Recognising that, with an ever-growing number of machines in the field, data becomes increasingly important, surface finishing company Vapormatt has developed a new Industry 4.0 initiative in collaboration with Ixon Cloud.
Vapormatt has been offering service contracts, including remote support and maintenance, for many years. Lately, more and more customers have been requesting insight into real-time data that indicates machine performance – such as fault data, uptime, alarms and when maintenance is required. They need this data to increase the productivity rates of their machines.
Additionally, Vapormatt wants to become a valuable partner and deliver even better service to strengthen the relationship with their customers. “We want to find patterns in our machines to remotely diagnose machine issues,” says Dom Wilcock, head of design and engineering at Vapormatt. “However, sometimes it’s not just about solving machine issues. We would also like to help our customers to optimise their machine’s performance by advising them based on data.”
This led to the development of the Vapormatt 4.0 initiative, which adds data collection to the already existing service packages. The program was run completely in-house. “At that time, we found out about Ixon Cloud, which made it possible for us to remotely access our machines, get data insights and integrate with other tools,” says Dom. “We white labelled the entire solution so it’s all our own corporate identity. Instead of Ixon Cloud, the platform is called Vapormatt 4.0.
“We started by looking at our machines in the field, and our support team kept records of customers they spoke to. By combining this information, we worked out the key points we needed to monitor,” he continues. “We put together the Vapormatt 4.0 service package in a way that brings value to our customers. The end user has to see and understand the benefit of the program, so you have to be open. We share all the data with the customer and explain why we’re monitoring those values. They can see what we can see.”
It's now easier to notice patterns by analysing the graphs with machine data. Vapormatt has created dashboard templates, which can be adjusted depending on customers’ requirements. The dashboards include parameters like slurry pressure, air pressure, sump level, abrasive concentration, speed of moving parts, and give insight into whether valves are opening or closing.
Vapormatt now has an even closer working relationship with their customers, and the implementation of the Vapormatt 4.0 initiative is already resulting in major benefits. Dom notes: “One customer had an issue with its machine whereby a part on the machine kept failing. We couldn’t find the root cause, so we put the Vapormatt 4.0 system on, and watched the machine for a period of time. Then we noticed that there was a fault occurring somewhere else in the machine every time that this part went wrong.
“The root cause was a sequence within the software. It was one thing turning on before something else and it needed to be the other way around. Our software team went in and made adjustments in the machine. We carried on watching it and the fault was gone. The customer’s machine is now up and running and is not having this problem anymore. Their efficiency and output are great again.”
By taking on an advisory role and looking at the same data together, the partnership between Vapormatt and its customers is getting stronger. Dom has some advice for machine builders that also consider offering service packages: “The service package that you’re putting together has to bring value to your customer. If it only benefits you, and the end user doesn’t know what they’re looking at or doesn’t understand the data, it’s not very useful to them.”
Vapormatt is currently working on evolving just-in-time spare parts maintenance. “With the Vapormatt 4.0 system, we can look at the spare parts data of our customers, and start forecasting our spare parts stock so we can get the part to them when they need it. The system gets better the more data you’re collecting, so it keeps getting better all the time,” Dom states.
The ultimate target is to get to a fully automated system where the machine can notify people of what’s going on and allow customers to make choices. There are lots of integrations planned, such as PowerBI, developing APIs for different systems, and of course onboarding more customers.