A behind-the-scenes skirmish happened during Fakuma 2017. Call it: Battle of the MES Systems.
Two major injection moulding machinery companies, KraussMaffei Group and Wittmann Battenfeld GmbH, dropped an MES supplier that had been purchased last year by Engel Holding GmbH.
MES stands for manufacturing execution system. Using big computing power, MES systems link everything in a factory together, including data on production and quality, machine scheduling, the management of moulds, order information and shipping and human resources.
In an era when an injection moulding press records hundreds of data points, on every shot, MES systems are more important than ever to make sense of the massive amount of information — and do it in real time. They can create a link with a moulder and the machinery supplier, helping coordinate troubleshooting, service and maintenance schedules.
An MES acts as a hub to aggregate a huge quantity of information together, and can arrange it in easier-to-use formats, such as "dashboard" setups for management that shows key statistics at a glance.
A year ago in October, just before the K 2016 show, injection press manufacturer Engel bought MES provider T.I.G. (Technische Informationssysteme GmbH) based in Rankweil, Austria. It was a move to advance Engel's Industry 4.0 efforts. One Engel official compared the purchase to automakers linking up with software companies to gain new skills in the new world of interconnected cars.
T.I.G. also gained deeper knowledge of networking of injection moulding processes than other MES suppliers in the market, a company executive said.
Fast-forward to the 2017 Fakuma show, held in Friedrichshafen: Engel displayed T.I.G.'s MES, called authentig. Engel also launched its own customer portal, called e-connect. New at Fakuma: A certified interface that simplifies data exchange between authentig and SAP's ERP systems (enterprise resource planning).
T.I.G. operates as an independent subsidiary from Engel, and T.I.G. General Manager Wolfgang Frohner said the firm's MES systems are open to all machinery makers and plastic processors. At Fakuma, T.I.G. had its own booth, separate from Engel. Frohner said about 10 other machinery manufacturers use T.I.G. MES systems. He declined to identify them.
But two major injection press makers are not on that list anymore. KraussMaffei and Wittmann Battenfeld dumped T.I.G. after Engel bought the company. Now both are using German MES supplier MPDV Mikrolab GmbH.
At Fakuma, KraussMaffei introduced its new MES system, called MaXecution, based on MPDV's Hydra 8 MES. KM officials said MaXecution is tailored to the requirements of small injection moulders. All of the KraussMaffei and Netstal presses at Fakuma were hooked up to the system.
"We have decided to enter a market for MES systems for smaller companies who do not have an MES system," said Hans Ulrich Golz, president of KraussMaffei's injection moulding machinery segment.
KraussMaffei's sister company, Netstal Maschinen AG, also used Fakuma to announce its cloud-based product monitoring data platform, AnalytiX, which links up to KM's MaXecution.
Both MaXecution and AnalytiX can be connected to third-party MES models via standard Euromap interfaces.
Wittmann Battenfeld worked with MPDV to create the press maker's SmartMonitoring module, which can be integrated into every Unilog B8 control screen.
New MES for KM, Wittmann Battenfeld
During comments during their Fakuma news conferences, executives of KraussMaffei and Wittmann Battenfeld did not mention T.I.G. or their machinery competitor, Engel, by name.
Golz said KraussMaffei's MaXecution is "our way to digitalisation," using a term commonly used in Europe to talk about Industry 4.0, a manufacturing world of total interconnectedness.
In 2011, KraussMaffei and T.I.G. signed a cooperation agreement to work on ways to network plastics machinery and monitoring production data.
Wittmann Battenfeld announced its deal with T.I.G. in 2014.
Now those working relationships are kaput. KraussMaffei and Wittmann Battenfeld are now working with MPDV, based in Mosbach, Germany. MPDV employs 330 people at 10 locations in Germany, Singapore, China and the United States, and is present in other countries through a network of partner companies.
Georg Tinschert, president and CEO of Wittmann Battenfeld, talked about his company's decision to drop T.I.G. in favour of MPDV. Even though Engel and T.I.G. insist that T.I.G. is a separate, independent company open to any press brand, Tinschert said customers — and press competitors to Engel — have some concerns about their project information.
"When you speak to customers and you're in negotiations [for machinery], you're working on projects, and we want to keep it confidential for us," he said. "[T.I.G. is] saying 'we're a different company. We're separate [from Engel].' That's fine, no problem with that."
But Tinschert said if a moulder is working on a capital investment project and is using press brands other than Engel, there could be concerns that the word could get out. "This is what we want to avoid. We want to be kind of confidential within our activities," Tinschert said.
And he said that many moulders already have their own MES systems, and their own local partner software suppliers for those systems. "So there's a diversity in the market," Tinschert said.
"I say to our customers, listen, when you're looking for an MES system, it's better for you to have kind of an independent MES supplier, because you buy machines from us, from Engel from KraussMaffei, from everybody. Sometimes maybe you go back and you, instead of Engel you buy the machines from someone else. You might get into a conflict," Tinschert said. He said Wittmann Battenfeld positions MPVD as an independent partner that has no restrictions.
An independent T.I.G.
But T.I.G. head Wolfgang Frohner said that is exactly what his company is: Independent.
"Before we were sold to Engel, one asset at T.I.G. was that we have partnerships with all brands. That goal for that was that we have a wide sales channel. But also to address the requests of our customers to network all the machinery production," he said.
KraussMaffei and Wittmann Battenfeld are the only two major machinery companies that dropped T.I.G. as a partner after Engel bought the software company, Frohner said.
Told some of the comments at the Fakuma news conferences, that moulders want independence in their MES systems, he said customers can believe those comments or not believe them.
"It's important to say that Engel decided to keep T.I.G. as an independent company," Frohner said.
T.I.G.'s booth at Fakuma featured its own authentig MES brand. Promotional materials say more than 300 customers use T.I.G. systems, which are networked on more than 8,000 injection moulding machines, rubber presses and recycling machines. The company has about 50 employees, Frohner said.
According to the company's website, T.I.G. has customers in automotive, medical and packaging, and has been in business for more than 20 years.
The Fakuma exhibit also displayed an example of a customised dashboard, which the company calls a cockpit, that shows key data points at the touch of a button. Showing information data in usable form is "one of the essential things now" in a world of plastics manufacturing inundated by big data, Frohner said.
"In the past, you recorded five parameters. Now you record everything. And you don't know what you do with all this data," he said. "You decide it, case by case. and that's the requirement for MES systems today. And our new software is able to cover this big data. Because we can record everything from the machine, with a deeply integrated interface with the machine controllers. That's the asset of T.I.G."
Frohner said only about 5% of plastics producers have a manufacturing execution system. "So it's a growing market," he said. And even those who created their own MES, when the software developer leaves the company, that know-how goes out the door.
A commercial MES supplier gives you a stable system that can be upgraded and expanded easily. "Two times a year we get the release of new software, and all customers get the release of this technology. They get new models. That's a big reason who companies decided to get a professional MES," Frohner said.