Digitization is one of the central drivers of innovation and a major force behind the disruptive business models sweeping many branches of industry. In the context of Industry 4.0 digitization has also hit the German machine construction and engineering sector at great speed. As part of all-encompassing digitization schemes companies are now specifying important, strategic fields of action which enable them to successfully position themselves in the future market environment with new technologies and intelligent systems. This also goes for Dortmund systems supplier KHS which is consistently pursuing its policy of digitization. In the course thereof many digital projects are already being implemented which not only boost the efficiency of the internal business processes at KHS but also steadily further optimize customer systems and the company’s portfolio of services.

“Digitization offers our customers enormous potential which must be laid bare.”

A matter for the boss

Digitization is very important at KHS; to ensure the company-wide management and speedy implementation of its digital transformation process KHS has put together a digitization task force which comprises top managers from the Service Division, its various product divisions, Technology Management, Purchasing and IT. Dr.-Ing. Peter Stelter, executive vice-president of Strategy and Technology Management at KHS, lists some of the milestones in KHS’ digitization strategy. “The big issues we’re currently dealing with include the clarification of technological development, integration and networking, cybersecurity or data security, the accumulation of suitable expertise and the bringing about of cultural change.” Regarding this last point he states that certain elements of the digitization process must be incorporated into the basic and further training of KHS employees; in the future relevant courses of further training will therefore be on offer through the company’s in-house KHS campus portal.

KHS’ digitization activities point in four different directions with the objective of supporting customers’ production, the development of KHS products, KHS’ own production setup and service.

The production process at breweries and beverage bottling plants consists of the actual production and conditioning of the beverages, the filling of the beverages into various containers, the decoration and labeling of the latter and finally packaging – from secondary packaging to palletizing. This all takes place in a highly automated mass production environment, for which an efficient, trouble-free production process must be ensured. This is assisted by intelligent software which helps to process information from the line and the customer’s ERP system in real time. Transport robots, most of them now laser controlled, realize the logistics and move along the production lines as if guided by an invisible hand. Digital systems permit greater transparency, better quality and improved line efficiency and provide assistance during maintenance and repairs.

If we treat customer production lines as products which KHS develops, engineers and manufactures, much of the internal product development process must be paperless. At KHS itself networking and digitization also significantly help further optimize the productivity and flexibility of its manufacturing, assembly and installation processes. The challenge here is to create an evolutionary, partly heterogeneous IT environment. All systems must be usefully aligned with one another by suitable interfaces and protocols to ensure consistent data storage across the different systems, for example, thus adhering to the vision of the single source of truth: in other words, to create an IT infrastructure which is largely non-redundant. Stelter explains why successive implementation is so sophisticated. “As a company active on the market worldwide, we must be able to reinvent ourselves through digitization alongside our ongoing operative business. In doing so we must make sure that we effect a smooth transition from our existing systems to our new ones. First and foremost, we have to upgrade the many stock machines on the market, which will be in operation for many years to come, by retrofitting them with the new innovative options digitization provides.”

“As an international company we must make sure that we effect a smooth transition from our existing systems to our new ones.”

Dr.-Ing. Peter Stelter,
Executive vice-president of Strategy and Technology Management, KHS GmbH


Cloud machine

Independent data exchange

Mobile devices from people with various different functions communicate with the machine through Bluetooth, for example.

* OEE = overall equipment effectiveness.

Thinking outside the box

As disruptive digitization systems also require a certain outside impetus, according to Stelter, it’s imperative that we think outside the box. This is why KHS cooperates with universities and innovative companies which provide creative solutions and specialist services. Various digitization projects are also promoted together with innovative customers. By way of example, KHS is currently working with a number of beverage bottlers and other­ cooperative partners on condition-based monitoring systems which can predict potential failures simply by analyzing measured machine signals. With the help of wear models, in the future a component’s remaining service life can be forecast. By analyzing large datasets using statistical methods and machines which learn deviations from normal machine behavior can be predicted and operators warned in good time of deficits in quality and unplanned downtimes.

Another KHS digitization project is the Performance Control 4.0 counting controller. Among other tasks this records the exact number of all containers in circulation, optimizes buffer capacities and in doing so ensures continuous, more gentle operation along the entire line (see article ”The best of the best”).

Lighthouse projects at drinktec

Some of the new systems will be presented at KHS’ Future Lab at drinktec for the first time. These include on-site installation planning based on 3D CAD data, the virtual visualization of filling lines and augmented reality applications which show real objects together with a supplementary digital content. RFID detection of format parts and the first condition-based maintenance applications with integrated data analysis will also be on show in Munich.

KHS is also developing further new systems which concern the safe operation and maintenance of machines and lines, Stelter discloses. “The cloud machine project allows the system to recognize when a certain employee has performed which tasks in which role – whether as a machine operator, foreman or production planner. The software system finds employers’ mobile devices using near-field communication technology and sends them the relevant information they need on the state of the machine and the entire filling line in an app.” Customers and their personnel are used to a high level of convenience from their everyday digital environment and the use of increasingly intuitive mobile devices. This is resulting in greater demands being made in the world of work which KHS is meeting with a new, even more user-friendly mode of machine operation. The further developed ClearLine HMI, to be presented for the first time at drinktec, scores with gesture-based operation, a clear 21.5-inch display and notification of service intervals.

Well ahead in virtual reality

Stelter considers KHS to be especially well positioned and very advanced in its digitization endeavors in all projects which center on the virtual product. “Compared to other machine and systems manufacturers we’re well ahead in 3D design engineering with our digital master, in virtual reality flights through a machine and in virtual design reviews,” he explains. Thus far 3D design engineering has focused on the exact planning and fitting of lines and systems into existing buildings and production shops. Laser scanning buildings especially facilitates faster, more consistent processing during the design of a line. This in turn shortens the lead time from the offer to the order, with greater planning security for the customer with reference to costs and deadlines. As virtual visualization constantly improves with the help of virtual reality devices, opportunities are now much more diverse; whereas in the past a trained KHS employee was needed to guide viewers through the lines, now people can easily navigate virtual lines unaided. New de­vices, such as data goggles, enable potential customers to take a virtual ‘walk’ through a line and make any necessary adaptations even before the first piece of metal has been bent or the first seam welded. This hugely simplifies technical clarification and coordination.

Digital twin

Besides depicting the full geometry of a line the dynamic behavior of KHS lines and their components can also be simulated, such as the conveyors or packaging and palletizing functions. This feature physically simulates the reactions of containers and conveyor units with friction and contact, for example. As mechatronic components including the sensors are also mapped, the system control can also be included in the display. This enables shorter commissioning times and faster line startups.

Another field of application currently in preparation for 3D simulation is its use in the instruction of KHS service engineers and customer operators. In the future they will be able to pick up virtual tools on 3D models and practice changing spare parts or formats with a ‘digital twin’.

Unique innovations

Aside from KHS’ expertise in 3D visualization and simulation Stelter also stresses the potential of several quite different disruptive KHS innovations which have recently been readied for market. “We enjoy an absolutely unique position with new developments such as our Direct Print Powered by KHS™ direct bottling printing system,” he emphasizes. “In specific conjunction with this technology we’ve now developed new business models which include the first cloud applications. Bottle dressings can be created online on a cloud platform and printed on our digital printing machine within a matter of minutes. This allows beverage producers to not only launch products to market a lot quicker but also to be fully flexible in their reaction to constantly changing consumer demands. Digitization makes this possible.”

Enormous benefits for customers

Stelter finds it essential that digitization at KHS isn’t simply an end in itself but rather holds enormous beneficial potential for the beverage industry. “In the end what counts for our customers is the increased efficiency of their filling and packaging lines. This means that they need fewer spare parts, avoid unnecessary changeovers and have access to information which helps them to prevent downtimes and consequential damage in good time. We’re talking about better quality and greater efficiency here. If we provide products and services which keep this promise and advance the beverage producer commercially, then he or she is prepared to pay money for them,” claims Stelter and goes on to predict that “In the future machine functions will often be able to be realized by software modules. This means that systems can be more flexibly adjusted to suit a whole range of different requirements.” It’s thus only logical and far-sighted of KHS to not only see itself as a manufacturer of lines and machines but also as a supplier of systems – and not just as of today.

Your contact on this topic

Dr.-Ing. Peter Stelter
Executive vice-president of Strategy and Technology Management
KHS GmbH, Dortmund, Germany

Phone: +49 231 569 1905
Email: peter.stelter@khs.com