When spare parts can “talk”

Battling complaint costs

Repairs in bottling lines are complex – selecting the right components and installing them correctly is not always easy. Maintenance mistakes accordingly cause thousands of euros in complaint costs every year. The Krones Innovation Lab has now developed a digital solution for the problem.

Visitors to Krones’ stand at the drinktec were already able to admire the outcome of the innovation project – only a few months after it was initiated in the Lab. Scanning a QR code attached to the demonstrator they could immerse themselves in the new digital spare parts world: without any detours, they entered the “Digital Installation Guide”, a web service providing the appropriate technical documentation for the spare part ordered. As technicians they

would thus at a glance have had all the information required for flawless installation. Difficulty of installation, time required, tools needed, yes even video tutorials, ordering options and a hotline to the support staff: the service brings all this together at a single location. What’s particularly exciting is this: the digital platform in conjunction with QR code stickers on spare parts was not in fact planned in this form right from the start, but is the result of an iterative process.

This is because the basic idea with which the Krones Innovation Lab embarks on a project changes continually as most of the projects progress. Modern-day methods like lean start-up and design thinking aim to find a holistic, customer-centered solution to a problem as quickly as possible. And for this purpose, new prototypes are repeatedly designed and tested with clients. Improvements are made, and sometimes the whole approach is rethought. Now and then, the staff here in the Innovation Lab even turn into “minor terrorists” and attempt in a role-playing game to sabotage the project, in order to spot the weak points of the existing designs. In the case of the Digital Installation Guide, the initial idea was simply to dispatch technical PDFs. Subsequently, we tried integrating the electronic parts catalogue (eCat), just to respond even more flexibly to users’ wishes with an app of our own in the next step. In the end, our team developed a multi-functional, operating-system-independent web app for technicians.

Regular mutual feedback with experienced service staff at clients like Erdinger, Bitburger, or also international input from customers such as Natural Spring Water in Australia, has accelerated this development. For example, talks have revealed that it’s not the operating manual that clients turn to in the event of a repair, but the specific data sheet for the component concerned and the relevant installation instructions.

Getting from 0 (idea) to 100 (product) is, of course, conditional upon a certain amount of creativity in the project team. In the Innovation Lab, we benefit from the diverse academic background of our team, consisting not only of classic technical disciplines, but also of computer science, mathematics, business management or design. To ensure that the speed of our development work in the Innovation Lab is maintained at the requisite high level, Lab Director Dr. Johannes Scholz utilizes methods like agile project management. The kanban boards used here ensure that work packages are traceable and new requirements can be integrated at any time. In the project at hand, the practical advantages were manifested not least in that we could examine different application cases: at first, the plan was to create technical documentation for new machines, but during the course of further research the problem shifted towards incorrectly installed spare parts.

The project culminated not only in participation on the stand in Munich, but also in a well documented viable business case and a detailed implementation roadmap. The internal project handing-over thus ensures that the Digital Installation Guide can be progressed to market maturity in a regular development thrust.

The team at the Krones Innovation Lab is now already working on two new digital ideas, and would be pleased to have your support: we shall be hiring interns (from March 2018) and company students (as of now). You’re keen to develop up-to-the-future technological ideas into actual products within a few short months, and sniff some start-up atmosphere? Then send in your application to the Krones Job Exchange (intern/company student) and join our young, interdisciplinary team.