Keeping an eye on bottling systems with the smartwatch
It is practically impossible to operate bottling plants efficiently without the appropriate IT systems. Until now, smartwatches have played almost no role in this. Christian Diederich, founder of SubLine Solutions, highlights their immense potential in beverage production.
People at the center of plant control
Bottling plant operations is one of the most cost-intensive areas for beverage producers. Even simple measures to improve efficiency that may reduce downtime by just a few minutes per day can easily generate savings in the 5 to 6-figure euro range per year for larger plants.
The networking and seamless communication between machines and IT systems lays the foundation for digital and highly automated beverage production. But there is another crucial, and often neglected, player in this networking: the employee. They operate various machines and IT systems with the help of their Human Machine Interfaces (HMI). Suboptimal interfaces lead directly to inefficiencies.
Conventional human-IT interfaces require mobile workers going to an end device, such as an HMI, PC or tablet, entering information via the touch-pad or keyboard and then visually receiving the information on the screen. Other solutions go one step further: for example, large screens in the production hall deliver information to workers without them having to perform additional operations. In some cases, staff also have smartphones providing information.
However, all of these solutions require employees to become active, interrupt their work and move to a screen, or take out their smartphone, unlock the screen and operate the device.
Smartwatches as a human-IT interface
In many instances, smartwatches in production are ideal for taking over human-IT communication, since they are closely connected to the body and essentially form one unit with the person. They can effectively draw attention via vibration, speakers and the display. It takes just an instant to use a smartwatch: a quick flick of the wrist and the user can read information directly from the display.
Users input information on the touchscreen or through physical buttons and scroll wheels, even with insulating gloves. Special smartwatches have even more input options, such as optical scanners. These can record the material used and automatically relay it to the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Warehouse Management System (WMS).
Integrated Near Field Communication (NFC) technology allows for the contactless authentication of employees to other systems, such as HMIs.
Possible smartwatch applications in beverage production
Notification of critical events
Information that is missing or received too late is the main cause of efficiency losses in bottling plants. And this is where smartwatches can demonstrate their greatest benefit. In the event of critical incidents, they can provide reliable information to plant employees, including the following:
- machine malfunctions
- blockages due to overturned bottles
- material shortages
- critical process values
- sudden jumps in rejections
- upcoming product changeovers and changeover work
- maintenance and cleaning tasks
Employees can promptly intervene in a new situation and, for example, pick up the missing material or required tools on the way to a machine. Therefore, plant downtimes can be shortened or even prevented, pending the tasks delegated or support assistance requested.
Moreover, digital checklists can help with tasks such as machine changeovers, maintenance or cleaning work by displaying essential intermediate steps, thereby aiding correct and complete execution. By confirming the intermediate steps, work can also be documented and logged to higher-level systems simultaneously. Together with the aforementioned NFC technology, the system can provide time and location-based verification. Then, the data obtained opens up new analysis and optimization capabilities.
Location-independent data provision
Another possible application is the manual viewing of machine and production data. Production facility employees must often walk long distances for information regarding material stocks, machine status and process values such as temperature, pressure, tank-fill level and order or batch-related data such as unit quantities. Smartwatches can provide this information in just a few moments, regardless of the employee’s location.
In addition to the time saved, this reduces the physical strain on employees. Smartwatch use can also be extended to areas directly related to bottling, such as intralogistics. Direct transport order delivery to forklift drivers can improve the material supply to the bottling system.
With technology now reaching the threshold for performance and employee monitoring, the focus is turning to data protection. As attractive and useful as the use cases are, they do have a flipside. The assumption is that their benefits can only be fully realized if employees are invested in using them. To achieve this, personal data collection should be kept to a minimum. Instead, cultivating transparency will help eliminate any concerns at an early stage.
Requirements for smartwatch usage in bottling plants
General technical requirements
Integrating smartwatches in bottling systems only demands straightforward general technical requirements. Smartwatches are located in a wireless network, where a Wi-Fi connection often provides a robust and reliable wireless standard. However, Bluetooth or even cellular technology, with or without smartphone coupling, are also possible. Internet access is not technically required.
Smartwatches are fully-fledged computers, so nearly no technical limitations are present regarding applications. Useable protocols include HTTP and MQTT, as well as the OPC UA standard.
Requirements depend on the intended use
The smartwatch requirements strongly depend on their intended use. Essentially, smartwatches can be divided into two device classes:
- Smartwatches that are manufactured specifically for industrial use, and
- smartwatches that are manufactured for the consumer market.
Industrial smartwatches are particularly sturdy and often have additional functions, such as optical scanners.
On the other hand, consumer smartwatches are small, lightweight and not restrictive during work. Since they are often worn for many hours every day, this should not be overlooked. Because they are mass produced, their prices are correspondingly low. Furthermore, they are sufficiently tough, making them generally suitable for industrial use.
A splash-proof casing is standard for both device classes. Smartwatch battery performance is not particularly important, since often just an eight-hour shift must be completed with one battery charge. This is usually not a problem.
Smartwatches have been extremely popular among end consumers for years. However, industrial applications are scarce. It is even rarer to see them in bottling plants, despite their immense added value.
However, as a communication bridge, smartwatches are only useful if existing machines and IT systems can supply and process meaningful data. In practice, this is far from a given. Therefore, certain prerequisites must be met.
Minimal basic requirements with the SubLine Watch
One of the few available products that minimizes the basic requirements and thus represents a low barrier to entry is the SubLine Watch. Its range of functions includes displaying machine and production data and alerts in the event of critical incidents. The technology focuses on bottling systems, which makes this product special for our purposes.
The lean approach circumvents many of the aforementioned challenges: No personal data is collected. This smartwatch works with many consumer devices, which makes it attractive regarding convenience and price. The data interface has a high level of abstraction, so the data is generally compatible with existing machines and IT systems. This smartwatch solution works autonomously, and it communicates exclusively through an MQTT broker. This makes it relatively simple to set up and integrate into an existing IT landscape.
Other smartwatch solutions
Users requiring more comprehensive solutions should see the products from Workerbase GmbH, Munich, and aucobo GmbH, Stuttgart. They offer special industrial smartwatches with an integrated scanner and many other functions.
In some situations, a customized individual product can also be a practical option. Although this does involve highest costs, but it can ensure that the solution meets individual requirements.
Conclusion: Smartwatches have great potential
Smartwatches can enable many tasks in bottling plants to be performed more efficiently, which can ultimately lead to significant savings. Overall, the cost-benefit ratio is favorable when compared to many other products that have a similar objective. Deciding which solution best meets one’s needs should ultimately be made on an individual basis. Products on the market are certainly available, even if not (yet) in abundance.
Want to share your developments and innovations in the beverage industry to an international specialist audience? Then we would very much like to invite you to take part in the next drinktec from September 12 to 16, 2022 in Munich.
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