Meeting the evolving needs of agricultural businesses around the world is an increasingly complex challenge.
Technological advances in machinery are no longer linked to size and horsepower, said Thomas Böck, member of the executive board and responsible for technology and systems at CLAAS Group, a global agricultural equipment manufacturer headquartered in Germany.
“Today, the focus is more on intelligent, energy-efficient machines that accomplish more while keeping operational costs to a minimum,” Böck said. “Agricultural equipment is increasingly equipped with smart technology to be IoT [Internet of Things] ready and manage working processes automatically, increasing efficiency through the whole production process.”
Agricultural firms are hungry for the latest technology to help them increase productivity and speed up cultivation, research and consulting firm Market Research Future noted in its “Agriculture Equipment Market Research Report, Global Forecast to 2022” study. But manufacturers face the challenge of fluctuating prices for raw materials, making it difficult to control costs, so Market Research Future recommends that manufacturers establish fast, efficient processes for bringing new technologies and business models to market.
“We have to be innovative in how we develop and manufacture our machines,” Böck said of CLAAS. “Innovative in our processes, systems and tools so that our response is up to par with the global challenges facing the agricultural industry.“
To achieve this, CLAAS has adopted a single digital product innovation platform used by all disciplines, providing rapid access to the company’s extensive knowledge and know-how and facilitating high-visibility collaboration to enable intelligent innovation.
It is a strategy being adopted not just by agricultural equipment manufacturers like CLAAS, but across the broad spectrum of industrial equipment manufacturers, said Greg Gorbach, vice president, digitization and IoT at global technology market research firm ARC Advisory Group. “Connecting multiple disciplines on a single platform has become essential for successful innovation across the industrial equipment industry,“ Gorbach said.
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“Industrial equipment companies are facing new competitive differentiators as customers demand more sophisticated, highly connected machines that meet their ecosystem, data, maintenance and customer experience requirements,” Gorbach said. “These new products are increasingly sophisticated and complex, and they often need to participate in one or more intelligent ecosystems. Supporting those needs involves multiple disciplines, departments and stakeholders – including customers – at every phase of the product and service lifecycle.”
By connecting everything on a single platform, organizations position themselves to compete in markets undergoing fundamental digital transformation, which greatly accelerates the speed at which companies must act.
“Disruptive technologies will change the expectations and processes of the industrial sector in ways we cannot fully anticipate,” Gorbach said. “Connecting separate systems is not enough.”
To achieve the connected innovation they need, industrial equipment companies need a platform that enables all stakeholders – from internal departments to partners and customers – to work together toward the same goal in real time, using the same data.
“With proper attention to these areas, companies can operate efficiently in an era of dynamic change, and behave as a unified whole – an intelligent, connected enterprise,“ Gorbach said. CLAAS applied precisely this thinking when implementing its enterprise-wide platform.
“It’s our strategic platform for everything we do in engineering and digitalization – from ideation to production and service,” said Nico Michels, head of digital product engineering at CLAAS.
“We can collaborate on the same product or object from any CLAAS site at the same time,” Böck said. “Not only in the engineering departments, but all downstream departments, which are able to access a product or specific object simultaneously if required.”
Benefits include end-to-end visibility into decisions that affect multiple disciplines, so that specialists can collaborate to find solutions that balance competing requirements for the best outcome.
“Product information is the same for everyone,” said Bernhard Schuchert, CIO at CLAAS. “Everyone has access to the integrated solution with the most recent designs, which we only need to maintain once since there is no duplication of information.”
While leading manufacturers like CLAAS are implementing single-platform strategies, however, many companies still have a lot of work to do, professional services network PwC cautioned in its “Global Digital Operations Study 2018.”
“Although Industry 4.0 is transforming manufacturing rapidly, in novel ways that were unimaginable just a decade ago, only a small group of companies is in a position to gain real competitive advantages from this operations revolution,” the report says. “These companies, which we call Digital Champions, are noteworthy because they view digitization in ways that are far-reaching and aggressively innovative, well beyond mere automation and networking.”
At CLAAS, having a single digital platform enables the company to future-proof not only its products, but its entire business.
“To make our machines future-proof, we need to add new or upgrade current technology in existing machines, which will enable them to provide owners with sustainable added value for years to come,” Böck said. “Since the design data for every machine we develop is stored and managed in the same platform, it’s easy to add additional features over the machine’s lifecycle and provide this to the customer without having to develop a new machine every time a new technology comes along. Our response is faster and our customers are happy because our solution is more cost effective.”
“As for our processes, we achieved major improvements because we had the opportunity to rethink and reengineer old ways of working,” Michels said. “With the platform, we are set for the future.”
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