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Industry 4.0: Optima

Ahead of the Curve on Industry 4.0

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Ahead of the Curve on Industry 4.0

Source:CW

Developed a decade ago but not ready for prime time until recently, Optima's "mass customization" line has the company riding high atop the Industry 4.0 wave.

Ahead of the Curve on Industry 4.0

By Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 601 )

Over the past two years, a brand of caffeine-containing shampoo called Alpecin, imported from Germany, has been a hot seller in Taiwan. The high sales volume has prompted gray market merchants to enlist others to purchase it directly in Germany, eliciting protests from the official import agent.

The shampoo is a product  of Dr. Kurt Wolff, a venerable German cosmetics brand with a century of history.

Several years ago, the company observed that the market demand for their products was becoming increasingly fractured into niches, overwhelming the capacity of the manufacturing facilities . This led them to look for help from equipment supplier Optima.

It turns out that Dr. Kurt Wolff went to the right place, as a decade ago Optima had helped a direct sales perfume maker develop a packaging mechanism that allowed every bottle of perfume on the same production line to be different.

The secret to low-volume, diversified production – like a constantly changing fashionista – can be found at a manufacturing facility in Optima’s headquarters in the small town of Schwabisch Hall, 2.5 hours by car from the central German city of Frankfurt.

In a manufacturing facility the size of half a basketball court, by the conveyor of a multi-carrier system’s prototype used as a demonstration machine, numerous carriers that look like small carriages transport glass perfume bottles of various shapes and colors.

Each carrier has a unique “identifier”, so that all it takes is to input the carrier’s number and some words on a tablet device to transmit the information to the production line. The system then provides each workstation with information about which carrier should be filled with which perfume, as well as what to engrave on each bottle.

When each carriage reaches the perfume filling station, a machine fills the container with the correct perfume. Next, at the engraving station, another machine uses a laser to etch the prepared text onto the bottle, producing bottle after bottle of customized perfume.

It is Germany’s first packaging equipment capable of mass-customizing products.  Dr. Kurt Wolff uses the first commercialized production equipment developed from the demonstration machine, capable of manufacturing five different types of shampoo simultaneously on one production line, as well as adjusting the line to fulfill different orders at any given time.

‘Too Advanced’ to Succeed

Established in 1922, Optima can be described as a company that “packages the whole world,” with customers spanning the globe, including Taiwan, across consumer and pharmaceutical industries, including food and beverages, cosmetics and paper personal hygiene products, as well as drugs and medicine.

In an interview with CommonWealth, Martin Sauter, Optima’s managing director in charge of consumer product packaging machinery, related that, as early as a decade ago, Optima had developed for a customer engaged in direct sales of perfume a set of packaging equipment capable of producing 30 customized bottles of perfume per minute, permitting each individual bottle on the line to feature a different perfume, shape, engraving font and packaging.

However, the technology was not quite ready at the time, increasing costs and making the equipment prohibitively expensive. As a result, the perfume company watched in frustration as its business waned in spite of its advanced thinking.

Only with advancements over the past five years in software and hardware technology, such as sensors, the Internet, Cloud computing, and Big Data, have costs come down enough to enable Optima, Siemens and Festo, the German pneumatic and electric automation giant, who partnered together to develop such equipment a decade ago, to form a dream Industry 4.0 solutions development team. They began aggressively introducing the system to the market two years ago to immediate fanfare,  garnering a sharp increase in customer queries.

At last year’s Hannover Messe and Nuremberg automation fair (SPS IPC Drives), the equipment exhibited jointly by Siemens and Optima attracted five to six times as many potential buyers as Siemens’s other featured products.

Upon seeing the equipment in action, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was amazed at being able to operate the system’s computer by herself and obtain a customized perfume bottle of her own. During the fairs, visitors formed a long queue in front of the demo machine at the Optima-Siemens booth in order to get their hands on a perfume bottle with their name engraved on it.

“We probably ‘manufactured’ around 3,000 bottles of personalized perfume in just a few days,” says Marco Gierden, project lead for the Multi-Carrier System for Packaging Machines at Siemens' Digital Factory Division. Visitors’ response to the demonstration illustrates the unique appeal of one-of-a-kind merchandise to consumers.

Moving Upstream and Downstream

Interestingly, the changes in Gierden’s job description over the past three years illustrate the urgency of Germany’s demand for Industry 4.0.

Previously, Gierden was responsible for serving 15 customers at the same time, but starting two years ago, only Optima remained. This was because Siemens and Optima had established a joint innovation and development partnership. Now, working with Optima occupies all of his time.

One day each week, Gierden drives two hours from his office at Siemens on the outskirts of Nuremberg to Optima’s headquarters. In addition to discussing the collaboration and receiving clients and visitors from all over the world, accompanying visiting journalists from different countries has become a secondary occupation for him over the last six months.

“Now that I’m down to just this one client, this has become my second home,” says Gierden. Sauter notes that, whereas Optima used to specialize in designing packaging equipment for clients, they are now branching upstream into product planning and downstream into product dispatch in order to offer clients complete Industry 4.0 solutions.

The key in this area is to connect all the links, using sensors and networking devices installed in raw materials, production equipment, products, transportation, and finally marketing channels, to collect, record and analyze all the data throughout the entire process.  

For manufacturers, this allows monitoring and control of  machine operation in real time, and Big Data analysis enables them to predict potential issues. By means of preventive maintenance, losses from unexpected shutdowns can be avoided.

All that customers or consumers have to do is scan a product bar code or QR code with their cell phone to see an entire overview of the production resume, including the source of the raw materials, production time, and who is responsible for which tasks.

This across-the-board solution, known as “lifecycle management”, is the focus of the Siemens-Optima collaboration.

This solution is also critical for manufacturers of personal hygiene products made from paper, like diapers, that demand high-speed, high-volume production.

For food products or pharmaceuticals for human consumption that do not require small production volume and wide diversity, it is also crucial to prevent damage to consumers’ health resulting from problems in the production process.

“An important issue of Industry 4.0 is the use of data to improve the production process and create value for enterprises, consumers, and even society as a whole,” says Sauter.

Translated from the Chinese article by David Toman


At a Glance

Optima Consumer GmbH

Main products: Packaging machinery for consumer goods and medicine

Founded: 1922

2015 operating revenue: 330 million euros (~NT$12 billion)

Number of employees: 2,050 worldwide (1,500 in Germany)

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