Meet our customer hero
SMC was founded in Tokyo in 1959, specializing in the manufacture of pneumatic equipment. The company has evolved with the demands of its customers to offer a comprehensive automated control equipment portfolio of 12,000 basic models with over 700,000 variations. SMC boasts five technical centers, two of which are in Europe (Germany and the UK) and has over 20,800 employees in 83 countries. SMC is committed to minimizing negative environmental impacts and promoting sustainability through its corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives.
In the extremely competitive manufacturing sector, companies like SMC are constantly looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. Providing busy customers with a product that will go the extra mile in terms of improved productivity, cost savings, ease of use, security and sustainability provides a competitive advantage. In a business where “air costs money,” the ability to measure and show end-users where compressed air leakages are, and how they can reduce the incidents by monitoring, preventing associated losses with the intervention of always-on detection translates to cutting edge visibility and cost savings for the business.
SMC observed a trend in the growing interest from their end-users in predictive maintenance with frequent questions around what is happening in the machine. The company noticed that data provided by the connectivity of IoT services was being underutilized in the industry and the company had the potential to meet a growing new need. While machinery has always leveraged sensor technology, customers were asking how they could get more information out of their machines and their components like their cylinders.
Manufacturing customer expectations are constantly evolving, particularly around the Internet of Things (IoT) and working in the cloud. Users continue to expand their understanding of how IoT technology can help save them time, money and resources through both the creation of actionable data and more effective system management. The shifts in the market and customer needs led the organization to reinvent itself and design a completely new subscription-based business model.
Oliver Prang, SMC’s Expert Digital Business Development for SMC Germany, says attitudes to the cloud and the internet of things had changed rapidly in recent years, particularly since Covid.
“Five years ago, when I was talking to customers and brought up the idea of them using any kind of IoT system to bring their data to the cloud, they didn’t want to know – they wanted the data to stay within their own company data centers,” Prang says. “This has changed so much in the last two to three years, largely due to the pandemic, because everyone was sitting at home. People were suddenly more willing to send data to the cloud and leverage extended connectivity because they realized the importance of having access to data to their businesses and obtain insights from their machine operations, even if they were not directly in front of their machines.”
Another important concern in the business is the wellbeing of the planet playing an ever-growing role in the conversation about the future of individual businesses and industries. Many customers also want products that can help reduce their carbon footprints and add to their own CSR story. As environmental concerns remain front and center, end-users are realizing that IoT can help shrink carbon footprints by reducing energy consumption and resource usage, helping to create a more sustainable business strategy.
“Everybody in the world is talking about climate change and carbon footprints,” says Prang. “The biggest companies are all talking about it, and it is important for us too. As one of their main suppliers, we need to speak the same language and give them the tools they need so they can trust us as a partner to be on the same page.”
SMC reached out to Software AG and its Cumulocity IoT team, and it became quickly apparent that Cumulocity IoT could offer SMC a lot of advantages. The ability to integrate with any “thing” and further integrate IoT data with any cloud service, core system or application with no coding required were big decision drivers. The fact that Cumulocity IoT could also be up and running on the customer’s side in under 20 minutes was pivotal.
Because Cumulocity IoT is available on the edge, in the cloud and on-premises, it gives those SMC customers that are not quite cloud-ready an option. It also offers a scalable solution, by starting off with as few as five sensors and the ability to quickly scale up as demand increases. Security concerns are firmly addressed via telco-grade security architecture to ensure the platform remains fully protected.
Within four months of implementation, SMC and Software AG were able to develop the Smart Field Analytics offering and go live with its first use case in Germany.
“This solution is giving us an advantage in the market. In the past our company was regarded primarily as a component supplier, but with Software AG services we can expand and go to market as a complete solution provider including hardware, software, and services, meeting our customers’ needs in ways they never expected before,” says Prang.
Under its Smart Field Analytics offering, SMC can now deliver the granular data that its customers demand and help them achieve their sustainability, money saving, and efficiency goals, plus much more. As part of many benefits the solution provides, factory managers can now deploy predictive maintenance across the floor and eliminate the risk of unplanned downtime and disruption to productivity. Additionally, data generated by sensors in pneumatic cylinders is now monitored in real time at the point of origin. Cumulocity IoT, fitted with Dell’s Edge hardware devices, enables real-time reporting on machine latency times, providing alerts to prevent impending faulty productions and reports about unplanned machine downtime.
With a built-in learning algorithm, SMC can also offer customers reliable analytics tailored to each machine and drill down even further with a leakage detection service. This helps to save at least 20 percent on leakage costs by analyzing how much compressed air is being utilized, enabling early detection of any issues that could result in process failure.
The partnership has created subscription-based revenue streams for SMC and helped steer the business in a whole new direction of growth with a growing list of development prospects.
“We have created a completely new business for SMC,” says Prang. “We now have a new business model called energy transparency. We are giving our customers a complete device with sensors and a gateway which is directly sending them the information via the Cumulocity IoT dashboard.”
SMC is also talking to customers that it may have struggled to attract or even lost in the past, demonstrating how Cumulocity IoT has not only helped it innovate, but given it a definite competitive advantage, particularly when it comes to sustainability. “This kind of solution that we can provide right has opened some doors that have been closed in the last few years,” Prang says.
The offering is fully scalable, not only for customers, but also for SMC and it has given them other ideas for growing its service portfolio. “We have a lot of ideas on how to expand the business, and of course we will not only sell that in Germany,” Prang adds. “We aim to expand it to other SMC offices in Europe and then hopefully worldwide.”
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