In 1936, Ypres-based Picanol built its first weaving machine. Nowadays, about 2,600 weaving mills around the world use Picanol machinery, totaling more than 175,000 weaving machines. Picanol develops, produces and markets hi-tech weaving machines, based on airjet or rapier technology. Besides supplying weaving machines to weaving mills worldwide, the company also offers services such as installation, commissioning, troubleshooting, aftermarket sales (spare parts, accessories) and training.
Getting more value out of data
Thanks to digitization, weaving machines have become hi-tech instruments featuring digital innovations that speed up production, improve quality and save energy. As a pioneer in digital innovation, Picanol was seeking ways to get more value out of the data that reside in their machines. Data on energy consumption, machine efficiency and operator performance that can help make textile production more cost-efficient while also improving the quality of the fabrics produced. Not only did Picanol want to have these insights for its own R&D, it also wanted to offer these to its customers. After market consultation, Picanol decided to work with Inimco and its Facts platform.
“We were looking for a partner that combined experience with Industrial IoT (IIoT) with experience in Microsoft Azure,” says Tom D’hoop, Global Service Manager at Picanol. “We also wanted someone who has the same way of thinking as Picanol. We always combine pragmatism with flexibility, and we found that in Inimco. IoT was fairly new to Picanol at the time, and we needed someone who could provide us with guidance and would be there in the long run.” A key factor in the decision-making was the availability of the Facts platform. “That ensured we had a good platform to start from. Having Inimco.facts has allowed us to gain 12 to 18 months of implementation time.”
This led to the launch, in late 2021, of PicConnect – a cloud-based platform that centralizes all Picanol’s digital services and acts as the main communications channel with its customers, ranging from a spare parts catalog to alerting. The platform also allows customers to connect their Picanol weaving machines to the cloud environment and send machine data. PicConnect contains several tools and features which bring insight into weaving machine efficiency, energy consumption, and quality of fabric produced. This makes PicConnect the perfect embodiment of Picanol’s four design principles: Driven by Data, Sustainability Inside, Smart Performance, and Intuitive Control.
Platform benefits for Picanol and its customers
PicConnect brings advantages to both its customers and Picanol itself. Customers get better insights into how their machines work. For instance, they can compare air and power consumption of machines, identify outliers and remediate. Production monitoring allows weavers to identify which machines have stop levels that are too high, or which are running at low speeds. They can also centrally manage the settings of all their machines. “Weaving machines are quite complex,” says Frederik Filez, Business Developer Digital Solutions at Picanol. “The feature that customers are really the most interested in is the ability to compare settings between different machines. Our machines have a lot of different settings and when one machine performs better than the other, it was previously very time-consuming to spot the differences. PicConnect allows customers to quickly compare, and simply copy settings from the best-performing machine to all others in their environment.” At one specific customer, adjusting the settings of machines to the ones of the best-performing loom delivered a decrease in energy production of 5 percent. Better management of settings helps weavers improve the quality of their fabrics and reduce the proportion of B-grade fabric.
“Our R&D department learns a lot from the data that is gathered through PicConnect,” said D’hoop. “Now they have a good view on the real live working of our machines and the behavior of the user. A lot of software algorithms are running on our machines. By verifying how these algorithms actually perform, we can improve them.” PicConnect also allows Picanol to perform remote assistance, rather than going on-site. And when technicians are on-site, it makes it easier for them to communicate with the central support team.
Implementing PicConnect as a cloud platform brings several advantages. “The only thing you need to connect our machines to the platform is an internet connection,” said Filez. “Just a cable to plug in and we can start collecting data. There is no need for servers, edge equipment or any other infrastructure. Updates and upgrades come automatically, so customers always have the latest version and the latest features. Because PicConnect is a cloud platform, it also means that the platform can scale as we are rolling it out to more customers.”
A driver for innovation
PicConnect is a key enabler of innovation at Picanol. “We have a long list of ideas and features that we have gathered over the last few months,” said D’hoop. “And we also get a lot of feedback from our customers. This allows us to constantly evolve and bring in new features. Up next will be alerting: if something is going wrong or deviating from normal operations, our customers will be alerted. We are also intent on putting more Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the platform, for instance for preventive maintenance, or to detect air leaks in airjet weaving machines.”
Picanol views Inimco as a real partner, rather than merely a vendor. “We have been working closely for over three years,” said D’hoop. We really appreciate the fact of them bringing new ideas. They keep an eye on technical developments that are outside of our core business. By working together this way, we can keep bringing new value to our customers.”