Predictive maintenance: Appsolute efficiency

Help your customers to cut costs and manufacture more efficiently while creating new business opportunities: Heller knows how. The machine tool manufacturer has developed its own intelligent app for monitoring machine statuses available in MindSphere. The app includes digital services that drastically reduce maintenance, repair, and production costs.

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Bernd Zapf quickly crosses the long reception hall of the brick building that is rich in history and has been home to the Heller family-owned business for generations and rushes to a meeting with his colleagues from the service team. As head of development new business and technology at Heller, or “DN,” Zapf often hears at these meetings what challenges Heller customers are facing: “In recent years, flexibility in production has increased at a steady pace. Our customers are currently struggling with the need for more flexibility and greater competitive pressure. They need to deliver better product quality while keeping operating costs down and maximizing production efficiency. This means machine down­time needs to be avoided completely because it costs money.”


This last aspect in particular has attracted Heller’s attention. The machine tool manufacturer knows what impact machine downtime can have and how important it therefore is to continuously monitor all its machines. When Heller service technicians reported that customers were also looking for a solution in this area, this motivated creativity within the DN and Service Product Development departments. And so the idea for the Heller Services ­Interface app was born. The app visualizes the status and operating data of machines in a clear and transparent interface. Zapf and his team asked themselves two critical questions in this project: How do app users, that is, customers, get the machine data onto their browser-­based device – and what about industrial security in this area? They held intensive meetings with Siemens to answer these questions and come up with a solution.

Reducing prejudice


The idea behind the app is easily explained: In a first step, Sinumerik Integrate makes critical machine status and operating data available in the cloud. Regarding the platform, the company opted for MindSphere, the leading industrial IoT as a service solution from Siemens, because it allows the required data to be retrieved by the app and visualizes it on a mobile device in the Heller Services Interface. In addition, because industrial security is a top priority, Siemens used only the latest security and encryption technologies to record, trans­­mit, archive, and process the data in MindSphere.


Some customers have been testing an initial version of the app since May. If the app continues to run in a stable manner, it can be rolled out as early as the end of the year. However, Heller did not have to face the actual challenge until after the Heller Services Interface was developed. As Zapf explains: “To our customers, our app, and in particular everything that happens with the data from the machines’ monitors, was initially very abstract. We had to develop trust and explain to them that this really would deliver ­significant benefits and value added and ultimately save them money.”

In recent years, flexibility in production has increased at a steady pace
Bernd Zapf, Head of Development New Business and Technologies at Heller

Rent or buy?


In the future, customers will have two options for using the new app. On the one hand, they can conclude a ­comprehensive service agreement as part of the Heller TPS options, which Heller offers for all its machines and also can include retrofitting existing systems, where required. Under this agreement, the customer receives the Heller app, which enables a transparent presentation of all the primary production and maintenance data. Heller does all the maintenance work itself under this agreement, because the machine tool manufacturer can also use the app to maintain an overview of all of its customers’ machines and their respective statuses. If maintenance is necessary or if there is an unexpected machine overload, Heller can intervene immediately.

Heller’s thinking went further for the second option: How can we reach even more customers? In particular, also customers for whom the purchase of a machine tool is a major financial burden? In response to this question, a machine usage model called Heller4Use was developed: Heller provides its customers with its machines and ensures 24/7 system availability with the new app. Ultimately, customers only pay for the time during which the machine is running, which allows them to reliably calculate costs.

Win-win situation for all


This cloud-based application was developed in the course of an intensive, two-year collaboration between Heller and Siemens. The resulting application delivers value added to all parties. On the one hand, Heller can maintain an overview of its machines and their statuses. On the other hand, regardless of whether the machine is provided by Heller4Use or is a proprietary Heller system, customers can be sure they receive reliable ­service from Heller which prevents unplanned downtime as well as possible. Thanks to the collaboration, Siemens has also found a competent specialist in the machine tool industry. This is, quite literally, a hAPPy ending for everyone involved.



Picture credits: Siemens AG


The Internet of Things (IoT), or the network of physical devices over the Web, is the driving force behind digitalization. With MindSphere, the cloud-based, open IoT operating system, Siemens offers a cloud platform for the IoT through which data from these objects are collected, linked, and analyzed. This allows companies from various industry sectors to optimize their productivity and efficiency over the long term. Small and medium-sized enterprises can also benefit: Cloud solutions offer the benefit of not requiring any special IT know-how and uses the latest security and encryption technologies to handle data.

The reception area in a brick building on the premises of Heller, the Nürtingen, Germany-based machine tool manufacturer, is spacious, well-lit, contemporary, yet welcoming. The company was founded by Ernst and Hermann Heller in 1894 as a small family-owned business. Over the past 123 years, the company has become a successful medium-sized manufacturer of machine tools operating internationally, but is still managed by the family today. What began at the end of the 19th century with seven journeymen and three apprentices has now grown into a multinational company with more than 2,500 highly skilled employees.

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