If Machines Could Talk: Remote Monitoring Creates New Business Models for Machine Builders

What if you could check on the machines you've built?

By Mike Bacidore, editor in chief

What if you could check on the machines you’ve built? After they’ve been installed, that equipment won’t run forever, at least not without proper monitoring and service.

Two companies, Bobst and Pro Mach, told their stories of machine monitoring in February at ARC Forum in Orlando, Fla.

Bobst is a supplier of equipment and services for packaging manufacturers in the flexible-material, folded-carton and corrugated-board packaging industry. Founded in 1890 by Joseph Bobst in Lausanne, Switzerland, the company has a presence in more than 50 countries, runs 11 production facilities in eight countries and employs over 5,000 people worldwide.

“For years, Bobst has put a lot of effort in providing support to its customers,” explained Mathieu Robyr, e-services product manager at Bobst North America in Roseland, N.J. Bobst has an installed base of 30,000 machines, some installed as long ago as the 1930s. “Before 2010, service was viewed as a burden more than a revenue generator,” said Robyr. “Bobst focused only on selling equipment and on reactive service, and there were discrepancies in service offers between different markets.”

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In 2010, the group went through a transformation. “One of the biggest changes was the creation of the business service unit,” explained Robyr. “Bobst entered into a partnership with a technology company, ei3, in 2008. The collaboration with ei3 started in North America. That led to a partnership agreement with them.”

Bobst decided to offer this service at no cost during the warranty period.

The main strengths of ei3 were its secure framework that allows remote technical service to dial in and troubleshoot the machine remotely. Bobst decided to offer this service at no cost during the warranty period. The framework can collect data and store it as data and provide reporting. The cloud-based system offers security in the transmission and storage of the data. The framework also can be integrated with a third-party system. “Our customers were very interested in getting the information out of the equipment and access it in an ERP, for example,” said Robyr. “After the warranty expires, we encourage customers to renew the service contract for a fee.”

By working with ei3, Bobst created a portal that allows it to provide industrial Internet products such as remote monitoring, downtime tracking, quality management and recipe management. “In the past five years, we’ve been able to connect 2,200 machines worldwide,” said Robyr. “We’re adding about 500 machines a year, and we can demonstrate the ability to reduce warranty and startup costs.”

Pro Mach manufactures about $500 million of packaging machinery each year. Machines range in price from $5,000 into the millions. The company has 20 divisions with 25 brands and more than 80,000 machines installed.

“Each location has a general manager who has his own P&L,” explained Mark Ruberg, director of corporate business collaboration at Pro Mach in Loveland, Ohio. “We don’t want to sell a customer a complete line from Pro Mach and then have eight different remote monitoring solutions. Our CEO gave the directive for remote services. He wanted one and only one.”

The company began looking at nine solution companies, narrowed it down to three and then made a selection in September 2014. Pro Mach also chose ei3’s remote service platform; it created the ProCustomer aftermarket platform and already has thousands of machines connected.

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