Sulzer Technical Review Issue 3 / 2018

Big data in Sulzer’s factories

July 26, 2018

The goal: optimizing processes in the factories based on data. The global operations team implemented a manufacturing execution system (MES). After acquiring and analyzing the data, the operational teams acted immediately to improve processes. The result has been an impressive 12% increase in efficiency in the first three years after the implementation.

Molded and mounted plastic parts for applicators
Author Markus Scheidbach, Sulzer, Switzerland
Author: Markus Scheidbach, Haag, Switzerland

According to publications of the United Nations, the world’s population in 2018 is 7’600’000’000 people. Sulzer Applicator Systems produces over 4’000’000’000 injection- molded plastic parts for its customers who use these applicators.

Generating so many parts   in the same quality is a demanding task for the complete operational team. From planning to purchasing, from machine setting to operating, from maintenance to quality control — all process steps have to be coordinated and work hand in hand. Digitalization enables Sulzer to acquire and analyze all required data, and to act in a targeted manner (Fig. 1).

Graphic showing benefits when using big data in Sulzer plants
Fig. 1 How big data leads to benefits in the Sulzer plant in Haag, Switzerland.

Every single second of time saved counts, and the savings pay off in high-volume manufacturing enterprises. The solutions of Sulzer Applicator Systems are used for a vast range of products: for beauty, healthcare and dental use as well as for construction and industrial use.

Sulzer Applicator Systems develops one- and two-component precision mixing systems, including cartridges, mixers and dispensers for dental, adhesive and construction applications. Most of these products are manufactured in the plant in Haag, Switzerland.

MES tool evaluation and data defnition

At Sulzer, a team of eight people was responsible for defining the required digital data, evaluating the right MES tool and introducing it in the factories. Interdisciplinary collaboration is an important part of such a complex project. Expertise from various areas is of particular importance: management analysis, business applications, operational workflows, machine setting and maintenance, quality limits, and IT knowledge.

Their first step toward getting the right tool was to define all key performance indicators (KPIs). From the KPIs that are relevant to running the operation facilities profitably and well, the team could deduce the detailed data needed. Some data could be captured easily, for example using the machine control of the injection-molding machines as a source.

For some data, the IT specialists had to set up special interfaces to gather the required values (Fig. 2). Defining the digital business structure and data structure is the most important preparation needed.

After defining the key features, the team evaluated three different MES tools in detail. Sulzer’s experts choose the MES that was able to integrate the data from the existing enterprise resource planning system (ERP) easily via a standardized interface. A smart decision — because it significantly saved costs and time for the implementation.
Steps for implementation of a manufacturing execution system MES at Sulzer
Fig. 2 Steps for implementation of the manufacturing execution system (MES) at Sulzer Mixpac, Haag, Switzerland.

Superior parts quality

To generate sufficient return on investment from the high capital expenses for molds, injection- molding machines and automation lines, Sulzer runs them nearly 24 hours, 7 days a week. To run the machinery efficiently, the management, operation and maintenance teams need a high level of transparency about what happens in the plant around the clock. Data acquisition supports 100% transparency.

The most important tracking parameter is the quality of the parts, in other words the dimensional accuracy of the parts. Only the precision of every single part allows Sulzer to guarantee the product quality valued by its customers.

The precision of the parts is influenced by numerous factors: plastic raw material and homoge- neity of the material mixture, temperatures, pressure inside the mold, mold quality and cooling process, to name a few. The highest quality is only assured if the production process runs consistently and without interruptions. When an error occurs, the machine is stopped and all parts are sorted out until the process parameters fit the given parameters 100%.

Quality-conscious mindset

Sulzer is proud to be a quality leader. The company implemented a 100% measurement control during the automated mounting of mixing tubes and applicators. The parts that don’t match the quality control are ejected automatically and removed. The MES tracks all these measurements and shows all involved parties in the plant where quality issues appear. These issues can be tracked back to the source with the help of all data.

The most important key metrics — OEE

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is a term used to determine how effectively a manufacturing operation and its capacity is being utilized. The results are stated in a generic form, which allows comparison between manufacturing units. It is also used to identify the scope for process performance improvement. An OEE measurement is often chosen as a key performance indicator (KPI) when implementing lean manufacturing principles to provide an indicator of success. A final OEE figure is a calculation made from the key metrics (availability, performance and quality) to represent the system being analyzed.

Bidirectional communication to act faster

Any production stop leads to an enormous loss of time, quality and profitability because of the high productivity of the injection-molding machines. Sulzer implements all possible tools to help operational teams optimize and streamline processes. The bidirectional communication between the ERP system and MES is an important tool for this. The planning department can automatically transfer not only the number of parts to be produced but also the correct machine settings to the injection-molding machine. This also eases backtracking in case of any quality problems.

As in human exchanges, communication and exchange are very important. For example: The MES communicates with the planning department and feeds back the number of produced parts. Thanks to this bidirectional communication, Sulzer has been able to increase its on-time deliveries. If any problems occur, the operational team can switch the orders in short time to other machines to uphold deadlines for deliveries (Fig. 3).

Bidirectional communication for data synchronization between ERP system and MES.
Fig. 3 Bidirectional communication for data synchronization between ERP system and MES.

Implementation phase of MES

The operational excellence program, with the motto faster and better, started in the Sulzer plant in Haag, Switzerland. The MES as part of the operational excellence program, was first installed in the manufacturing facilities there. The MES installation included physically net- worked hardware, associated visualization, planning software and management software.

The company that delivered the MES to Sulzer adapted the visualization screens to the require- ments of Sulzer’s team. It shows the key metrics (KPIs) at a glance on one screen in a clear, understandable way. Sulzer chose the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) to compare the values before and after the MES installation and to easily compare different manufacturing units around the globe.

Everybody has the cockpit view

Because everyone contributes to the success of the manufacturing operation, it is possible for everyone to see the cockpit. The main visualization of the Sulzer MES is a speedometer-like view (Fig. 4). The color code is easy to understand — similar to traffic lights. Red is absolutely out of range and needs immediate action. The warning signal is represented in yellow. The green color code, similar to a green light, is ok.

An efficiency value over 100% would indicate that the planning values are not correct. That is why the efficiency cockpit has color order red-green-yellow in contrast to all other cockpits where the color order is red-yellow-green.

Cockpit visualization of the MES for all Sulzer user.
Fig. 4 Cockpit visualization of the MES for all Sulzer users.

Key metrics

The manufacturing base includes around 170 installations, consisting of injection-molding machines and automation lines, as well as an inventory of 2’600 molds. During setup of the MES, each asset had to be recorded and tagged in the system, while each production sequence and its generic components was mapped and sequenced. Once this process was completed, the production figures for each machine and component could be recorded and compared.

The OEE value is a calculation made from the following key metrics: 1. performance, 2. availability and 3. quality. The performance is easy to measure — it corresponds to the number of parts produced compared to the targeted quantity in the same period of time.

As the second key metric, the availability of the machine itself is recorded. This value considers uptime, downtime for mold changes, inspection, maintenance, and any reliability issues. In injection molding, the productivity is correlated directly with the mold mounted in the machine. Downtime on a machine can be due to an issue with the mold or the combination of one specific mold on one individual machine.

Quality is the third key metric. Any rejected parts are recorded and associated with the precise combination of machine, mold, shift and various other operating parameters.

It took twelve months for us to install the system, define and upload the benchmark data, then run the system to gain meaningful results. When we did start seeing real-time figures, we knew immedi- ately where to look to make improvements. Each change has made an incremental improvement, and it is those cumulative changes that have given us valuable gains in OEE each year. Ronny Graf, Manager Injection Healthcare, Haag, Switzerland

Benefts for Sulzer

The digital insights are extremely helpful for everyone in the operational team. The management could clearly see what happens and take long-term actions for investments. The maintenance team had a clear indication of which interventions were successful, and the operators could react much faster (Fig. 5). Knowing all figures exactly and not just estimating the running behavior is so helpful. It is quite hard to memorize the running behavior of 2’600 molds, but an MES can do it. The whole team together, supported by real-time figures, was able to improve the OEE by 12% in three years.

Advantages of using the MES for injection-molding
Fig. 5 Advantages of using the MES for injection molding.

Customer benefts of digitalization

In line with the productivity gains, which have been substantial, there have also been significant customer benefits. The higher productivity has also raised the company’s on-time delivery to 98%. That means that Sulzer has been able to deliver 98% of the orders in the promised delivery times. Additional production capacity also means that production schedules have become more flexible, all of which are high on customer satisfaction charts.

Sulzer Technical Review

Nadia Qaud


Sulzer Management AG

Neuwiesenstrasse 15

8401 Winterthur


Phone: +41 52 262 32 67