Building Trust with Prototypes: An IoT
solution at Piller

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An IoT solution in the German Mittelstand? Small and medium-sized enterprises are the powerhouse of Germany's economy, but they often shy away from embedded systems technology. During an innovation cooperation with SAP's German SME department, a team from Piller Blowers & Compressors paved the way for building trust in a bigger solution: a predictive maintenance service for their higher-performance machines.

It all started with an invitation by the SAP SME team to join an innovation workshop in April 2018. One year later, Piller Blowers & Compressors prepares to deliver the first predictive maintenance ventilators to their customers. “Before that, we had different plans”, says Thomas Henzler, Chief Information Officer at Piller Blowers & Compressors. Piller wanted a digital service that informs customers about machine errors, and internal talks revolved around a simple solution sending out e-mails to users. “In a small Mittelstand company, there is a natural scepticism towards big ‘media hype topics’ like IoT”, Henzler says. The innovation workshop presented an opportunity of exploring different possibilities. A team of eight employees from the departments of Research & Development (R&D), sales, quality control, IT and finances travelled to SAP’s Innovation Center in Potsdam, Germany.

SAP’s SME department offers innovation workshops for their customers, in which they apply design thinking methodologies. This format allows SAP to start conversations, trigger important questions and understand their customer’s requirements. Tino Albrecht, Eric Krause and Raiko Lochny started the day with the challenge of developing an app for Piller’s customers which enables them to monitor their blowers and compressors.

The eight Piller employees split up into two groups, each defining the scope and framing of their team. Next, both subteams chose a central user group for their perspective and developed personas: shift foreman “Paul”, who struggles with unexpected surprises in the machinery, and machine operator “Max”, who needs to recognize machine problems early on. Tino Albrecht explains that it can be difficult to convey the importance of user research to their workshop participants, who are keen to discuss problems and pragmatically work on solutions straight away. “We deploy personas and customer journeys to push our participants towards the mindset of user-centered work, and to trigger questions that participants could ask their customers in the future”, he says. In the workshop, “a lively discussion around motivation, reasons of frustrations, goals and challenges culminated in building the persona with Lego.” The team members explored their service ideas by running them through a Customer Experience Journey Map.

    The eight Piller employees split up into two groups, each defining the scope and framing of their team.

During this, the team moved towards an IoT solution that not only informs customers about machine errors, but also provides them with a seamless service experience and Piller knowledge and data.

The second part of the workshop was dedicated to working on a low fidelity prototype. “For this, we used Design Studio with several iterations in the groups before we presented the outcomes to each other”, Albrecht explains. “We consolidated the results of the two groups into a single prototype in two further iterations”. The teams scanned their app slides and turned them into a clickable prototype with SAP’s build.me.

The Piller team left the workshop with a basic app prototype – and the openness to work on an IoT solution. “We moved away from an attitude of ‘We don’t want to blow this up into a major issue’ after seeing all the possibilities'”, Henzler explains.

In the next months, the workshop participants and their colleagues started to build prototypes of the technological setup for a predictive maintenance service. But more importantly, they started to build trust in the IoT solution: workshop participants became idea advocates in the company and carried the topic further.

    In the next months, the workshop participants and their colleagues started to build prototypes of the technological setup for a predictive maintenance service.

To visualize the process, R&D places images of all involved components on a clipboard, explaining how data is collected, sent and used. An early prototype simulated the product technology by collecting and sending data (such as internal temperature) of a desktop computer to the cloud. This prototype not only helped to gradually establish the sensory technology solution, but also to answer questions: What could this service look like? What kind of information can we gather? Such prototypes helped to overcome insecurity and mistrust towards the new solution within the company. “People immediately worry that ‘we don’t need this'”, Henzler says. “But if you have something to show that works and don’t just talk about it for three years, you can create the trust you need.” Prototypes gradually grew in fidelity, until Piller applied the system in a training facility in China, where machines are tested under real conditions.

Predictive Maintenance Service for Piller Customers

The Predictive Maintenance Service measures critical data like pressure, temperature, oscillation and performance. The data is processed on the SAP Cloud Platform in the corresponding IoT service. The service informs the machine operator if it’s necessary to intervene and starts a service process. In this way, Piller customers receive valuable information to optimize their businesses.

In the past, Piller machines collected error logs on a SD card. With the new service, Piller employees know in advance which problem they are facing. They don’t have to guess from the incomplete information they receive via phone calls, and they may even already bring the necessary spare parts with them. Piller may also advise their customer on the remaining durability of certain components before they break, which enables customers to buy spare parts in a more planned manner instead of storing them blanketly.

Until summer 2019, Piller Blowers & Compressors established the function of sending critical information from the machines to the cloud. Now, they are working on finalizing dashboards for the customer app, a ‘management cockpit’ for the machine data. In the last quarter of 2019, the first ventilators with the new technology will arrive at customer plants.

    Piller can monitor machines all over the world.

“Establishing the technology wasn’t the biggest challenge”, Henzler concludes. “The biggest challenge was to build trust in the idea and the technology internally.” By applying design thinking methodologies, the team opened up to new perspectives. “This was a major success: we did not move back into a resistant position, but developed a readiness to tackle the big issue and develop this product. The cherry on top was to see how colleagues bring in their own ideas, get excited about the project and enjoy working on it. The change of mind was impressive!” Looking back, team members are sometimes astonished to notice that they went on to implement what they planned during their sprint in Potsdam. And Henzler is convinced that “without the workshop, we wouldn’t have developed this IoT solution.”

Piller Blowers & Compressors used prototypes to build trust in an IoT solution! Click To Tweet

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The Authors

Karen von Schmieden

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  1. I liked how to implement the design process and take it for the biggest challenge which is confidence in the idea in addition to the team’s development in preparing to solve the problem now or even after that
    It was interesting to watch and read, and eventually reached
    Really has been a creative team looking to solve a problem and build an idea

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  2. Thank you for this article.
    I found a very interesting point was the sentence: “Workshop participants became idea advocates in the company and carried the topic further.” This highlights the capability of Design Thinking to enable innovation inside the company by creating an internal acceptance and change of mind. It can create intrinsic motivation to convince people of a new technology. Most often you have to sell the idea and make it attractive to certain people instead of simply listing the benefits.

    Camillo Rohe

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