Dorset Group: from raw system data to optimal processes
Monitoring and aggregating raw data from drying systems via the IXON Cloud API provides proactive service and better insights for sales.
Dorset Group is not only a supplier and manufacturer of air cleaning systems and RFID products, but also market leader in biomass drying systems. These 'Green Machines' convert waste and manure into bio-material (such as granules). The residual heat is used as an energy source. This ensures low energy consumption and reduced dust emissions at, among others, farmers and livestock farms.
The decision to collect data from systems proved to be a successful move and fits in with Dorset Group's drive for innovation.
“Providing global support was already part of our Dorset service package, for both remote control and remote software troubleshooting,” says Chris Lam, Data Engineer at Dorset Group. Due to the data requirements, Dorset chose to use IXON Cloud.
IXON offers a single platform for remote access and data monitoring, is fast, stable and future proof
Chris’ first assignment was to create insights for process optimisation of sales and customer support teams. “The data from the systems help with that. In the initial phase, it’s about monitoring and controlling after commissioning new systems or modules. Later on it’s about collecting raw data for analysis and making comparisons between systems,” Chris explains.
First of all, the raw data of the drying system’s Siemens PLC is made available in the IXON Cloud platform via the IXrouter. This includes measurement values of sensors, downtime, and alarm fault codes.
Chris has built a prototype in Power BI for gathering historical data and comparing the systems. “Via the IXON API we retrieve all our system’s data. This information is then stored centrally in a local SQL database. The data is daily imported into Power BI with a Python script,” says Chris.
The aim is to resolve faults proactively and gain quick access to all systems in the field
“The service team uses the insights to react proactively and resolve faults preventively. The urgency is determined based on the alarm codes. The sales team uses the data from existing systems to demonstrate the return on investment,” says Chris. In addition, Dorset is building a history of all systems to see, together with their engineers, how products and processes can be set up even more efficiently in the future.
Each new drying system comes with 2 years of data monitoring. “We supply three dashboards as default which are also accessible to the customer via our IXON portal. After 2 years, the customer can choose to continue this monitoring.” Because systems are mostly the same, templates and the import/export function in the IXON Cloud platform are used to configure everything easily and quickly.
Setting up the custom dashboards for new systems takes half an hour at most. We adapt our Excel sheet and import the new data tags and dashboards into the IXON portal.
Combining connectivity devices from multiple suppliers in one portal
The switch to IXON's remote access platform caused a lack of clarity for the service department. “With hundreds of systems in the field, you don’t know which customer is already equipped with an IXrouter, so you don’t want the team to have to scour two systems.”
As a solution, Chris developed the ‘Dorset Connect’ portal, in which all IXrouters and current install base are automatically placed in one portal. The project was built in Node.js and is publicly available via GitHub. The code can be (re)used by anyone.
“With Dorset Connect we can search for all customer systems and start a search with a direct link to the relevant VNC or a remote desktop. With the push of a button the customer dashboards are opened in the IXON platform,” Chris explains.
The IXON API works very well. Though, some knowledge of web techniques is required.
With the increasing customer demand for monitoring systems, Dorset Group is ahead of competition. Power BI will eventually be linked to Office 365 and Microsoft teams, and will also be integrated into the Dorset Connect portal. “We want to make our dashboards accessible for all processes,” says Chris.