by Thor Olavsrud

Heidelberg data platform transforms the printing press

Feb 26, 2019
AnalyticsBig DataDigital Transformation

The 150-year-old company’s interactive digital platform gives its industrial offset press customers real-time access to data about the service and performance status of their print shops.

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Credit: Getty Images

Predictive maintenance has become a kind of bellwether for digital transformation in the manufacturing industry, and here, German precision mechanical engineering company Heidelberg has been among those manufacturers leading the way.

Since 2002, Heidelberg has provided predictive monitoring and performance consulting to its customers, thanks to machine data it has collected by connecting its industrial offset printing presses to the internet. This data, transmitted, for example, in case of a service incident, proactively alerts Heidelberg to any issues that need to be addressed, says Tom Oelsner, head of digital innovation at Heidelberg.

“The customer no longer needs to pick up the phone. That is how our smart diagnostic tool, eCall, supports a proactive service operation,” he says.

Until recently, though, this data was opaque to customers. “We talk about big data transmitted from machines, we calculate KPIs and visualize trend lines, but in the end only the customer value counts. Can the customer improve or not is the ultimate benchmark,” Oelsner says.

Heidelberg’s answer was to create an interactive digital platform dubbed the Heidelberg Assistant, which has earned Heidelberg a 2019 Digital Edge 50 Award for digital innovation. Heidelberg Assistant uses big data in the cloud to provide Heidelberg’s customers with round-the-clock real-time access to information about the service and performance status of their print shops. The platform includes access to performance and predictive data, contracts, invoice details, and the smart eShop.

Heidelberg Assistant

Heidelberg Assistant is a single digital platform that connects global machine data and technical data to the Heidelberg Cloud, which brings together data from more than 11,000 press machines and 25,000 software modules to enable remote diagnosis, predictive monitoring, performance benchmarking, and quality certification.

Customers say Heidelberg Assistant allows them to provide full details of service requirements to Heidelberg in an automated process and get back real-time information about things like the clarification process or deployment planning, which is then incorporated directly into their maintenance planner.

Heidelberg deployed Heidelberg Assistant in select markets beginning in December 2017, reaching 500 customers worldwide in its first year. Heidelberg also hit its target of 35 percent weekly active customers for the portal, Oelsner says, well in excess of the 20 percent utilization for average applications worldwide. All that is having an impact on the bottom line, as Heidelberg Assistant is already contributing to service business revenue well above the company’s expectations, and the number is expected to grow substantially as the rollout continues, Oelsner adds.

The power of design thinking

Design thinking has proved instrumental to Heidelberg Assistant’s success, Oelsner says. The methodology, which centers on designing products and services with a deeper understanding of those who will use them, is increasingly popular among organizations undergoing digital transformations.

Out of the gate, Oelsner’s team involved 10 select customers and identified the roles or ‘personas’ of the employees inside a customer that might need insight into one of Heidelberg’s presses. For instance, how does a shift operator interact with the press, and what information might that shift operator need during that time?

“This was, for me personally, an eye opener, because we went to the first customer and explained how wonderful our pie charts are about performance and what you can learn from this and the customer gave us clear feedback: … Prediction does not solve any issue. If I have a machine break, how do I get informatoin whether on-site service is scheduled and when a service part is arriving?” Oelsner says.

These are the sorts of simple details that are essential to a user but usually don’t come in as a requirement.

“This is what you avoid with design thinking because you get the voice of the customer directly,” Oelsner says.

Transformational change

From the top down, Heidelberg has a clear mission to digitize and transform its business. Even with that directive, though, Oelsner says the process has included challenges.

“As Heidelberg goes digital, this is an enterprise initiative,” Oelsner says. “We had sponsorship from the beginning and customers were pushing us in this direction, no question about it. Nevertheless, it is a big change.”

Technology is only one part, Oelsner explains.

“It was very important to get from all upper and middle managers, and including all the employees that work on this service desk, their commitment that we can really offer this new digital service, and this was a challenge because, just like in any change management project, if you do not win the hearts, heads, and hands of the people that really must execute this, you will fail,” Oelsner says.

Oelsner says he and his team handled this challenge by seeking to involve all employees and managers in the project from the beginning. They explained the plan, gathered requirements, and invested in “over-the-shoulder” interviews with service desk employees to truly understand what they were setting out to transform.

Oelsner also credits assembling the right team for Heidelberg Assistant’s success. This was especially important in a company with more than 150 years of history and tradition behind it, he says. Middle management can be resistant to change when the company has been doing business in a particular way for more than 100 years.

“You have to really be an entrepreneur to start such an idea,” Oelsner says. “This means IT is important, product management is important, customer-centricity is important, and you have to assemble a team where these functions are no longer separate. This is a complete other working style than what we know from other line organizations. It’s mission critical that you come to a point that the team is really acting like a startup company.”