The long-established global provider of high-quality solutions for the sheet metal processing business Bystronic has reinvented itself by expanding its portfolio beyond offering standalone machines to become a full-service provider of smart factory solutions.
Switzerland’s machine industry is in a state of upheaval. Global competition and changing customer needs makes it more challenging to sell high-quality machines based on Swiss engineering and manufacturing standards. Bystronic has seized the new market opportunities in time and transformed itself from a machine manufacturer to a solution provider.
“Bystronic has consistently driven automation and digitalization forward. Today, the company has become the one-stop-shop provider of advanced production lines, comprising smart-machines, robots, and automation modules, which coherently and autonomously interoperate, as one, single smart-factory”, explains Dr. Christoph Rüttimann, Chief Technology Officer of Bystronic. “Customer value – and therefore the success of our company – no longer lies in the individual machine, but in smart machines capable of seamlessly integrating themselves, into tailored production lines, which can be intuitively programmed, adaptively planned, and easily operated, semi- or fully-automatically, by the non-expert.”
Software as the brain of the Smart Factory
One critical area that Bystronic has had to build up in order to pursue the new business model is software expertise. “Our vision was to integrate and automate the complete material and data flow of the cutting and bending process chain,” says Dr. Ing. Panos Dimitropoulos, Head of SW Development at Bystronic Group. “To achieve this goal, we had to develop software that would connect our machines and provide an additional level of intelligence.”
According to Dimitropoulos, software brings the Internet of Things (IoT) to Life: Software allows the machines to connect, communicate, and interoperate. Applications are used to plan, schedule and control production lines with a push of a single button. Forecasts and performance analysis, as well as the monitoring of each machine, are calculated by algorithms. AI takes over the orders and monitoring, and even requests spare parts if needed and coordinates repair windows. And last but not least, software-powered autonomous vehicles and robots circulate around the production lines, working autonomously around the clock. “Software is really the brain of the smart factory”, summarizes Dimitropoulos.
Strong partnerships complement internal expertise
By now, the software competence within Bystronic has increased enormously. Nevertheless, the internal experts wanted to focus on their industrial know-how right from the start. “It was clear to us from the beginning that we would focus on our industry expertise and adopt all other software tools and frameworks, as well as infrastructure from partner companies”, says Dimitropoulos. “This decision, which we made very early on, gave us enormous agility and the opportunity to collaborate with the partners we trusted the most in every area.”
The cloud as the operating system of the smart factory
One of those strategic partners that the Bystronic team has been working with for some time is Microsoft, which brings its intelligent cloud services to the table, including Microsoft Azure, Microsoft’s AI platform, the MS Azure Edge IoT Runtime as well as Microsoft Dynamics 365. This integrated approach is a key success factor for Dimitropoulos: “We can use Microsoft’s full range of services, tools, and frameworks and integrate them into our products as of-the-shelf building blocks. This allows us to stay on the cutting edge of technology and push development forward.”
When developing its manufacturing solutions, Bystronic was open to the integration of external or third-party suppliers from the beginning. As Dimitropoulos explains: “Our goal is to network our customers’ manufacturing systems with an ecosystem that integrates end customers, suppliers, and other partners. This allows all the parties to monitor and control the entire supply chain in real time.” By doing that, Bystronic is enabling their customers to manufacture high-quality products in a cost-effective and flexible manner. Therefore, the greatest possible level of flexibility is needed. “That is why we see our software more as an operating system on which other applications can be run”, says Dimitropoulos. “That’s why our system has to be modular and structured in a way that ensures connectivity and that makes it comparatively simple to respond in the event of changing requirements.”
Growing together and jointly exploiting the opportunities of the market
Leveraging Microsoft technologies, Bystronic developed its new generation software portfolio: The Smart Factory Software Suite, which digitalizes the whole range of procedures involved in sheet-metal-processing sector, starting at the quotation management, encompassing resource planning, production scheduling, and machine programming, while extending to the warehouse management and process analytics. The preparation, execution, and delivery phases of the sheet-metal production can be digitally executed and monitored. The offering is completed with the optional plant-maintenance, the quality-management, and the continuous-improvement modules, which optimize the digitalized facility boosting sustainable profitability. The Smart Factory suite comprises a set of “cloud first”, yet “hybrid” applications, which means that Bystronic’s software may, equally well, run in the cloud as on the customer’s premises. For Dimitropoulos, however, the current version of the Smart Factory product suite is only the beginning. “With our Smart Factory Software Suite, we are offering our customers an entry into a new Bystronic world in which the main focus is on growing together and jointly exploiting the opportunities of the market.”