Silafrica has been on a journey to adopt industrial IoT technology and use real-time data to optimize factory operations. Akshay Shah the Group Executive Director of Silafrica, recently had an interview with the CEO of ThingTrax, a company that supplies this technology, about Silafrica’s journey, challenges and what has been learned. If you are considering investing in similar technology, you may benefit from some of these learnings discussed in this interview. Connect with Akshay on LinkedIn to share ideas.
In today’s world, technology works hand-in-hand with manufacturing facilities to deliver fast, efficient and high-quality production outputs.
In order to keep pace with an ever-changing and competitive industry, as well as our client’s expectations, Silafrica needs to welcome new technology or risk being left behind. If that were to happen, we would jeopardize our reputation, profitability and most importantly, our employees’ jobs. There is a serious and growing need to adapt, update our way of working, and improve output to secure growth and employment well into the future.
Which begs the question – what does the future of manufacturing look like for Silafrica?
PART 1: The Beginning of the Silafrica and ThingTrax Partnership
Akshay – Hi Paul, thanks for taking the time to meet today. For those who don’t know, could you tell us a little bit about ThingTrax and what you do for us here at Silafrica?
Paul – No problem, it’s great to be here! ThingTrax is a technology solution for manufacturers which reveals deeper data into what’s happening on the factory floor, in real-time. We pepper cameras and sensors across Silafrica sites and into existing machinery, which captures information that is useful in helping workers to make better decisions – without all the hassle of manual data entry. The data captured is instantaneously analysed by our platform, and output as actionable insights that make it easy for staff and management to identify areas for improvement. This allows Silafrica the ability to resolve these as fast as possible without disruptions to production when changes, maintenance or repairs are needed. Out of curiosity, what were you using before us, and what led to choosing ThingTrax as a factory optimization tool?
Akshay – Earlier in our journey to explore IoT in Sialfrica, we ran two pilot projects with a United States and an Israeli company. They were selling something called a Manufacturing Execution System (MES). I guess the idea of being able to have some sort of Smart Factory, where we’re not relying on manual data to figure out how we optimize production efficiency and look at material controls, output, energy efficiency etc., was growing into more and more of a necessity. At the time, we didn’t have an MES or any kind of data collection that came directly from the equipment. It was all based on people manually collecting data, reading it, running calculations, and uploading it, which obviously leaves a lot of risk in human error. And I, having an IT background and understanding how IT can be used to improve business processes and efficiency, found it quite natural to explore this thing further.
A couple of years later, I visited the RPC Astrapak facilities in South Africa with the aim to share notes on thinwall injection molding, injection compression molding, IML and some other technologies that Silafrica and RPC had invested in. What led us to ThingTrax was a conversation with Frank Doorenbosch, who was at the time with RPC. Frank happened to be at the factory having lunch, so I asked the question, “What are you doing around IoT?” He said, “We’re using something called ThingTrax.” As you know, we had been experimenting and piloting the idea of using IoT at the time. So, it was that IoT journey that led to the conversation with Frank, which led us to ThingTrax.
Paul – Then I guess you started to learn at that point a tiny little bit about ThingTrax. What was the thing that piqued your interest about us, or thought you might want to explore further?
Akshay – I had already been exploring and piloting IoT for manufacturing for a couple of years, but I wanted to pilot different technologies and providers; I spoke to some start-ups. One start-up in Kenya, a couple of companies in the U.S., one in Israel, and I also talked to Bosch as they are big in IoT for manufacturing. I think that over the two years, the key insight that I got was that big companies like Bosch or Siemens have good hardware maturity. They have all the sensors that can potentially enable us to measure whatever we want in our factories, but their software flexibility was low and upfront costs were high. It would not adapt to the way that we wanted to use it to visualize the data and help us with production planning, maintenance planning, materials control or energy control. Whereas the start-up companies had more agile software where data visualization was more adaptable, but hardware maturity was low.
With this in mind, I was trying to find something that was a happy medium in between. We needed agile data visualization, because the way we visualize data to make business decisions keeps evolving. We’re not mature in how we use IoT; we’re still learning. And as one is learning, the data visualization has to adapt. The insights and the analytics must keep evolving with the way you want to understand your business. ThingTrax has almost all the hardware maturity of the big companies, but it’s also got the software agility we need to understand our business. And the cost to get started was relatively lower. These are the reasons I was attracted to ThingTrax.
“ThingTrax has almost all the hardware maturity of the big companies, but it’s also got the software agility we need to understand our business.”
To read more about the journey of the Silafrica and ThingTrax partnership, don’t miss Part 2 of this interview series.
If you’d like to learn more about implementing ThingTrax in your own factory, simply input your biggest manufacturing challenges into this form and one of our Factory Advisors will come back to you with a list of solutions tailored specifically to your needs.
Or, if you want to see ThingTrax in action first, book a free trial with us here, where we’ll connect your factory and give you access to real-time analytics and insights from your own machines in less than a day.
The time is now to invest in the digital tools that will transform your business and the technology to drive continuous improvements for your factories well into the future.