Slovenian glass manufacturer Steklarna Hrastnik is currently making headlines in the industry.
The premium glassmaker has embarked on a digital path and plans a series of investments over the next few years, which will see its Hrastnik site become a smart factory by the year 2022.
But how exactly does a glassmaker embark on a digital plan? Where does it start and what route should it take from being a manual glassmaker to a digital one? It has to be sure it is making the right long-term investment.
This is where Siemens comes in. It provides a digital consultancy service to glassmakers and has recently completed a successful project within Steklarna Hrastnik.
Siemens Senior Manager for Glass Industry, Philippe Thiel, states that the idea was well received in the glass industry because the sector is more reactive to the demand for digitalisation.
“The glass industry is not as consolidated as some other industries where there are big players and almost nothing else.
“Siemens was perceived as a trendsetter in Industry 4.0 and many customers were asking us about digitalisation and industry 4.0. They were asking ‘what does it mean for me’?
“This is when our management decided we needed to do something. A team brainstormed the topic and decided to create a new offering to our customers: moving away from the one size fits all, portfolio-driven approach commonly seen on the market, and focus on customer needs and their strategies.
“We set up a team and an offering to support those customers who are a little lost and who wanted to know what digitalisation means for them.”
Siemens Digitalization Consulting head, Steeve Baudry states: “Due to the nature of our Process Industry and the life-cycle of the assets, the digitalisation roadmap has to take into account the existing automation and IT systems.
"Specifically how to introduce new technologies in an existing environment, how to benefit from the latest technologies but without changing everything, in other words how to include the new technologies into the existing IoT landscape.
“We focus on a roadmap over the next five years, this gives an acceptable horizon for investment and satisfy the CFO community while keeping the digital road at a manageable complexity level because such a roadmap involves many projects that are technically interconnected.
"This includes cyber security and automation networks, or MES and Document Management systems for example.
“Keeping the roadmap within a three to five year horizon results in proposed traditional modernisation projects, while looking at a 10-year roadmap will be more a ‘picture of the future’ rather than a concrete roadmap.
“To guarantee that we deliver, concrete and actionable results, we follow the same approach.
"We investigate with customers what they want to achieve with digitalisation – do they want to achieve improved time to market, improved quality, increased energy efficiency?
"Then we investigate the existing systems that are in place.
"Do they have any ERP system, how is the automation layer developed, how is the automation network connected? What is its cybersecurity strategy? In other words, we try to reconciliate the top-down approach with the bottom up view from the field.
“Once we have a clear view on the strategy and the existing IT and OT landscape, we identify the most important projects that need to be implemented.
“We then calculate the investment for a specific plant, taking into account the existing assets and projects already in place, because a facility might already have some pieces of the solution under development or have plans to invest.
"We finally assess how we connect these new solutions to the plant and how much it costs.”
While Steklarna Hrastnik was its first customer in the glass sector, Siemens had already worked with several pharmaceutical and chemical companies to help them with their digital transformation.
“We observed a growing interest from Pharmaceutical and chemical industries in digitalisation, and it might be due to the heavy competition and regulation in these markets, but we predict that this is now arriving in glass industry as well.”
Siemens already highlighted its digital strategy at glasstec in 2016 and then introduced its consultancy offering in 2018.
It noticed a change in customer thinking towards digital glassmaking at the latter event.
“Two years ago at glasstec nobody really understood the benefits of digitalisation, but now we have noticed a change in customer mentality,” states Mr Thiel.
“We have had many questions about what is required. Many understand that they have to go digital, they have seen their competitors go that way and realise they have to start.
“There are savings and benefits to be gained from digitalisation and glassmakers are willing to move, at least from the discussions we have had at the booth.”
Steklarna Hrastnik General Manager Peter Câs provided a good example of how an SME implements Siemens’ digital strategy.
“Mr Câs knew he had to do something, he was aware of the benefits of digital but he wanted some support, some guidelines, a framework and expertise to proceed.
"Within a few weeks he had changed from digital sensitive to digitally ready.
“Our customers know they have to digitalise their supply chain and reduce their time to market, but how do they do that? They all have good ideas about digitalisation but they don’t know where to start.
“The value we provide is to translate these strategic visions into an implementable roadmap where we tell them, okay, here’s the main projects, the implementation timeline and the cost, and this in a vendor-neutral way.
“At the end of that consulting project, they have a concrete roadmap, with a concrete investment plan with which they can go directly on to the market and ask suppliers to give quotations for the projects with these specifications.
“This set up, combining methodology, with IT/OT and glass expertise, is unique and allow us to provide a concrete, tailor made and immediately implementable roadmap. We have seen a lot of interest from customers because of that set up,” states Mr Baudry.
A project could last four to six weeks, and of that Siemens will usually spend three weeks on site with the customer.
It will lead workshops, interview staff, investigate the maturity of the systems and their interconnections, build a map of the process and of their IT and Operational Technology (OT) landscape.
Mr Thiel states: “You can’t do this from the office, this is done with the customer, in complete immersion in his organisation. You have to collect the information from the field before putting it into perspective.”
During previous workshops they noticed it was common for departments not to communicate with one another while working in the plant.
The batch house operator did not talk with the furnace operator for example.
“The Siemens workshops helped to address this.
“Sometimes during a workshop you would see people starting to discuss together and to discover they have the same issue.
"We have a team that can moderate the discussion and translate and we discovered staff have the same problems but are not talking the same language.
“Having us in the middle of the team, empowered by management, we first have to build credibility with the people because we come from outside.
"So we first check if we speak the same language and as soon as we have that then we can really moderate the discussion and bring them value.”
When asked if there is much resistance from staff, who may see the consultancy as the first steps towards redundancies, Mr Thiel, pictured above, admits there can be some resistance at first, particularly from the production side.
“For a glass manufacturer, deciding to go digital is nothing else than applying change management to its organisation, and resistance is part of this process.
"These guys are all experts in glass manufacturing, we need to convince them first and that is why it is critical, our consultants are also engineers and experts, and therefore speak the same language.
“Once we really listen to them through the workshops and we translate their pain points into strategic action, handed over to the management, then they can see the value we bring to their problems and can overcome this scepticism.”
Steklarna Hrastnik staff were fully committed to the project.
“From the beginning the people were wholly committed for the entire project because the CEO had told them about the goal and that it was not about cutting headcounts,” states Mr Thiel.
“This internal communication from the CEO beforehand was important for the people to buy in.
"At the end, the inputs were delivered by the people from the various departments. If they had not played the game it would have a huge impact on the quality of the end result. So the success also comes from the commitment to the project.”
The resonance of the market at glasstec proved that this consultancy service meets a real demand of the glass industry and Siemens is now in discussions with other glassmakers about similar future projects.
Whichever glassmaker decides to use the consultancy, both managers are clear that it is worthwhile.
“If you have an expensive car you want to insure it, when a customer has an investment plan for digitalisation over five years and for several millions, it is better to have the insurance that they will go for the right projects, in the right order.
"What we deliver is the insurance that their money will be invested in the most efficient way over the next few years,” said Mr Baudry.
“With this digitalisation consultancy offering, we give them the insurance that their investment will be maximised,” concluded Mr Thiel.
*This article appeared in the Dec/Jan printed issue of Glass International
Siemens Vertical Glass, Karlsruhe, Germany