Highest quality standards

Convenience food manufacturer relies on SAP MES for production control

As part of a digitization initiative in production, the food manufacturer Hilcona has introduced a future-proof Manufacturing Execution System (MES). Various isolated applications were replaced and the system landscape was standardized. Thanks to know-how transfer by the SAP project house IGZ involved, the system can now be rolled out and adapted almost independently.

With the introduction of a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), Hilcona AG, a food manufacturer in the fresh convenience sector, has created a new standard for all manufacturing processes and locations throughout the company. Without the use of any paper, continuous digitization has since enabled seamless monitoring as well as online traceability and documentation of the product origins of all production processes in real time.

Founded in 1935 as a canning factory, Hilcona with its approximately 2,000 employees has been part of the Bell Food Group since 2017. The product range includes pasta and sauces, frozen foods, ready meals, vegan and vegetarian alternative products, canned foods and sandwiches. Production takes place at the headquarters in Schaan in the Principality of Liechtenstein, in the Swiss towns of Orbe and Landquart, and in Bad Wünnenberg in Germany.

Grown structures have increasingly limited

In view of increasing demand for fresh convenience goods, production was subject to a daily stress test. This was primarily due to a large number of different software solutions and could no longer be absorbed in the long term. There was no comprehensive, uniform MES for all areas, paper-based order processing was prone to errors, and feedback was always delayed. In addition, there was a lack of transparency in the management of inventories. End-to-end traceability was only guaranteed with a great deal of manual effort . With an age of more than 15 years, the proprietary systems had also reached the set end-of-life status. Furthermore, the necessary adjustments and extensions to the existing solution could not be carried out by the company itself. The dependency on external partners was too great for those responsible.

Standardized MES for all processes and locations

So there was great pressure to act. "In 2017, we started preparing the implementation of SAP MII together with IGZ, the SAP project house for production," reports Hilcona project manager Martin Steiner. In addition to replacing the outdated subsystems, the planned introduction of a uniform, standardized MES focused on switching from paper-based to software-based, automated production control. The aim was to achieve a harmonized system landscape in conjunction with significant improvements in quality and effectiveness - including online process interlocking and control. The MES to be implemented was to enable cross-departmental real-time monitoring and the connection and visualization of machine statuses in order to establish uniform key performance indicators (KPI and OEE) for all plants. The goal was also to be able to continuously identify and develop potential for improvement across departments and sites.

MES Pilot as a pioneer

The SAP MES implementation in Schaan and Orbe was conceptualized on the basis of the deployment analysis conducted by IGZ, which served as the decision-making basis for jointly tackling the ambitious project. After completion of the jointly developed migration concept based on a phase model, the go-ahead was given in the third quarter of 2018 for the implementation of SAP MII (Manufacturing Integration and Intelligence) for a pilot in the filling production in Schaan. There, various raw materials such as spinach, cheese and pesto are prepared for further processing. The basis was an MES base template for batch production.

In addition to the replacement of the existing weighing system, the focus was on scale integration using the IGZ best practice solution "Weighing + Dispensing" and comprehensive ERP integration. Furthermore, the IGZ best practice "Flow + Pack" was used for online SAP MES order processing and control for the best possible process integration. Thanks to the integration of production-relevant documents such as manufacturing, setup and cleaning instructions, paperless order processing and documentation are now a daily standard at Hilcona.

The IGZ best-practice "Order Cockpit" optimizes fine order control, including setup and cleaning control, and makes it possible to react at short notice to unforeseen events during production.

By means of mobile SAP MES interfaces, an optimized replenishment application and inventory management were also implemented. The SAP MES is also responsible for monitoring and supplying production with raw materials.

Roll-outs to further divisions and additional sites

At the beginning of 2020, the pilot was rolled out to additional departments in Schaan and to the production site in Orbe. Based on the existing SAP MES basic template, dedicated functions were expanded, for example, the usability of the MES system was further improved - among others for the preparation and dough production departments as well as for the spice preparation.

In the next step, the basic template for the flow production processes for fresh pasta in Schaan was expanded. The existing non-SAP control station was replaced as one of the first measures. Thanks to the SAP-MII control station, all systems and machines such as process trolleys, primary and secondary labelers, and other sub-systems within the flow manufacturing process are now standardized.

The IGZ best practice "Fill + Pack" served as a project accelerator here. Highly dynamic machine integration was used to implement visualization of plant availability by means of a control station down to the status of each individual machine. This currently affects around 120 machines, including checkweighers, metal detectors and sterilization units. Hilcona is aiming to integrate around 200 machines in the future. The number of workstations and area-specific master data is correspondingly large.

Thanks to SAP MES, process parameters such as speed, temperature and programs are now also provided in Schaan. In parallel, feedback on process values is generated online in real time on the basis of completed orders. These can be yields, rejects and/or actual times.

Thanks to the creation of a consistently adjusted and complete data basis, Hilcona is also already in a position to use KPI and OEE determination according to the Weihenstephaner Standard, including evaluation and monitoring as well as reporting via IGZ best practice "OEE 4.0" - across departments and sites. The Weihenstephan Standard was developed by a working group consisting of mechanical engineers, equipment suppliers, and IT system houses under the leadership of the Technical University of Munich (TUM) at the Chair of Food Packaging Technology in Weihenstephan.

Unmanned production and accompanying testing

At the beginning of 2021, among other things, flow production was rolled out in Orbe (sandwich and fresh pizza) and in other departments at the Schaan site. In addition, the basic templates for batch and flow production were expanded. In particular, production-accompanying quality inspections using QM functions in SAP MES were the focus of the successful implementation. Since these were not available in the non-SAP ERP system or were not used, SAP MES now handles actual ERP applications such as inspection planning, recording and evaluation. In addition, the machine integration concept was expanded or prepared for unmanned production, i.e. machines and MES operate interactively without employee intervention. In addition, specific process requirements could be integrated, for example, hygienization, wave formation for production supply, decanting and much more.

As part of the close cooperation, there was a constant transfer of know-how from IGZ to Hilcona's core SAP MES team. Thanks to this train-the-trainer principle, the department-specific key users were able to successively build up their own knowledge in order to be able to carry out further adjustments and roll-outs based on the available templates as far as possible on their own in the future. This gives Hilcona a high degree of flexibility, for example, to adapt the system itself. The dependency on external partners could thus be greatly reduced. In parallel, Hilcona's experts set up ERP master data in line with the roll-out speed. Possible risks during the introduction of the SAP MES could thus be further minimized and the strategic roll-out made more secure.

Efficiency and ergonomics increased

Online user guidance guarantees process reliability, and automation means that manual data entry tends toward zero. At Hilcona, the SAP MES also ensures that production is replenished as needed and that traceability is maintained down to the level of individual containers. Paperless production and in-process inspections ensure the quality of the food produced. The move away from stationary dialogs to mobile applications has also noticeably and measurably increased work ergonomics and efficiency.

Independently into the future

By implementing SAP MII in production, Hilcona benefits from an open, scalable system landscape. A high degree of independence is ensured. As a result of the know-how transfer by IGZ, it can act largely independently, for example, in the upcoming roll-outs in the Landquart and Bad Wünnenberg plants. "By digitizing production using SAP MES, we can react flexibly to changing market requirements. We are very well equipped for the future," sums up Hilcona project manager Steiner. IGZ is not only an experienced partner for SAP MII, but also a reliable logistics expert. Hilcona will be able to benefit from this in the planned integration of production logistics with SAP EWM (SAP Extended Warehouse Management) and SAP MES-based production control.

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