"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.
Pulver-Color Beschichtungs-Ges.m.b.H. (PUCO for short) is a medium-sized company based in the Neustadt district of Vienna. The family enterprise has been firmly established in Lower Austria’s business landscape for more than 20 years. Its customers include automotive suppliers and aircraft manufacturers, as well as a number of small and medium-sized businesses working in industries such as shop fitting. PUCO not only has an extensive standard range for industrial products, but also provides coatings for individual custom-made items in large or small batches. The company’s 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. The robust surfaces are also resistant to impacts and corrosion.
PUCO has been working with the ERP system Microsoft Dynamics NAV for almost three years. The business software was implemented by the COSMO CONSULT Group, Europe's leading Microsoft Dynamics partner. This was a huge leap for the powder coating company, which had previously been primarily managing its production manually. Alongside the range of functions and user-friendliness, another crucial factor was that the ERP software could be expanded to include Internet of Things (IoT) technologies relatively easily as part of the Microsoft technology platform. After all, the point of digitization is to make production processes more efficient and more flexible in the future. “Dynamics NAV allows us to manage our production processes seamlessly. But we quickly reached a stumbling block when it came to using system data for automation and transparency,” explains Markus Hammer, Managing Director of PUCO. For example, the ERP software by itself does not allow you to precisely identify the current location of a particular order in the process. “This data was simply not available in Dynamics NAV,” explains Hammer. This situation became the starting point for an IoT project. The concept was developed together with CertaBit Engineering GmbH and was later even nominated for the prestigious Constantinus Award in the field of Industry 4.0.
During the coating process, the parts to be coated travel through the production line on trolleys. The color powder is applied in the coating booth, which is then fired in a special kiln for about twenty minutes. This is where Hammer’s IoT idea comes into play: “We equipped the trolleys with RFID transponders, which are then linked to a specific order in the software. The constant feedback informs us of the current production status based on the respective location. The Internet of Things helps us to keep a close eye on what’s happening throughout the production process – also in terms of the resources we use.” When customers ask about the status of their order, PUCO employees are able to find out straight away.
During the planning of the IoT scenario, further optimization potential was discovered. Each kiln is loaded for a timed cycle of 20 minutes. This ensures that the powder coating is sufficiently fired. Whenever a trolley arrived late, it could either be put in the oven late, which meant taking the risk of falling below the minimum firing time, or it had to wait until the next load. IoT data made it possible to eliminate this bottleneck. Today, the trolleys move in and out of the kiln continuously. This avoids waiting times and keeps the kiln constantly working to capacity. The trolleys are constantly monitored, which automatically ensures that the sequence and firing times are correct.
The project team developed a web-based Manufacturing Execution System (MES) based on Microsoft technology which exchanges production data directly with Microsoft Dynamics NAV to track the current process status. This enables PUCO employees to see how long the individual trolleys have been in the kiln down to the second and which color is being fired. In parallel to this, the IoT system reports how many trolleys and which batch numbers are required for an order. Dynamics NAV uses this information for the product costing analysis or to compare the current order volume with the available capacity. “Put simply, we are now able to better understand how much we earn for each job,” explains the Managing Director.
Looking back on the project, the company is able to use the recorded actions to calculate figures such as average throughput times or capacity utilization. This information is helping the company to optimize sequences, transport routes, and the loading of the trolleys with the parts to be coated. The production costs are calculated as part of the product costing analysis from the plant hourly rate and the throughput time of individual containers, and these costs are compared to the respective order volume. “All in all, this should of course result in a positive amount,” Hammer emphasizes. This calculation used to be carried out manually, but now Dynamics NAV automatically calculates the values as soon as a trolley has completed its run.
A lot of data is available in close to real time. “Now our employees can actually do something with the figures. There used to be a production management report four times a day that was already outdated by the time it was printed,” explains Hammer. To make it easier to access relevant key figures, Microsoft Dynamics NAV has been enhanced by the business intelligence tool Microsoft Power BI. On a clear, graphically designed dashboard, charts and diagrams provide information on daily output, throughput, or the temperature in the kiln, which has been retrofitted with special IoT sensors for this purpose.
Thorough preparation and internal communication were crucial to the success of the project in Markus Hammer’s opinion. This helped to get employees motivated about the project. In its day-to-day business, PUCO primarily benefits from the flexibility it has gained. Without the rigid 20-minute kiln cycle, the processes run smoother and largely without interruptions. This meant the company was suddenly able to take on additional orders without having to expand production capacities, confirms Markus Hammer: “Due to better utilization of existing capacities alone, we can expect an increase in sales of almost 80,000 euros per year.” No one at PUCO wants to shy away from digital technologies anymore. “Our IoT project is one of the few of its kind that is actually operational. It was implemented quickly, has been fully completed, and is helping us to increase productivity while saving energy,” adds the Managing Director.
The entire IoT system was programmed generically so it could be used 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 with a relatively small budget makes this project something very special. It shows that Industry 4.0 is realistic and useful for small and medium-sized businesses,” says Hammer.
There are many ideas being floated today about how Microsoft Dynamics NAV could be further enhanced with digital technologies. One aim is to create more transparency and to automate more processes. For example, there is talk of an online self-service portal, so customers can access order statuses themselves in the future. This is one tool that would greatly reduce employees’ administrative workload. A system change to the cloud-based IoT platform Microsoft Azure is also being considered. “Our investment cycles run for four years. Since we introduced Dynamics NAV, the cloud has really taken off. This would be a feasible step for us to take if it turns out that our production facilities could be better managed online by the next reengineering deadline,” emphasizes the head of PUCO.