Reifenhauser's product & operations director, PET product manager, and VP of sales and marketing discuss company's digitalization support for nonwovens, film producers; service provides production site data to increase equipment effectiveness, save costs

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TROISDORF, Germany , September 16, 2022 (press release) –

Reifenhäuser intends to provide plastics extrusion companies all over the world with an easy entry into digitalization from which they can profit sustainably - regardless of company size. Reifenhäuser bases its solution on a cross-manufacturer approach that is the first to connect all installed lines and machines in a production facility.

A discussion about the concept and the added value in practice between Daniel Kajan, Director Product & Operations at RE:, Mark Schuster, PET Product Manager at Reifenhäuser Cast Sheet Coating GmbH, and Eugen Friedel, Vice President Sales and Marketing of the Reifenhäuser Group.

Mr. Kajan, what is RE: and what support does it provide producers of film and nonwovens?

Kajan: We are a subsidiary of the Reifenhäuser Group, specializing in software development for the extrusion industry. We develop digital products that provide producers of film and nonwovens with the means to optimize their machines by using databases and increase production efficiency. We not only consider lines for the extrusion of film and nonwovens manufactured by Reifenhäuser itself, but also lines made by other manufacturers as well as all other machines that a customer uses along the path to the end product.

Daniel Kajan founded RE: GmbH 2020 together with Andreas Wagner as a corporate start-up of the Reifenhäuser Group. As Director Product & Operations and strategic driving force of the company, his goal is to facilitate access to digitalisation for film and nonwoven producers. Together with his team, Daniel develops digital solutions that enable customers to network their entire production and sustainably increase their OEE.
RE: works closely with Reifenhäuser business units.

What added value does digitalization bring specifically to film and nonwovens production?

Kajan: The inherent potential of data is greater than ever before! Companies with access to all production data can quickly make processes more efficient and boost the quality of their products - this a huge competitive advantage.

Friedel: In actual fact, the calculation is very simple. Every producer knows the price per kilo of his raw materials and how many tons of material pass through his production line every year. And he knows how much power the line needs for this and what the cost of a kilowatt-hour. If he only increases his OEE by one percent using our digital solution, he already saves several thousand euros a year.

Schuster: Data acquisition and documentation is also essential for proof of compliance, for example, for medical products or food packaging. 

If, for example, a food company complains that a product packaged in film spoils prematurely, then it is a great advantage if the film manufacturer can seamlessly document the passage of the film from the first to the last meter and show that he complied with all the agreed quality parameters in production. In our solution, the roll can be virtually unraveled. Customers can then look at the production parameters and integrated quality parameters down to the last meter, if need be.

That sounds convincing. Why do some plastics converters still shy away from taking the first step?

Kajan: Because the market for digital applications is extremely diverse. Many converters find it difficult to pick out what they really need from the sheer mass of options. In a survey of our customers, 31% said they needed help to make their choice.

And how can Reifenhäuser provide support here?

Customers benefit from the 3 T’s
These are the three pillars to Reifenhäuser's digital solutions:

  • Transparency: The transparency of all process data results in enhanced OEE and quality.
  • Traceability: The seamless acquisition and secure recording of all process data simplifies problem analysis and serves as proof of quality.
  • Troubleshooting: Customers can access their data in real time from anywhere, detect anomalies accurately, respond faster, and so extend machine availability.

Kajan: Digital process control and OEE optimization are core competencies in the industry of the future. That’s why we have accumulated internal know-how in this field. It has always been Reifenhäuser's philosophy that core competencies which have an enormous impact on quality, efficiency or productivity must come from within the company.

This is why we develop all core components for our lines ourselves, such as screws, barrels or nozzles. And it’s also the reason why we now offer software solutions which we developed in-house. It’s the only way we can provide digital tools that provide customers with optimized support in day-to-day production. With RE:, we are also significantly faster and more sustainable than external digital service providers.

Friedel: We simplify things for our customers by offering them the whole package - the digital infrastructure that goes together with the lines. Of course, an upfront investment is unavoidable, but our position as a partner is like this: First, we start small with one line and demonstrate the added benefits. Then, in collaboration with the customer, a decision is made on how to proceed.

With its digital campaign, Reifenhäuser wants to set itself apart from other suppliers. What does that mean exactly?

Schuster: We deliberately take a different approach than other machine manufacturers who outsource the programming of their data analysis software to external providers. In our opinion, this practice entails certain risks. If a problem occurs in ongoing production, the customer first has to contact the software manufacturer. Then he has to deal with software experts who have probably never seen an extruder before, so they first have to grasp the vital processes in film and nonwovens production and where exactly the customer's problem is.

Kajan: That's why the RE: team not only consists of software designers and machine control experts, but also process engineers - in other words, experts who know polymers through and through and are totally at home with film and nonwovens production. You will not find this pool of competencies anywhere else.Although global players like Volkswagen are now setting up their own
software companies, it is still unusual for a machine manufacturer of our size to afford a corporate startup of this caliber.

What digital products do you offer?

Kajan: We sell custom solutions, not out-of-the-box digital products. Digitalization is a journey, not a destination. We want to empower our customers to plot their course skillfully. We give them options on how to export production data from all machines, process this data, and utilize it to create real added value, namely an increase in overall equipment efficiency. This is a complex undertaking since various machines and peripherals often use different industry protocols in their control system. I like to compare it to a mixed forest.

Why are you taking a vendor-neutral approach?

Kajan: Because customers need a solution that works efficiently for their entire mixed forest, to continue with that image. After all, they not only operate Reifenhäuser lines, but also machines and downstream equipment from other manufacturers. All these machines must be networked in order to leverage the potential of digitalization.

Schuster: One thing that illustrates this quite nicely is a film-production line. After the film leaves the extruder, it is printed, shaped, and converted - only then is the product finished. So, it's not enough just to look at the data from the extruder. Besides, a machine pool like this includes equipment that has a service life of ten to twenty years. And it's no good if the newest system is digitalized, but all the others are technically stuck in the Middle Ages.

How do you deal with this situation?

Kajan: First, our solution consists of the middleware c.Hub, which collects data from all the machines connected, standardizes it, and makes it available to other systems, for example, the ERP system ExtrusionOS is the application layer that prepares this data for the customer and makes it accessible.

So, it’s something like translating different languages into a format that is universally understood?

Kajan: Exactly. Every machine has its own specific vocabulary, so to speak. We empower customers to read data in real time from different machine logs and turn it into usable information. We break down data silos that could lead to blind spots in production.

What does that mean exactly?


Digitalization packages from the Reifenhäuser Group

  • ExtrusionOS Core & c.Hub: The basic package allows process data from all machines to be read, monitored, managed, analyzed, and saved.
  • Production Compliance features the seamless tracking of production parameters from the first to the last meter. It also monitors compliance with quality standards to provide reliable verification and avoid defects and complaints.
  • Machine Health is the line’s fitness tracker and detects wear early on, optimizes maintenance intervals, and increases machine availability.
  • Defect Analytics: The defect sleuth correlates data from production and inspection systems, sounds the alarm when a production defect occurs, simplifies root cause analysis, and helps prevent defects.

Kajan: It means we not only look at the data from the extrusion line, but also from the equipment next to it, for example, cooling units where the data is not usually recorded but nonetheless impacts the process. Before, if you wanted to evaluate all of these separate data sources, you had to run from one screen to another, something that is tedious and totally inefficient.

On the other hand, our digital solutions merge all the data into one application to make it user-friendly. c.Hub provides a shared data basis. We call this a single point of truth. So, customers conveniently find all the relevant process parameters in one place. After all, it's no use just optimizing the extruder. For example, if the temperature in the chiller is not controlled properly, the results will still be poor. That's why the manufacturer has to keep an eye on the overall process. In the past, this was almost impossible.

c.Hub is therefore the data basis. The second part of our digital solution is ExtrusionOS that has applications to help customers get the best out of their data so they can use it for any purpose they want. ExtrusionOS and c.Hub middleware are a couple - each needs the other. In the end, the customer needs at least ExtrusionOS Core to realize the potential that c.Hub middleware has to offer.

We can put together different bundles for specific requirements, for example, the "Production Compliance" package for quality assurance.

Doesn't this result in a gigantic flood of data?

Schuster: If you focus on the essential KPIs, you can keep track of everything. We advise and train customers and make it as easy as possible for them to quickly find the relevant data using filter functions. We develop software for the lines we know and for technologies we understand. That's why we can provide application- and problem-specific tools. To put it in simple terms, check out these ten variables and then you'll know if your production is running properly.

When you say "data," you automatically think of "security" - where is the customer's production data actually located and how secure is it there?

Schuster: All data remains on the customer's servers. So, he always has control over his data and the backups. We make sure that the software is always up-to-date. Customers can decide whether they want to give us access and when, for example, for an update or for monitoring. We also offer this service to ensure the application runs on a 24/7 basis.

This means that production managers can check around the clock in real time whether everything is running smoothly?

Kajan: Yes. In principle, ExtrusionOS can be called up from any browser-compatible end terminal. It’s up to customers whether they want to use it only within the company network or whether they also want to access their production data in the comfort of their own home. In fact, we know of one manager who just wants to check that all the equipment is running properly before he goes to bed - because it helps him get a better night’s sleep.

Finally, a question about the future: Will digitalization eventually replace human machine operators?

Friedel: No, that's not what we're talking about here. Our aim with our digital solutions is to assist everyone to do their jobs better, from the operator right through to the quality manager. Even an experienced line operator can become even better if he is given the right digital tool.

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Dan Rivard
- VP Market Development -

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