is not normally available without a digital service contract. And because SW uses this digital solution as part of their internal QA process, they benefit from economies of scale in machine installation as well as productivity gains based on Predix’s analytical capabilities.

But SW is convinced that they can take these issues even further. Most of the customers they sell to have production lines with many machines – not all made by SW. Jochen concludes:

“Customers usually don’t just have a SW machine – they have integrated our machines into an automation concept. Normally we supply 60% of the equipment of such a line, including several machines at the end of the line, such as washing machines, pressure testing equipment, etc.

We now have access to about 70% of the data on these lines. The focus is to connect not only SW machines, but also the complete line, including third-party machines. Our goal is to offer our customers full-line digital services as well as valuable insights from even more data, and we have already started to develop and deploy this on an ongoing basis. That’s going to be the future.”

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