Italian mechanical-engineering firm Biesse demonstrates a successful route into Industry 4.0. The company retrofitted its own manufacturing machines and networked them with an IoT platform.

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What began as a partial digitalization of existing machinery and equipment quickly led mechanical engineering firm Biesse to new, additional sales with digital services—without costs, risks, and substantive challenges getting out of hand.

The Biesse Group case shows that smart products are not just for large corporations. The medium-sized mechanical-engineering firm from Italy has had its wood-, stone-, and glass-processing machines networked for two years and is now adding digital services to them. What’s exciting about this is that the company has managed most of the changes necessary for this by itself. It only used a little external help for planning, software, and service development—the consulting firm Accenture provided the expertise.

“For me, this digitalization project is exemplary,” says Eric Schaeffer. The managing director of industrial equipment practice at Accenture has dedicated an entire section to the development of the company in a book on industrial digitalization. “Other SMEs could learn how to succeed at Industry 4.0 from this—start small using existing products. And then, of course, grow step by step.”

What Schaeffer means is that Biesse started with in-house trials of smart machines. The company retrofitted their own manufacturing machines and networked them with an IoT platform. Then, in-house engineers and Accenture experts began to evaluate the operating data in order to increase efficiency in Biesse’s in-house production. This meant that the parties involved could quickly find out which approaches were the most promising—and before long get the first customers involved in their trials.

Start small, grow fast—always with a plan

“A small, internal start like this has three key benefits,” says Schaeffer. “Your specialists can experiment and learn without taking any major business risks. The whole thing doesn’t cost much, and it usually brings big results. If you can achieve efficiency gains in your own production, apart from a proof of concept, you will also have the means for further, more outward-oriented digitalization projects.” The latter is often crucial, particularly for smaller, less financially strong companies, he says.

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“The aim is indeed to tap into additional sales and profits as quickly as possible.”
Patrick Vollmer, Industrial Equipment Division for Germany, Accenture.

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But it is almost equally important to expand rapidly from this small start, according to Patrick Vollmer. The head of Accenture’s Industrial Equipment Division for Germany provides many German mechanical engineering companies with support for digitalization. “The aim is indeed to tap into additional sales and profits as quickly as possible.” Vollmer believes that the key to this is a plan of which services should be created based on a company’s own smart products—and how to market them. “Without this kind of roadmap you’ll usually get stuck in the experimental stage,” warns the expert.

The people at Biesse understood this early on and quickly got a plan ready. After initial internal tests, more customers would then be involved and the company’s in-house IoT platform SOPHIA further developed. The first services to be sold were also to be predictive-alert and -maintenance services. Further steps would then quickly follow. This is exactly what the company is now working on. Biesse is currently networking around 10,000 of all machines operated around the world with its own IoT platform; other services are also being prepared, including remote diagnostics, predictive maintenance, and even more comprehensive services for production optimization.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

A good plan is not everything, however, as Patrick Vollmer knows: “A good roadmap will of course aid the speed and cost control of this kind of project. But the smart use of existing resources is just as crucial.” As far as possible, companies should always use what they already have and buy anything else they need as cheaply as possible. “Companies have excellent products, and it is enough to make them ‘more digital’ to start with. And the market has plenty of good solutions for this,” says Vollmer. “Reinventing the wheel never pays off.”

Mechanical-engineering companies in particular generally already have machines with sensors, PLC- and other IT-based control systems, as well as software for production planning and control. This is precisely why most of them already have heaps of digital data. They just don't analyze them to the fullest extent. “The shortest path to the goal therefore involves the question of how to develop added value from what we already have—and how to do it quickly and cheaply,” says Vollmer.

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SOPHIA is the IoT platform created by Biesse in collaboration with Accenture which enables its customers to access a wide range of services to streamline and rationalise their work management processes. 
Image: Biesse Group/

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The people at Biesse’s headquarters in Pesaro had an answer for this, too. The company decided to analyze its own machinery and inventory data using a market-proven platform: The company selected Accenture’s Connected Platforms as a Service (CPaaS) solution as a basis for its own IoT platform, SOPHIA. It relied on existing, proven expertise for the development of solutions and services and was ready to go in a few months.

The Biesse Group example is probably well suited as an application and case study for digitalization using smart products. What began as a partial digitalization of existing machinery and equipment quickly led the company to new, additional sales with digital services—without costs, risks and substantive challenges getting out of hand.

Eric Schaeffer, at least, is sure of what is the best path to Industry 4.0 and beyond: “Biesse’s recipe for success is as clear as it is transferable. Start with existing machinery and equipment. Create a roadmap for digitally reinventing them and then develop more services based on your products, step by step. The key thing is to get your customers involved at an early stage, make use of existing resources, and never do yourself what you can buy in.”

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Biesse Group

Biesse Group is a leading specialist for materials processing. The Italian firm, which was founded by entrepreneur Giancarlo Selci in Pesaro in 1969, designs, engineers and manufactures high-tech machinery for the processing of wood, plastic, glass, stone and metal. The company’s profound expertise in Mechatronics—Biesse Group holds over 200 technology patents – allows it to manufacture best-in-class electrospindles, 5-axis heads, bevel gearboxes and drilling units for the NC processing centers of its customers. Biesse is listed on the Italian Stock Exchange – STAR segment. 

Biesse is the group's organization which specializes in the woodworking segment. Since 1969, Biesse has designed, manufactured and marketed a comprehensive range of solutions and equipment for joiners and large furniture, windows, doors, as well as wood building components manufacturers. In recent years, the company expanded into the plastic processing machinery sector, engineering special solutions for this growing market. Biesse’s machines are well-known for their digital capabilities—and for their precision: each base has a tolerance of 2 hundredths of a millimeter per linear meter.

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