At first glance, absolutely nothing. Because in our area of digitization we have a lot to do with the software side and the IoT (Internet of things), as the name says, is hardware. And hardware – we’d rather leave that to the mechanical engineers and SPS specialists of the world.
We live in a period of rapid technological growth. Chips are getting increasingly smaller, the development environment increasingly “simpler;” electronic components are easier and easier to obtain and for years we have also found ourselves in environmentally and politically uncertain times. This framework leads people to think outside the box and to invent things or realize ideas. The maker culture is a contemporary culture or subculture representing a technology-based extension of DIY culture that intersects with hacker culture (which is less concerned with physical objects as it focuses on software) and revels in the creation of new devices as well as tinkering with existing ones. The maker culture in general supports open-source hardware. (Source: Wikipedia)
At first, we paused: machine read outs – difficult. But a phone call with the bottling machine manufacturer made our lives a lot simpler in this case.
What does IoT actually mean?
Broken down quite simply: You almost certainly have a smartphone. That is in itself the thing in IoT, and it also “talks” a lot via the Internet, the I in IoT. On the one hand, you have things which send data via the Internet. And there is a reaction to these data. Whether it is to be kept up to date automatically by machines, that is other things, or by people. If you search the web for examples of IoT and Industry 4.0, you will be practically overwhelmed; usually it has to do with complex manufacturing processes, for example in the auto industry.
And we already use IoT now – every day
Let’s start at home. Many of you have a smartphone, once again a “thing”. You may have a WiFi thermostat on your heater or even a WiFi LED light in the ceiling. That’s already three things. Now we add WiFi, our wireless local network, which offers us access to the Internet. These are the best prerequisites for a private IoT. How can these processes be networked sensibly? Simple control of the heater thermostat is possible. When you arrive outside your house, the smartphone logs in to the home WiFi and tells the thermostat to set the heat to 20° C and switch on the LED light. Nicely lit here, but maybe a little cool. Kind of dumb. It would be much better to control the thermostat via the Global Positioning System (GPS) and practically independently of location. Almost every smartphone has GPS. And look here. If the thermostat is controlled via LTE or UMTS 15 minutes before I get home, it’s nice and warm as soon as I’m inside. If I leave the house, I’m outside of the WLAN – both the light and the thermostat are switched off.
IoT and digital processes
What makes this field so exciting for an agile software company like EASY SOFTWARE? As consultants, we visit our customers “just” to see where the problem areas are. For us, digitization is not a “job destroying system.” Rather, we want to create a solution with the customer so that their process can become digital and above all make work easier. And that brings us to “outside-the-box thinking.” No, for us, digitization is more.
FIX Things – MAKE THINGS Better
Here’s a practical example: We have customers in every industry, including, of course, the production industry. Processes are handled digitally there, as well. Not just machine data, but also the shift schedule, incoming invoices, HR processes and more. Or, as in our case, a very distinctive process from the beverage industry. This process deals with recognizing and then separating and documenting broken or dirty bottles. Every bottling plant has a section for bottle checking. Before starting production, a check must be made to ensure that the test section is working properly. To do that, five test bottles are sent through an optical procedure. If these test bottles are recognized as broken or dirty, the test is passed. The result is documented in a PDF file. Production can begin. The problem: The factory floor is the size of a soccer field – and every lot of empties to be processed must be checked and the result documented for the health department. For the personnel – from the foreman to the shift supervisor to the plant manager – that means going to the bottling machine’s test section, viewing the report, signing it and then filing it in a folder. Several folders will accumulate over the course of a few working days. As you can well imagine, that costs time – time for some exasperating routine activities, which are also absolutely necessary for the health department.
Rolling up our sleeves – let‘s go
At first, we paused: machine read outs – difficult. But a phone call with the bottling machine manufacturer made our lives a lot simpler in this case. The machine places PDFs in a file independently – and we are able to process them further by having our software automatically storing the documents in the connected digital archive. But how can it be ensured that the foreman, the shift supervisor and later also the plant manager check and sign off if the machine correctly recognized the test bottles? The business process implemented so far is nothing special. But it has one disadvantage. Instead of going to the bottling machine, the employees still have to go to their PC to view and sign the test report. That’s better, but still cumbersome. The solution demands a digital process. At this point, we finally come to complex, networked IoT applications that thrill the “maker soul”.
Configure, make, make install
As a result, that meant building the solution ourselves. And there are terrific, inexpensive chips which are already connected to WiFi-capable sensors. These can be described with simple software and operated directly on the machine via USB cable or by PC. “Thanks” to the simplicity, we wrote the firmware ourselves, so that we were able to integrate the interface into our software. Precise and to-the-second operation is possible. What are the resulting advantages? If, for example, a message is sent in the process to the appropriate employee by our software, that person does not only receive the message in the software. At the same time, the LED flashes yellow if a bottle checker is involves and green if an HR message comes from our HR file. And here you see again that the IoT is often mentioned in connection with large machines and Big Data. But it can also be a simple, smart solution: accelerate process steps, improve employees’ understanding and, in this case, store everything correctly so that later it can be traced what test bottles the machine processed.
PS: The employees all had DECT phones and the phone system an API. As a result, not only does the LED flash, but a call comes to the phone, too.