Industry 4.0 at ALPLA

Industry 4.0 powered by Crate IoT Data Platform increases factory efficiency.

ALPLA is a world leader in the area of packaging solutions, producing high-quality packaging for Coca-Cola, Unilever, and other brands in the food, drinks, cosmetics and cleaning industries. ALPLA employs 18,300 employees at 172 locations across 45 countries.

As the complexity of production machinery increases, so does the need for highly trained specialists in each factory. This creates the following challenges:

  • Higher personnel costs in every plant
  • Harder to recruit experienced talent at each location
  • Personnel turnover becomes more costly
  • Less experienced operators run the machines sub-optimally, impacting resource consumption and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

By collecting and analyzing sensor data from all our factory equipment in real time, we can actually direct people on the floor to the ‘hot spots’ and with that, improve the waste rate and efficiency of production.

Jodok Schaeffler

General Manager
ALPLA

Inform "Mission Control" with real-time factory floor data

“We are running visual inspection systems in about every line of our plants. Having people constantly monitor these systems on the factory floor and reacting to any error is almost impossible,” said ALPLA General Manager, Jodok Schaeffler.

In 2016, ALPLA used manufacturing machinery data to help solve these problems. Each factory had 900 different types of embedded sensors.

Data from the sensors was used automate the machines in real-time, telling them when to eject defective products and informing nearby operators on the factory floor about equipment performance, which they could then tune and optimize.

The big idea at ALPLA was to integrate sensor data from multiple factories and production lines into a central “mission control,” staffed by experts who monitor production via interactive dashboards. Those centralized experts could give direction to less experienced, lower-cost factory workers.

Silhouttes of Bottles in different sizes
ALPLA produces plastic packaging for leading brands.

A challenging use case for traditional SQL

ALPLA initially chose SQL Server as the data store for the sensor data, but it was unable to cope with their data requirements. They needed 900 different tables, one for each of the 900 different sensor data structures. Each production line generated thousands of readings per second.

Trying to query streams of that volume of sensor data in real time, and running complex machine learning analytics on terabytes of historic data, was outside of SQL Server’s sweet spot. Charts in the mission control dashboards were taking 3 to 5 minutes each to update, which was prohibitively slow since each dashboard contained a dozen or more charts.

The switch to Crate IoT Data Platform: 250x faster...

After learning about the Crate IoT Data Platform, they decided to migrate the project to Crate. Powered by CrateDB, the Crate IoT Data Platform is purpose-built for IoT workloads like ALPLA’s, and it was attractive for the following reasons:

SQL

Easy to migrate data and code to Crate IoT Data Platform from SQL Server

Distributed

Easy and economical to scale on elastic clusters of inexpensive servers

Dynamic schema 

Allowed ALPLA to combine all their 900 different sensor readings into a single table for easier maintenance and faster querying

Real-time performance

Columnar indexes cached in me­mory enable the Crate IoT Data Platform to execute dashboards queries 250x faster than SQL Server (in milliseconds, not minutes)

From insight to action via tablets and HoloLenses

With Crate IoT Data Platform providing real-time operational insights in the mission control center, experts there could monitor, troubleshoot and optimize factory equipment efficiency remotely. Operating adjustments and other instructions were pushed to factory floor workers via tablets, and they could even use virtual reality equipment to connect with the factory floor.

“By collecting and analyzing the information from all of the sensors and cameras in these vision systems we can actually direct people on the floor to the 'hot spots' and with that, improve the waste rate and efficiency of production.“

The final result - improved factory efficiency

With mission control now centralized and monitoring production efficiency 24x7 via Crate IoT Data Platform, ALPLA is able to benefit as follows:

Lower personnel costs by requiring fewer experts

Get immediate insight and control instead of next-day quality reporting

Perform cross-plant analysis to get new insights

Improve OEE

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