OEM Digitally Transforms Its Business for Remote Support

BID Group, a sawmill equipment manufacturer, adopts PTC’s ThingWorx IIoT platform and Vuforia augmented reality technologies to reduce customer downtime and eliminate asset component failures.

Panoramic view of sawmill line.
Panoramic view of sawmill line.

Guiding your business through a digital transformation is no walk in the park, as many companies have learned the hard way. The BID Group, a North American supplier of forest products equipment, had tried a do-it-yourself approach to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) for several years before managers acknowledged it was time for a reset. 

The first technology company BID worked with on its digital transformation was still in the process of building an IIoT platform, leaving BID managers dissatisfied with the lack of progress. So BID chose to restart the process, this time working with PTC. PTC was able to augment the initial development work done for BID by using PTC’s ThingWorx Industrial IIoT Platform. With this addition in place, BID was able to make significant strides in just a few months using IIoT connectivity to improve productivity and profitability for its customers. 

Now the company is moving forward with the next stage in its transformation, deploying a number of PTC’s Vuforia augmented reality (AR) products to boost frontline worker efficiency, safety and agility, and improve remote customer assistance and troubleshooting.

“As part of our digital transformation initiatives, we have prioritized the use of IIoT and AR to help create smarter, more connected products and services,” says Chris Wells, BID senior vice president of aftermarket service and reliability. “By incorporating PTC’s AR offerings, we expect to unlock new opportunities to service our clients in a more efficient and interactive manner. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it abundantly clear that these technologies are essential to business continuity.” 

BID saw a 9.4% increase in call volume for remote support through its 24/7 service center in the 25-weeks ending December 1, 2020, compared to the same period in 2019. “We attribute this to the COVID-19 situation driving more clients to look for alternate methods of support to the traditional onsite technician. This trend is increasing, and we do not foresee this changing,” adds Wells. “It’s why we’re implementing new technology-based approaches around remote support, remote monitoring, and remote work instructions that leverage IIoT and AR.” 

Remote service has been a growing trend among OEMs. With travel restricted by the pandemic and customers wanting to keep visitors out of their plants, many machine builders are beginning to rethink their reliance on field-deployed service teams. “AR is an ideal tool for providing remote assistance,” explains PTC’s Ken Rawlings, vice president, solution management for connected products. “You can digitally mark-up a shared view, identify problems with a component or in a process, and virtually walk a technician step-by-step through the corrective procedure so they can fix it right the first time.” 

AR also allows OEMs like BID to capture digital references of equipment or procedures, which can be used for training or by their technicians or a customer’s maintenance team when they’re troubleshooting a problem. “With an aging workforce, you’re often relying on younger, less experienced workers to identify and fix problems,” says Jon Kadane, PTC’s product marketing director for connected products. “AR provides on-demand access to visualizations of critical information and allows technicians to interact with the system in context, using visual cues to guide them through tasks more proficiently.”

Driven by analytics
As an OEM, BID’s priority since its founding has been to make the highest quality sawmill equipment. But it is unique in that, over the past five years, the company has shifted its business model to providing customers with turnkey sawmills. BID has been involved in 18 installations in less than two years, according to Wells, most of them new facilities and many of them in the southeastern U.S. 

By shifting from making sawmill equipment to delivering a complete facility, the company’s focus has invariably widened to optimizing mill performance. Adopting IIoT technologies has been critical to BID’s successful business transformation and its ability to meet customer demand for maximum productivity and profitability.

A sawmill has a very complex manufacturing process, combining a raw material stream of great variability with the multiple steps required to turn a log into lumber. Faced with commodity pricing that varies minute to minute, it’s critical for sawmill owners to achieve optimum productivity if they are to be profitable. New mill owners are now requiring the real-time operational view that IIoT technology can deliver when they place an order with BID. 

“One of the most valuable features of PTC’s software is that it enables us to properly orchestrate the data our machines generate, so that everyone has a single place to look for real-time information from the manufacturing process,” explains Sefton Jubenvill, BID vice president for digital transformation. “We were able to quickly prove the concept at one of our sites, then use the platform to meet several commercial commitments within two or three months.” 

The ability to deliver quick time-to-value returns for their digital investment is attracting many new customers to BID, whether it’s for a greenfield facility or an existing one that involves multiple suppliers’ equipment. “We’ve seen up to a 30% increase in machine center throughput where our IIoT insights are used to drive operator behavior, as well as up to a 10% increase in factory efficiency when our digital system, which we call OPER8, is implemented across the entire factory floor,” says Wells. 

The OPER8 system collects and analyzes data in four key areas: production health, such as key performance indicators and real-time, minute-to-minute changes in operator behaviors; throughput health, which deals with the performance and productivity of equipment and operators; asset health, which monitors leading process indicators such as vibration or temperatures and detects imbalances in a process; and quality health, where improperly functioning equipment could cause product defects.

“We’ve achieved downtime avoidance of up to four hours per incident,” explains Wells, “eliminating targeted and specific asset component failures through the application of asset health real-time condition monitoring and analytics. This is made possible through additional sensors and instrumentation.” 

Monetizing data capture
Data capture and contextualization have now become an integral part of BID’s equipment package. As a result, software suppliers like PTC are key to delivering on BID’s promise of performance. “We’ve become an OEM supplier, just like companies that provide pumps or motors,” says Rawlings. “Our IIoT technologies are another sub-component built into the system. By providing an enterprise-wide view and putting streams of data into context, our software is able to provide the right insights to the appropriate person or function. It’s a way for OEMs to monetize data capture and provide a higher level of service.”

Adds Kadane, “ThingWorx tools allow OEMs to configure rather than code, enabling easier integration of equipment and systems for greater scale and impact. And since data is fully contextualized for both machine builder and customer, decisions can be made in real time, rather than at the end of a shift, to better control processes. Being able to visualize operations makes for faster and repeatable troubleshooting, with less downtime and greater throughput.” 


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