Lean Manufacturing Drives Floor Care of the Future

Nick Depperschmidt, Director of Content
IoT Today

When you think of IoT, scrubbing floors is not often on the top of the list of smart product applications. But when you manufacture 3,000 different floor scrubbers, power washers, sweepers and other cleaning solutions for customers around the world, smart fleet management and manufacturing can be the key to success. This is exactly why Karcher has moved to digitize their factory floor and equipment service programs.

The editorial team at IoT Today, hosted by Germany Trade and Invest (GTAI), was invited to tour the Karcher facility just outside of Stuttgart Germany, in the German Federal State of Baden Wurttemberg. There they have deployed a smart factory for one of their walk behind floor scrubber assembly lines. This scrubber unit comes in nine variants, with 58 customer specified options, allowing for 17,400 different custom configurations. Making it a good candidate for a smart production line technology.

In January of 2014 Karcher began phase I of this Industry 4.0 initiative, headed by Matthias Wida, the Industry 4.0 Director and Manager of Process Improvement. Spurred by funding from German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the company began looking at ways to improve their processes to streamline production, improve efficiency, and gain market leadership in customer and fleet services.

“The drive for Karcher is to have a lot of product variety and produce products in small batches in real time,” said Wida. “This allows us to manufacture products, only when they are needed.”

This principle of on demand, customized manufacturing is the core of Industry 4.0, or Industrial IoT. Built on a foundation of networked, smart machines, secure connectivity, big data, custom software and apps, it is the wave of the future. Most production lines of this nature either live in labs or on blueprints, but Karcher has one up and running now.

K1The line is a symphony of moving parts. Smart machines interact with their human counterparts to assemble a scrubber. Each station uses an RFID chip combined with a pick by light system. On the chip, the order data is stored, and it transmits the data about which parts are needed at each workplace – which then lets the corresponding bins light up green to show the worker what parts to pick.

A worker steps into his or her zone, scans the order, and with a touch screen begins the assembly process. Once the RFID chip is scanned, the green light indicates to the worker which bin of parts to pick from, and in what quantity. If a worker selects an incorrect bin, the light will turn red, alerting the worker they have selected incorrect components. When the correct part has been chosen a blue light indicates to the worked to move onto the next bin of parts. With this system workers simply and efficiently move down the line assembling the scrubber to the exact specifications of the customer.

k2As the scrubbers are built the stock of parts and components are depleted. Unlike a traditional “milk run” lean production systems, the parts are not replenished on a time schedule, they are filled on demand. Whenever a bin is low, another worker is alerted to refill the bin as needed. Elevating wasted time restocking parts that don’t need it.

Throughout the day the workflow on the line is tracked and the data is collated. Production line managers can then analyze the data to see where improvements can be made on speed and quality of production. This leads to greater intelligence on the line, and more effective use of resources.

K3However, the main component in the whole system are the humans. Sometimes the overwhelming thought is smart factories will be filled with robots, taking jobs. On the Karcher line the human is the initiator, and they are supported by smart machines. This allows for system intelligence to combine with human problem solving to provide truly smart manufacturing execution system.

Karcher is not stopping there either. As they moved into Phase II of their Industry 4.0 the company is moving to provide smart services, fleet management and apps to customers. The principle and benefits of Karcher Fleet are based on machine data, which are processed into meaningful information. This information can be accessed through a modern, web-based portal. Different versions of the portal are at the disposal of fleet managers, dependent on branch affiliation.

The structures, locations, task managers and responsibilities within the fleet, as well as the measurement criteria, are illustrated both industry-specific and company-related. The reliability of the cleaning processes can thereby be increased significantly. Through better machine coordination, the protection against misuse and theft, as well as increased machine availability, Karcher Fleet offers important distinguishing features for each industry. Customers can also use the data to better manage ordering of consumable items for their machines.

This business model shows the vision of what IoT could be for many companies. Smart manufacturing processes, combined with services after the sale, are reducing costs while allowing for expansion of revenue streams. This is the true value of IoT for companies around the world, and companies such as Karcher look to be ahead of the curve. Bringing “smart” to the cleaning industry one scrubber at a time.

For more information please visit -www.kaercher.com

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