Logistics is far more than moving products from A to B. Logistics 4.0 — the digitalization of the logistics sector — has taken on the same importance for supply chain management as Industry 4.0 has for factories. But, as any facility implementing any “4.0” paradigm will tell you, the transition between automating and achieving value is not without its challenges. When Mirka, a world leader in surface finishing technology, sought to make its own palletizing process smarter, it turned to expert in edge analytics and intelligent integrations, Crosser.
Founded in 1943 in Helsinki, Finland, Mirka produces a broad range of sanding solutions for the surface finishing industry. With a goal of helping customers achieve a dust-free surface finishing process, Mirka is, as the company’s own slogan dictates, dedicated to the finish.
With 18 subsidiaries located across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the Americas, more than 97 per cent of Mirka’s products are exported and sold in over 100 countries. It’s safe to say that the company is no stranger to robust logistics.
Like many other manufacturing facilities, Mirka’s site in Western Finland is home to a mismatch of data sources. Some equipment is modern, other pieces several generations old, and data previously remained in siloes. In the past, this wasn’t much of an issue — Mirka didn’t need its data in real time as it was only used for reporting purposes. But a new, digital strategy has changed this.
Because Mirka distributes so many of its products internationally, the company was keen to reinvigorate its palletizing process. In the past, the journey from the production line to the delivery truck involved many manual steps.
When transferring wrapped pallets from production, determining their height and weight is a vital part of the process. However, for Mirka, completing this process was largely down to the guess work of workers who would estimate the height and weight of each pallet and input that data into an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Then, the pallets could be wrapped and the labels printed.
While this method was admittedly effective, it was needlessly laborious. It required the manual work from several staff members and would take a long time to complete. Furthermore, reliance on so many manual steps also meant labels were occasionally misprinted or attached to the wrong pallet, causing problems later down the supply chain. Loading the pallets could also be problematic, due to inaccurate height and weight estimations.
Seeking to free up the time of its workers for more valuable projects, and to make the process more efficient, Mirka came up with a plan to digitalize. The first step was to implement Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags onto each pallet.
Attaching a RFID tag and Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled sensors to pallets provides greater visibility of the product the pallet is carrying, its location in the supply chain and its availability. Manufacturers can check that the right product is reaching the end user in the correct quantity, meeting quality assurance and saving money on waste and product recalls.
Implementing RFID tagging helps Mirka solve many of its palletizing problems. “Now we have a digital system in place, we can easily see which pallets have labels, which do not, whether the labels contain the right data, and we can just generally check that everything is where it should be,” explains Rasmus Granberg, IT Support at Mirka.
Having access to this data is helpful, that’s for sure. However, Mirka needed a system that created value from that data. Getting all the information on the pallet’s status back to the plant was just as important as getting the pallets out there in the first instance.
“We wanted to receive all our palletizing data via a programmable logic controller (PLC), so we knew our products were in the right places at the right time, but we also wanted to transfer that data over to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system so that the entire plant could benefit from it,” explained Granberg.
The data management process needed to be circular, we looked for a partner that could act as a touching point across our entire palletizing process"
At the edge
Mirka wanted a solution that could act fast. Not wanting to waste time, it needed a partner that could take a full-circle approach to data management. “The data management process needed to be circular,” said Granberg. “We looked for a partner that could act as a touching point across our entire palletizing process — tracking data such as pallet height and weight and sending it to a PLC, but also making sure data on the pallet’s status is sent back to us so that we know the products have been labelled correctly and everything is as it should be.”
In addition, Mirka needed a partner that could easily integrate with its existing IoT infrastructure. The company had been using Microsoft’s Azure IoT Hub as its connection to the cloud for some time, and wanted a solution that could complement this, rather than replace it.
That’s where Crosser stepped in. Offering analytics and integration software that allows data produced by sensor-rich assets like machines, equipment, and devices, to be pre-processed in real-time closer to where it is created. The Crosser platform allows companies to collect raw data, transform it, analyze it and act on the insights in real-time.
By analyzing data close to its source, users can benefit from a significant data reduction by removing irrelevant information before it goes elsewhere. Only focusing on the necessary data, rather than everything a device produces, results in significant cloud, analytics and network connectivity cost savings.
A speedy start
The implementation phase of Crosser’s technology ran quickly. “We didn’t want a solution that required us to build something from scratch. Instead, we wanted a partner to provide us with building blocks that we could easily integrate with our existing infrastructure. And that summarizes the Crosser platform perfectly,” said Granberg.
The Crosser Flow Studio works on the concept of modules. The library is packed with building blocks that make it easy to build intelligent workflows to move, analyze and act on data, empowering citizen developers, those who aren’t data scientists, to realize IoT projects without programming skills.
“At Crosser, we are obsessed with providing usability and low life-cycle costs and have designed the Flow Studio as a low code platform that allows end-users to design, deploy and manage data flows with ease,” explained Andrea Magnago, director of international sales at Crosser. “Because Mirka was keen to see results fast, keeping things simple was key.
“The flexibility of the Crosser nodes makes it possible to design flows with ease. Users can add multiple inputs and outputs to a single workflow, there are no restrictions on data format, nor are there any limitations for the number of flows per node. Harnessing the benefits of edge analytics has never been easier.”
We’re even looking into how Crosser could help us digitize other steps in our production, other than palletizing. Because we can test and tweak workflows before we implement them on the factory floor, the Crosser platform lets us approach IoT project with creativity. We believe the options are endless and look forward to seeing what else we can achieve in the future."
Now, with the help of Crosser and the RFID tagging system, Mirka has boosted plant efficiency. Less people are needed to complete the same volume of work, meaning staff can be distributed to work on other areas of the plant.
Mirka plans to integrate Crosser across all its plants in the coming year, so every palletizing process can benefit from a more transparent data management strategy. “We’re already testing out our new process elsewhere and hope to have every area working with the same system by the end of 2022,” explained Granberg. “That way, we’ll know the exact status of every single pallet we produce, in a way that’s fast, easy to understand and beneficial to all our workers.”
“We’re even looking into how Crosser could help us digitize other steps in our production, other than palletizing. Because we can test and tweak workflows before we implement them on the factory floor, the Crosser platform lets us approach IoT project with creativity. We believe the options are endless and look forward to seeing what else we can achieve in the future.”