Paving the way for mining & construction industry upgrades through innovative technology

Rock crusher upgrade business from a PLM perspective

Global trends of ecology and sustainable development, safety awareness, changing legislation, and urbanization, together with the economic situation, force industry to find solutions for extending product lifecycles, while maintaining and improving machine system performance and other properties during the lifecycles. Together with these societal issues, firms are struggling with competitiveness. The higher level problem concerns making upgrade delivery projects profitable and more desirable for customers, manufacturing OEMs and suppliers. The main recognized and treated bottlenecks relate to knowing the actual status of the upgrade target, communication and collaboration with stakeholders, verification and validation of upgrade specifications and an efficient information flow between the stakeholders.

The industrial case

VR Technology for solutions in cluster 2

Use-It-Wisely partners; an Original Equipment Manufacturer (Metso Minerals), engineering partner (RD Velho) and an R&D Institution (VTT), worked on equipment manufacturing and services for the mining and construction sectors. Metso, a manufacturer of rock crushers wants to serve their customers by providing machine upgrade solutions that support machine utilization and the customers’ capability for crushing rocks, for instance, near urban areas, by decreasing the noise and dust levels of the machines. This is challenging, because every partially configurable machine individual is different when it leaves the factory and it is often modified by the customer or a third party during its lifecycle. The lifecycle may exceed ten or even twenty years and, during that time, machine deformations typically occur, due to harsh conditions. Therefore, it is difficult to know the status of the machines at the customer sites, around the world. Thus, machine upgrade projects are, generally, not very attractive or profitable.

 

The Challenge

The main industrial problem concerns making upgrade services profitable and establishing a business model to support that goal. This biggest bottlenecks are:

  • Knowing the actual status of the upgrade target, thus getting initial data and information for an upgrade delivery project
  • Global communication with customers in the field, to form a true understanding of their needs and possible limitations
  • Validation of customer requirements, to ensure that the needs are understood and correctly specified
  • Management of upgrade service products and offerings
  • Support of engineering design of upgrades, taking into account the limitations
  • Collaboration and communication between the upgrade stakeholders
  • Validation of the proposed upgrade solution with the customer
  • Efficient information flow during delivery of the upgrade project.

 

Tool selection

The preliminary and principal selection of the proposed tools and solutions for the above described bottlenecks and the PLM information related problems are partly based on previous experiences with certain tools and techniques, and partly on a collaboration with other Clusters and partners, in the Use-it-Wisely EU-project.

 

Augmented reality (AR), Virtual environments (VE), camera based 3D scanning, and cloud based solutions are the selected pieces of technology for solving the bottlenecks. They enable better communication, collaboration and involvement of all stakeholders, including customers, internal stakeholders, suppliers and partners. They also better enable the planning of service quality activities. Product life-cycle management (PLM) is the framework for developing and managing product related information, processes and collaboration expanding towards product middle-of-life, end-of-life, and service lifecycle management. Metso Minerals, RD Velho and VTT carried out a proof-of-concept study that demonstrates the potential of contributions to business model innovations and game changes for upgrading business.

 

Tool applications and solution to the company challenges

The major business problems are:

  • How to make upgrade business profitable
  • How to establish a successful business model for rock crushing machine upgrades
  • How to manage upgrade service projects efficiently.

These questions were approached by modelling the as-is situation in the case companies, discussing it with the product stakeholders and recognizing the most remarkable bottlenecks of the machine upgrade projects. These included communication channels on the customer interface, validation of the problem definition with the customer, getting the initial data for the project, effectively designing an upgrade solution, verification of the solution and validation with the customer and end user. The business cases were created with the requirement of cheap and easy to use technology that can be integrated with business solutions.

 

Trials and Demonstrations

The tools and solutions to enable an innovative new business model for upgrading old machines were tested and developed during three trials and a demonstration period. This section introduces a summary of the goals, methods and results of the trials and demonstrations.

The demonstration phase was aimed at proving the technical maturity, usability and usefulness from the viewpoints of end users, customers and other stakeholders, as well as to demonstrate the big picture (capability from upgrade delivery process and data management viewpoints) and business impact potential.

Previously, there were no dedicated process or method definitions for old machine upgrade projects. Product processes of the OEM company have been optimized for configuring and producing new machine variants, and the upgrade projects have been disturbing this day-to-day business. Moreover, it has had a narrow perspective without taking into consideration the roles of partners, suppliers and customers. Firstly, the UIW approach made these processes and roles explicit, taking into account the whole chain, from customer needs to upgrade deliveries. Secondly, in the UIW approach, the aforementioned pieces of technology enable the retrieval of information on the initial situation at a customer site, collaborative design and verification and validation of the upgrade solutions (Figure 5). Cloud solutions enable information flow and processing.

 

Results

The high level business problem to be solved concerned making upgrade delivery projects profitable and more desirable for customers, manufacturing OEMs and suppliers. The main recognized and treated bottlenecks were related to knowing the actual status of the upgrade target, communication and collaboration with stakeholders, verification and validation of upgrade specifications, and an efficient information flow between the stakeholders.

Augmented reality (AR), Virtual environments (VE), camera based 3D scanning, and cloud based solutions were selected in order to solve the bottlenecks. One principle in the selection was to use commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) tools, as much as possible. Laser based 3D scanning (active) was also tested and compared with camera based photogrammetric scanning (passive). The accuracy of laser scanning was better, but camera based was chosen because of its mobility and ease of use. Nowadays, almost everyone carries a smartphone, which makes camera-based 3D scanning attractive. 3D scanning enables fast and cost efficient acquisition of the actual 3D model of the product individuals, at customer sites. VE is a means to visualize scan based 3D models, as well as CAD based 3D models, so that all stakeholders can better understand them. This enables better communication, collaboration and involvement of all stakeholders, including customers, internal stakeholders, suppliers and partners. With the use of VE and AR, it is possible to illustrate upgrade offerings for customers and to test proposed solutions, virtually. They also enable the planning and discussing of service activities. The proposed solutions can be verified and validated, before building physical products. VE/AR and PLM based solutions enable more fluent information flows and sharing, which improves overall productivity. Cloud based PLM enables automation of data operations and flows dynamically between the stakeholders.

Technology maturity, usability and usefulness were evaluated from a business benefit viewpoint. It can be concluded that maturity and usability are not yet quite good enough, but taking into account the current speed of development of such devices, they probably will be good enough, in the near future. However, this study was more of a proof-of-concept, which demonstrated the potential of contributing to business model innovation and game change, in an upgrade business. The tools and methods were not actually integrated with business processes and information management systems in production. Questions still remain as to what level of integration is needed between the tools and the IT systems for cost efficiency, and what kind of PLM information model development is needed. However, these aspects were kept in mind and carefully considered. In principle, there are no major technical obstacles for implementation and integration of the whole architecture. However, in addition to the technical issues, new processes and work methods may require an even greater effort.

 

Conclusion

This study has practical implications in industry and implications in PLM and engineering design research. This paper shows how novel technology can be utilized in industry and how it might enable business model innovations related to individual product upgrade services. However, this also requires a holistic and humanistic approach, taking into account processes, organizations, networks, leadership and ways of working. This paper contributes to research by discussing the closed-loop PLM concept, involving virtualization of product-service system development and upgrading product individuals in MOL and EOL lifecycle phases. Connection to Product Avatars and the Industry4.0 concept was also discussed, from the perspective of the virtualization of product individuals and the enrichment of the digital 3D model, with knowledge from the middle and end of life phases. How VE and AR contribute to PLM was also discussed, in this context.

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