Smart Machines & Factories
Transforming your primary data into valuable insights
Published:  16 May, 2017

As part of its "Mobility for tomorrow" strategy, the Schaeffler Group is creating a digital platform for processing large volumes of data, creating valuable insights that will over time transform its operations. Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Greig Littlefair, managing director of Schaeffler (UK) Ltd, who will oversee the implementation of the Group’s Digital Agenda in the UK.

As technology becomes easier and faster to copy by low cost competitors, manufacturers are now seeking out new services to offer to their customers, in order to give their machines, systems and components an edge over competing products. Leading component and systems suppliers around the world now increasingly provide a variety of services – from 24/7 spare parts delivery to predictive maintenance and remote condition monitoring – to not only improve their own products, but also to improve their customer’s performance.

The key enabler to this approach is the explosion in manufacturing devices connected over Internet communications technology. Manufacturers have moved from being ‘unconnected’ to being able to talk and listen to their machines and technologies. The more forward-thinking OEMs are, for example, already collecting data remotely across the Internet on a routine basis, and then using this data to offer improved services to their customers, or to create new offerings that can be delivered anywhere in the world. These value-added services are enabling a raft of benefits, including improved machine performance; reduced production costs; the prediction of future maintenance needs; increased customer loyalty; and the creation of new, sustainable revenue streams. Key to this approach is to understand and then utilise the latest, cutting edge “Industry 4.0” technology.

Digital transformation at Schaeffler

As a global automotive and industrial supplier, Schaeffler says it is digitally transforming its entire business. By working closely with strategic partner IBM, this digital transformation process involves the integration of its mechatronics components, systems and machines into the rapidly expanding world of the "Internet of Things" (IoT). It also means implementing new, market-ready business models based on digital services.

Greig Littlefair, managing director of Schaeffler (UK) Ltd explains that as a first milestone, the two companies have built a digital platform for all of Schaeffler’s added-value digital services: “Innovative solutions are being developed for Schaeffler’s own transformation and for customers using design thinking and agile development methodologies. An open, digital ecosystem is being built to form an environment in which Schaeffler can work smoothly with its customers and partners, with the digital platform as the technical foundation. By constantly working to offer significant added value for its customers, Schaeffler’s aim is to connect data from across products and processes and to use analytics to turn this primary data into valuable insight, which will then be used to increase the efficiency of Schaeffler’s own internal operations and develop innovative services for its customers.”

Digital agenda

Littlefair says that his company’s approach to digital transformation will focus on expanding the integration of sensors into its existing products, as well as developing new products with integrated cognitive software: “Not only will the machines and transport infrastructure within the production environment at Schaeffler be connected, but individual plants will also be digitally linked to the whole supply chain. At Schaeffler, this means the aim is to digitally optimise processes and procedures as well as create new service-oriented processes, and thus drive the digital interaction between people and IT systems. The base will be a global, hybrid cloud infrastructure using IBM’s application platform “Bluemix" with Watson IoT to create differentiating applications and mobile apps for the Internet of Things.”

Consistently connecting and integrating big data

Littlefair conintues by highlighting that Schaeffler’s components such as bearings or clutches are used in important parts of machines and vehicles, which produce critical information about conditions and movements: “In recent years, Schaeffler has invested heavily in research and development and has incorporated sensors, actuators and control units with embedded software into these products. With this, it is now possible for these parts to collect and process valuable data on the condition of a machine or vehicle and then convert this data into added-value services.”

Automotive: growth drivers and connected vehicles

New technologies, according to Littlefair, will allow Schaeffler to extend the functionality and lifespan of components for the automotive industry. Real time analytics and cognitive systems will turn data from components and systems into valuable insights that can be used by manufacturers to increase the reliability of cars and offer new value-added services to customers.

Significant growth opportunities in four key areas:

• Electrification of vehicles: driven by stricter global regulation of CO2 emissions and a gradual shift towards purely electric propulsion with hybrids serving as transitional technology.

• Autonomous driving: accident-free driving and a gradual shift towards semi-autonomous driving.

• Connectivity: increasing integration of vehicles and software expertise as a critical success factor, with the vehicle as a communication hub for connected mobility.

• Added-value of automotive suppliers: by supplying modules and systems rather than individual components, which as a business will require an increasing willingness to collaborate with OEMs.

Industrial: growth drivers and Industry 4.0

IBM’s cognitive technologies will support Schaeffler’s Industry 4.0 strategy for production machines and machine tools, helping to improve overall equipment efficiency (OEE). Littlefair says this includes the optimisation of production processes, real time analysis of data and context-driven maintenance, networking and optimisation of multiple machines within a production line. The objective is to continuously optimise production and the supply chain. The focus is on internal optimisation to increase efficiency and to leverage this for the creation of new service offerings for customers and partners.

Significant growth opportunities in four key areas:

• Energy efficiency: driven by the increasing importance of efficient drive technologies; conventional drive trains such as hydraulics and combustion engines, will increasingly be replaced by electric drives.

• Innovation: highly innovative technologies will be developed for the continuous improvement of conventional products; new surface coatings to improve machine uptime and minimise friction.

• Industry 4.0: create Industry 4.0 series machine with a focus on predictive maintenance; use smart sensor technology to optimise maintenance intervals and set up times.

• Service business: greater market penetration in Services sector by optimising the product portfolio; expansion of digital service solutions.