When you’re considered the pinnacle of your industry, your brand is synonymous with quality and industry leadership. That applies to ESAB, a division of Colfax, with its world-renowned welding, cutting, gas equipment, and consumables. Since its founding in 1904, ESAB has grown to supply a broad portfolio of equipment and wire to companies in nearly every industry, including automotive, civil construction, manufacturing, shipbuilding, and power generation.
Providing solutions to virtually every welding application, ESAB serves companies from multi-billion dollar enterprises to niche welding shops. As the only company globally to produce and distribute an entire range of cutting, welding, gas, and consumable products, ESAB gains unique insights that positions it for continuous innovation.
ESAB’s customers manufacture complex products such as tractors, ships, and mining equipment. The process involves numerous steps, including machine set-up, cutting and grinding metal, and welding metal together.
Customer pain points included managing stringent cost pressures, dealing with an aging workforce, and managing quality control and regulatory documentation.
High productivity is essential to maintaining cost competitiveness in manufacturing. In a factory with numerous interdependencies, a welding or cutting delay could halt the entire production line, triggering compounding cost impacts from equipment downtime.
Welding is both an art and a science, and ESAB realized customers were struggling to maintain quality in the face of an aging workforce. As experienced welders retired, customers lost craftsmanship forged by decades of experience. The junior welders that replaced them often struggled to produce quality welds at production pace.
Customers were burdened by the need to maintain extensive documentation for traceability and auditing. Decades after a weld is performed, manufacturers of aerospace, defense and other high-end equipment are expected to produce documentation that validates the quality of welds in the event of equipment failure. This caused a paperwork burden for both ESAB and the customer alike.
But with each of these customer challenges comes an opportunity, and ESAB seized the opening. “We knew our customers could significantly improve their processes – and gain incredible insights– if we enabled them to leverage our portfolio of equipment and supplies in a connected way,” explains Eyal Shahar, Director, Cloud Products & Services at ESAB.
ESAB Digital Solutions improves productivity and quality by providing insight into the usage and performance of welding and cutting operations worldwide. In addition to driving customer improvements, the solution also provides ESAB with a wealth of intelligence to improve consumable sales, establish industry-wide best practices, and serve as a trusted advisor to its industrial client base. From a unified platform, ESAB customers can easily manage their equipment and supplies and gain a real-time view of production workflows.
“We wanted to enable a seamless customer experience across the entire fabrication workflow while allowing customers to easily share data between their equipment.” Eyal Shahar, Director, Cloud Products & Services, ESAB
By monitoring each stage of the welding process, ESAB Digital Solutions empowers customers to:
“We are connecting every step of the metalworking process to improve quality and productivity, ensure traceability, and greatly reduce the paperwork typically associated with that workflow,” says Shahar.
In tune with marketplace changes, ESAB was well aware that an Internet of Things (IoT) platform was the best way to enable its digitally enabled services. It kick-started its digital transformation initiative by making plans to develop its own on-premise IoT platform.
This initiative was not without complexity. While educating and securing executive approval, ESAB contended with difficult to modernize legacy equipment and business units with personal IoT agendas. It was clear the digital transformation had to be dynamic and responsive.
“We knew the IoT was a way to drive new business and further differentiate, but as a discrete manufacturer, we were ill equipped to develop an IoT platform in-house. Furthermore, we needed the enterprise security and scalability of a proven solution,” says Shahar.
Excellence in product design and development is core to ESAB’s innovation mission. The company relies on Creo for advanced 3D design and Windchill for product data management. Together, these provide a strong digital foundation by managing the hundreds of thousands of files that comprise the company’s core asset, its intellectual property. Windchill is also a good fit with the company’s global, multi-CAD development strategy.
After years of in-house development, ESAB turned to PTC for its ThingWorx platform and Microsoft for the Azure cloud platform. Shahar explains, “ThingWorx on Microsoft Azure was precisely the solution needed to bring our strategic vision into reality.”
ThingWorx is an IoT platform that empowers teams to easily connect, build, analyze and manage devices, assets and systems from edge to cloud. The platform provides smart analytics and AI-powered machine learning, among other capabilities, giving ESAB everything it needs in an IoT platform.
IoT Hub is a capability of the Microsoft Azure cloud, which acts as a central message hub for bi-directional communication between IoT applications and devices. Azure IoT Hub together with Azure AD, device provisioning, Cosmos DB and stream analytics allowed ESAB to build IoT solutions with reliable and secure communications between millions of IoT devices and a cloud-hosted solution backend.
Combined, ThingWorx and Microsoft cloud were a powerful combination that allowed ESAB to rapidly design, develop and deploy IoT applications with enterprise-level security and scalability.
“We wanted to build on the best technologies, which is why we chose ThingWorx and Azure cloud. We were able to accelerate our time to market and safeguard critical data with ThingWorx and Azure, ensuring we can quickly capitalize on IoT opportunities while staying focused on adding value to our portfolio of products,” continues Shahar.
After re-platforming and joint kick start meeting in January 2018, ESAB was testing a commercially available product by June 2018.
WeldCloud efficiently compiles, interprets and displays key weld data—such as who was welding, for what amount of time, and how much wire was consumed—without distracting from welding procedures.
ESAB customers access this data via embedded power sources and even legacy ESAB and competitive equipment via the WeldCloud Universal Connector. WeldQAS provides an automatic welding quality assurance and monitoring system, while WeldScanner enables real-time monitoring and recording of arc characteristics.
Because WeldCloud ensures a high quality of welds, indicating the reason for any deviation from the required results very close to real time, it enables newer welders to gain confidence and proficiency quickly. It also positions experienced welders to raise their productivity and to oversee the work of newer welders and help them progress more rapidly.
Along the way, WeldCloud digitally documents the entire weld process, dramatically saving the time associated with tracing back to pinpoint the root cause of an issue. ESAB customers can generate reports with the click of a button.
With the data displayed by WeldCloud, ESAB customers can compare productivity, quality, and other factors between shifts, machines, welders, and entire factories. They can even detect and correct issues in real time, such as correcting filler metal type and preheat levels of base material. Customers can subscribe to notifications on equipment maintenance, consumable inventory And productivity thresholds.
“WeldCloud provides a means to measure productivity in nearly real time,” says Shahar. “And when you measure productivity, you can improve it.”
In manual MIG welding, it’s common for customers to boost equipment utilization from 10% to 20% arctime on. This is a tremendous productivity boost. By understanding productivity, these customers reallocate welding resources to reduce bottlenecks, improving First Pass Yield and Overall Equipment Effectiveness.
Other ESAB customers reduce time spent managing welding documentation from hours to mere minutes.
With a stable digital platform established, ESAB is setting its sights on improving the overall manufacturing process. It also plans to take advantage of ThingWorx Analytics to enable automated preventive maintenance and to deliver recommendations to customers, such as when to order gas or wire. Even better, it wants to capitalize on real-time operational data so it can automatically notify its customers’ suppliers when new supplies are needed.
“All of our digital solutions are live in the ThingWorx/ Azure cloud, which is the most secure in the world. By leveraging PTC and Microsoft expertise and technologies, we can concentrate on improving the fabrication and manufacturing process while giving our customers confidence that our solutions are the best. Our PTC and Microsoft partnerships are one reason our digital solutions are leading the IIoT revolution,” concludes Shahar.
All of our digital solutions are live in the ThingWorx/ Azure cloud, which is the most secure in the world. By leveraging PTC and Microsoft expertise and technologies, we can concentrate on improving the fabrication and manufacturing process while giving our customers confidence that our solutions are the best.~ Eyal Shahar, Director, Cloud Products & Services, ESAB
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