Smart Machines: Where is the problem?

Smart Machines: Where is the problem?

What exactly is the problem and what are we trying to solve?

We are offered all kinds of solutions in the field of Smart Machines or Industry 4.0, but in this regard I seldom see the problem we actually solve.

Find the Problem!

“Where is the problem?” is a difficult question to answer. Each market has its own challenges. If you want know where to connect, you need to do research.

Don’t use a solution for a non-existing problem!

Does it Matter?

Last year I talked with a customer who used a maintenance package with hour counters.

I told him it could be interesting to actively get those counters from the machine.

“Why?” was the answer. “I think it is cheaper to have a technician collecting this info for one hour per month. In the meantime, this technician can also check the status of the machine, and have a chat with the operator.”

Well, he had a point: Look for the things that really matter.

Which data is used by the technician to determine what needs to be done in addition to what the maintenance software tells you? Could this be automated? Can we use energy monitoring to detect deviations in time, to get a better indication of the time needed to plan the next production stop?

These are the questions to be asked first.

Production Planning

That brings us to the next point: Production planning.

It is pretty safe to say that a production company has a form of MES or ERP running, to manage production planning, warehousing and so on.

The Technical Services and the Production Planning division often have communication issues.

A service technician wants time to improve the running machines. A production manager on the other hand doesn’t want a machine to stand still, because in his opinion, this costs (too much) money due to loss of production loss.


Communication Issues

Let me tell you an example of these communication issues.

Some time ago I was in a factory in Germany, to meet with the plant manager, a production manager, the head of Technical Services and a mechanic. When I asked what kind of malfunctions their machines had, the production manager answered: “Actually, we don’t have that many malfunctions”.

You should have seen the expression on the faces of the mechanic and the guy from Technical Services! They started to argue that they often have to move heaven and earth to get the machines back to work – until the next malfunction. This was caused by the fact that they didn’t get the budget and time to make structural improvements to those machines.

Here we see an overlap in data that is needed for maintenance, and data that is needed for production.

If a production manager has a better understanding of losses, and service technician can show how to reduce these losses by making well planned improvements (causing a production stop for a day), it will save them both a lot of discussion time. In addition, it will give more insight in the effect of certain improvements.

In Conclusion

For this we will have to make the machine’s data available to various systems (ERP, MES, maintenance software). But before we start thinking about this, we first need to know which data benefits the customer most, and which systems he uses.

So it is back to: “Research”:  What is the problem? Who needs to know?

The solution will follow.

Know Your Customer

Smart Machine: Hype or Trend?

Smart Machine: Hype or Trend?

“IIOT”, “Big data”, “Smart industry”, and many more buzzwords are buzzing around the last few years.

At this moment “Neural net”, “Deep learning” and “Machine learning” seem to be dominating the IIOT buzzword realm.

Hype vs Trend

A hype is something that looks promising, but has not established itself. It is a short lived story so to say.

A trend on the other hand is something we can measure by looking at how many people are actively developing it, and are making money out of it.

The current trends seem to be revolving around:

  • Machine sensing (Preventive/Predictive Maintenance)
  • Smart Factory
  • Solution as a Service (Platform Economy)
  • Agile Manufacturing
  • Machine Learning

Active development

Sensor suppliers hint a lot at predictive maintenance, and develop new sensors to enable monitoring of mechanical components. “IO-Link” is a term that is often mentioned where sensors can give more information than just the presence or absence of an object. These sensors can detect whether a reflector has become damaged or polluted, for example.

Remote assistance hardware manufacturers come up with platforms where data can be stored and visualized.

The larger PLC manufacturers are working on software to better monitor the production and status of machines on a plant wide scale.

Consumers are becoming more demanding. We don’t only want to buy a product on a website, but also want to personalize this product. It will become important to be able to set up a production process flexibly.

Where to start?

Yes, Smart machine is a hype and a trend. We just need to find a way to tie all loose ends together.

Looking at the difference between the solutions on the market today, it is not possible to just pick one and be done with it.

In the upcoming blog posts I would like to elaborate on this, and express PlantmatiQ’s vision in the world of “Smart manufacturing”.

Problem Solving vs Problem Finding

Problem Solving vs Problem Finding


Finding solutions to a problem is “easy”. You see those quotes, right?
Executing the solution is often a little harder, but by far the hardest – and also the most important – thing to do, is finding the problem.

Say you thought you have a problem, found a solution for it, and executed this solution. You may even have succeeded in solving the problem. But this doesn’t mean you will actually benefit from it, if you didn’t fix the real problem.

So let’s try a different approach. Please feel free to correct me where you think I am wrong, because that is exactly how this works.

At this moment the buzzwords in the production industry are: “Big Data” “Industry 4.0” “Smart”, “Lean”. This all leads to a single outcome, which is: “Finding the problem”. Using Big Data (I hate that word, let’s just say “Relevant Data”) we can find gaps in the production, locate stoppages, and know where we need to focus on in the production process (measuring OEE). We can get this data by simply extracting counters from all your machines.

This will be a good start. If you must focus on parts in the production process that need improvement, you can increase the data collection for those parts, and look for spills.

The next step is to find out where the problem is – and this is not easy.

I like the ‘Jobs to be Done‘ theory . This concept is used by innovators to build new products and services. A slimmed down version can also be used on a production process in a factory. When you look at that part in your production process that causes a lower output than expected, think of the following:

  • What are the steps between “parts going in” and “parts coming out”?
  • What are the pains in this process?
  • What is there to gain in this process?

This method of listing everything you do, and finding the pains and gains which go with it, forces you to look at things you would normally not think of.

This should lead you to the only problem that is worth solving: The real problem.


Machine monitoring: Lowering your carbon footprint

Lowering your carbon footprint

Okay, I know, this is a very popular topic of conversation. Everyone has to say they care about the environment. If you don’t, nobody likes you anymore, and people think you are a bad person.

So… I am going to do this a little differently: What about looking at the costs?

Just assume I do not care about trees, CO2 and such, but I am a bad person and want to make as much money as I can with my big production facility, without thinking about my carbon footprint. Eventually I have to take a look at it, simply because using energy costs a lot of money. Therefore, saying you care about the environment tells me you are greedy, and want to pay less for your energy.

This is not as hard as you may think.

Most companies have no idea what amount of energy goes through their production machine. I am not only talking about electricity, but also the air that is being pumped into it by that big compressor.

If you want to lower your energy bill, you should do the following:

Step 1

Determine how much energy you use for every step in your production – and don’t forget the stuff like the big noisy fans that look like part of the factory interior.

There are several ways of doing this: Maybe the control systems of your machines already monitor energy usage? If not, you can upgrade them with an energy kW/h meter and an airflow meter. Another way is just to read the nameplate and make a calculated assumption of the energy usage. Then you’ll know the energy costs for every product that is shipped out.

Step 2

Make a list of the biggest energy hogs in your factory. Which part of that machine or equipment is using the most energy?

Is it still using a standard AC motor? Can we exchange it with a IE3 (higher efficiency class) motor? How is it switched? Does it really need to be on all the time? What if we upgrade the control system, so we can control the working hours for when it is actually needed?

It is hard to believe how much money, uh I mean energy is just thrown away, simply because nobody has taken the effort to examine if that part really needs to be on all the time.

Step 3

Look for a way to subsidize.

Governments also want to be good people and to be liked, so they say they care about the environment, too. They show this by coming up with ways to subsidize energy saving investments. Wow, you can save even more money!

Get the most out of your machine

Get the most out of your machine

Get the most out of your machine

Our customers often share their frustrations about their older machines. “Lack of flexibility” is probably on the top of the list. With an upgraded control system, you can adapt your machine to today’s production requirements. A whole world of possibilities awaits you…

To name just a few:

  • A touchscreen instead of buttons
  • Easier connection to the world outside
  • Integration of your machine into an existing plantwide system
  • Customizations: what should the machine be able to do right now? 

And what would be needed for the future, if you want to make a different product? With an upgraded control system you can anticipate on existing and future requirements.



To identify your wishes for the machine, we would like to talk to everyone involved in the machine. From operator, production manager, owner to technician: they all have their own demands, desires and knowledge. How does the machine perform now? How should it perform? What would be the first problem to tackle? What should be the most important objective (e.g. downtime reduction, production increase)?


Why PlantmatiQ?

We will make an inventory of the current situation of your machine, and use this for an Upgrade Plan. Our upgrade plan is a complete overview of both problems and solutions regarding your machine. In this program, we will analyze the functionality of the machine and research the upgrade options. At the end, you will be offered an outline of the machine’s current state, its potential, and the pay-offs of a control system upgrade.

We can implement this plan for you, if desired. For the implementation, we use components from brands like Allen-Bradley or Siemens, because of their quality and long-term availability.

Replace or overhaul your machine?


A simple calculation: 1/3 = 10

PlantmatiQ knows its way in the (niche) world of graphic machines and machines in the plastic processing industry. For these machines -and for almost all other machines in other branches- we can follow a similar calculation when it comes to the question of replacing or overhauling a machine. For 1/3 of the price of a new machine, you can add another 10 great new machine years!

Every technician or production manager knows the problem: Over time your machine starts to falter, regardless how well it is maintained. This is because electronics last significantly shorter than the mechanical parts of a machine. To make matters worse, replacement parts may be no longer available, or only at high cost.

Extended lifespan

What to do? Do you invest in a new machine, or do you choose for an overhaul? Let’s figure this out: A new machine costs for example 600,000 euro. If you have your machine overhauled, you have spent 200,000 euro for a new operating system. That may seem costly. But let’s suppose you have bought a machine with a RIO of 10 years, and this machine has been producing for 15 years now. For 1/3 of the price of a new machine you can add another 10 years – or more.

Scan your machine

We will check the possibilities for extension of your machine’s lifespan, and present the results in our Upgrade Plan. With our Plan, you can check if an upgrade of your machine is an economically interesting option: What will be my benefits, and what are the costs to achieve this? 

The costs for making this Upgrade Plan are on average 3,000 euro. This will be partially refunded if you choose to have it implemented by PlantmatiQ.

Don’t miss the IIOT revolution!

PlantmatiQ - Internet of Things

We have been hearing from different sources about the possibilities of IOT (Internet of Things) in the industry for quite some time now. However, the ideas about this are still not very concrete. Because everything moves faster than you think, the emphasis lies on looking forward anyway: Make sure your equipment is ready for the ‘ Fourth Industrial Revolution ‘.

This Fourth Industrial Revolution is powered by the Interconnections of things. With smart sensors on a machine, we can use real-time data for maintenance, link production data to an ERP system, or a combined view of the status of every machine. But there are many more opportunities to optimize the output of your equipment.

System Integrator

At the moment, several kinds of solutions are available, like ERP integration or sensory for maintenance. Everyone is trying something, but everyone is trying something else. There is not yet a platform for hardware and software on which we can connect ALL data.

PlantmatiQ thinks like a system integrator: “combining production and maintenance data on one platform will be self-evident in the future”. Therefore, when updating your operating system, we explicitly consider all possible IIOT scenarios. Flexibility is standard.

Want to learn more about PlantmatiQ’s Upgrade Plan?

Our upgrade plan is a complete overview of both problems and solutions regarding your machine. In this program, we will analyze the functionality of the machine and research the upgrade options. At the end, you will be offered an outline of the machine’s current state, its potential, and the pay-offs of a control system upgrade.