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A Recipe For Success: Software And Data Help Food Packaging Companies Go Digital

The Swiss-based company SIG is one of the unsung heroes on food’s journey from orchards and fields to your kitchen cabinet.

That’s because SIG makes packaging and machines that box food, drinks, and other products at rapid-fire rates. They can fill 9,000 large cartons, 12,000 medium cartons, or 24,000 smaller cartons with veggies, soups and other foodstuffs in the space of an hour. In 2017 alone, the equipment produced 33.6 billion cartons.

But the company, which has customers in 65 countries, is now taking its game to the next level. Starting in July,  it will will outfit 400 customer factories with two industrial applications from GE Digital— Predix Asset Performance Management (APM) and Predix ServiceMax — to help them track equipment performance and recommend optimal strategies for maintenance. The agreement marks the first time the two applications based on Predix, GE’s platform for the industrial internet, will be deployed in tandem to tend to the overall well-being of manufacturing equipment.

“Think of that old sticker in your car telling you to go to Jiffy Lube for an oil change every six months,” explains Scott Berg, CEO of ServiceMax from GE Digital. “We followed the rules because we didn’t know any better and it sounded scary, but it was a waste of time.” Top and above GIF images credits: SIG.

To put this into context, think of your home heating system — something you rarely consider until it conks out in the middle of January. When you’re sitting in a freezing house, every hour feels like an eternity. The APM software would keep an eye on the boiler to make sure you know when repairs are needed before it breaks. APM would pass that information on to ServiceMax, GE Digital’s field service management software, which would ensure a repair person makes the necessary fixes to keep the heat on — before it goes out.

APM will collect data off sensors on SIG assembly-line equipment to predict problems before they lead to an outage. It also improves equipment productivity by switching from preventive maintenance checks to predictive maintenance. “Think of that old sticker in your car telling you to go to Jiffy Lube for an oil change every six months,” explains Scott Berg, CEO of ServiceMax from GE Digital. “We followed the rules because we didn’t know any better and it sounded scary, but it was a waste of time.” APM acts like a far more complex version of the “wrench sign” on your dashboard — gathering information to determine when it’s time for a tuneup.

All equipment ultimately requires some maintenance. That’s when ServiceMax, kicks into gear, dispatching a service engineer to make the necessary fixes before a machine needs to be taken completely offline for repairs. Additionally, within moments of a service call, SIG field service workers can find out everything needed to fix the problem.

First, the dispatcher can scan each technician’s work history to identify the nearest person with the right skills for the job. Next, he or she lays out a step-by-step guide for execution, even lining up the right spare parts for the technician to bring to the site. When the technician signs into his or her tablet or laptop for work that morning, everything needed to perform the job appears as a daily diary that’s accessible offline — a major benefit given the remote locations of some factories, including those in developing nations.

At day’s end, the technician synchronizes his or her day’s experience back to the software, teaching the machine-learning algorithm even more about maintenance — be it how long the procedure took or any additional tweaks the worker had to make.

Such feedback closes the loop on a virtuous cycle for SIG. Based on past Service Max customer experience, the company could achieve a 13 percent average increase in machine uptime and a 12 percent reduction in repair time. All of this culminates in a 19 percent improvement in productivity — enough to deliver customers to a land of milk and honey.

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