As Head of Business Development for Printing Presses at Siemens Digital Industries in Erlangen, Germany, Thilo Sporbert and his team are involved in automation and digitization projects for printing press manufacturers all over the world. In the interview, he reports that Industry 4.0 is now being implemented, what role platforms like MindSphere play in this - and why it is worthwhile for machine builders to invest in digital twins.
Mr. Sporbert, what has changed in your area in the last three and a half years?
Thilo Sporbert: At the time, many digitization projects in printing and paper machine construction were still in the concept phase. In the meantime, digital workflows are becoming increasingly real. More and more machine builders are interested in our universal digitization offer and are implementing concrete projects with us.
What solutions does Siemens offer for printing and paper technology?
Sporbert: We focus on mechanical engineering and take a holistic approach to digitization. From the idea to the workflow, from process design to electrical and mechanical engineering. It is our goal to minimize the time to market when implementing new machine ideas and to achieve significant quality and cost advantages through optimized workflows. Digital twins and platforms are playing an increasingly important role here. We build on our classic automation products - from Simatic control to drives, motors and sensors.
Which printing processes and which part of the process chain do you cover?
Sporbert: This ranges from offset, gravure and flexo printing to digital printing, post-processing and finishing. Our contribution to the process chain begins in packaging printing with the extrusion of the later printed films. We also contribute our solutions for printing on corrugated board or for package finishing. Here we collaborate with machine builders who know their markets well and help their customers achieve ever higher productivity. We support them with integrated digitization and automation solutions and application know-how. As a cross-industry supplier, we draw on a comprehensive modular solution system.
How can fully automated, error-free process chains be implemented?
Sporbert: The central prerequisite is continuous integrated process chains with digital workflow and without manual interfaces. The latter delay the process and are often sources of error due to manual data entries and transfers. When we design mechanical process chains today, we use the PLM platform Teamcenter and the NX Mechatronics Concept Designer to link them. In addition to all physical processes, automation modules and electrical components can be validated, and an integrated data flow can be established from manufacture to operation of the machines.
What leads to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and platforms...
Sporbert: ...exactly. Around our open, cloud-based IIoT operating system MindSphere, we offer an ecosystem that helps machine builders and operators connect plants and gain added value from operating data. There you will also find analysis apps from us and from third parties. They can also network with other users in MindSphere World. We are creating a basis on which operators can now track how their machines run on a dashboard. In the future it will be possible to implement predictive maintenance. The know-how of the machine manufacturers is indispensable for this, because only they know which measured values are important in the flood of operating data. We create the platform, the process sensors, compile the data and offer a comprehensive tool landscape with apps for MindSphere.
You mentioned the digital twin. Is it worth the effort?
Sporbert: Our goal is to map the digital twin of each machine on our platform in the future, which will behave exactly like the real machine in a simulated environment - including the sensors and actuators installed. With the Mechatronics Concept Designer and the Simatic S7 PLCSIM Advanced virtual controller for comprehensive function simulations, errors or suboptimal processes are already noticeable in the design phase. Users reach their goal of optimally functioning machines much faster. Digital twins offer further potential for increasing productivity. For example, service employees can train with data glasses on the virtual machines or call in specialists for complex repairs, who can look over their shoulders from the control center using the digital twin. First, however, it is necessary to implement integrated data landscapes. We are currently laying the foundation for this.
Artificial Intelligence is on everyone's lips. What about the Siemens LECo (Learning Error Compensation) algorithm?
Sporbert: This is a self-learning algorithm with which we overcome the limits of mechanics and conventional control technology in the printing process. It continuously monitors control errors in the fault cycle, analyzes them and calculates the values with which they can be compensated in the next cycle. In continuous web processes, this pilot control prevents errors - especially at high speeds. This enables users to run their presses faster and increase productivity while maintaining the same print quality.
How do such tools fit into the MindSphere ecosystem?
Sporbert: The IIoT platform brings together all data relating to production processes and makes it accessible in the cloud. Mechanical engineers, operators and partner companies can offer app-based services for the administration and optimization of the machines. AI tools are one way to do this.
To what extent do you combine cloud and edge services?
Sporbert: The trend is clearly towards an upstream Edge evaluation. Edge computing is an upstream instance that performs local data analysis on the machine and only transfers its results to the cloud. It allows high-frequency data exchange in almost real time and without feedback. In addition, one is not dependent on possible network disturbances. The machine-builder has it in his hands which data is transferred to the cloud. For further data analysis, operators can use applications in the cloud or have MindSphere partners develop apps. MindSphere will also make it possible to provide software updates or function upgrades for networked machines - or cyber security updates. We support and advise our clients on MindSphere and Edge integration so they can discover all these dimensions and possibilities.
How do you envisage printing technology in 2030?
Sporbert: The digital twin is reality until then und and it serves to optimize the entire engineering of a machine from design to delivery and ultimately over the entire life cycle. Hardware and software integration will merge even more closely. Digital workflows help printers produce efficiently from batch size one to mass production and further reduce downtime. And machine builders benefit from an even shorter time-to-market through more efficient engineering. When digital twins become the norm, fewer prototypes are needed, and ultimately no prototypes at all, because errors are already eliminated in virtualized validation. This shortens iteration loops. Already today, we achieve cost advantages of up to 30 percent in engineering. By 2030, efficiency will continue to increase, and in service, predictive maintenance will reduce unscheduled downtime to a minimum.
Mr Sporbert, thank you foor your time!
Siemens Digital Industries is an innovation and technology leader in industrial automation and digitalization. In close cooperation with our partners and customers, we are the driving force for the digital transformation in the discrete and process industries.