Picture shows an employee of Schwan Cosmetics with goggles and hood, in the foreground he holds cables; black-and-white-gradient

The influencers behind the factory gates

Schwan-STABILO Cosmetics GmbH & Co. KG, or Schwan Cosmetics for short, uses HoloLens to maintain its production machines around the world.

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“What the heck?!” – David Wilson does not understand what is happening. For days now, a cooling unit from the production machine in front of him has been losing leakage water. Drop by drop, which he has had to collect in a bucket. He has had parts replaced. He has sent e­mails to the main office in Heroldsberg, near Nuremberg. He has had external technicians look at the machine here in Murfressboro, in the U.S. state of Tennessee. Yet the sobering result – almost depressingly unvarnished: Nothing has worked. So now, Wilson goes to the digital version, puts on a pair of HoloLens glasses, goes up to  the cooling unit, and lets three colleagues from Germany, 4,700 miles away, virtually look over his shoulder.

There, on their office computers in Heroldsberg, Bavaria, the three colleagues literally have Davids’ exact field of view on their monitors. Wilson moves his gaze along the lines over and over, expertly comparing notes with the others in real time through the jointly developed remote support solution, until one of the men on the virtual team begins to suspect something. He is someone with a background in tinsmithing – a traditional trade involving sheet metal working – who follows an instinct developed from decades of experience and advises his U.S. colleague: “David, would you please take off all the insulation from the lines?” And minutes later – voilà: “During the last installation, someone actually forgot to take out a stop valve in the line that didn’t belong there. That solved it. Nobody, I don’t care who it is, would have figured that out by themselves,” said Bernd Preuschoff, senior vice president of digital transformation at Schwan Cosmetics, who developed the HoloLens application together with his colleagues in cooperation with T-Systems MMS and introduced it to the company.

Avoiding Cardinal Errors

Picture shows a Schwan Cosmetics employee with headset watching a process on the monitor.

Using HoloLens technology, experts at the Schwan Cosmetics headquarters in Heroldsberg control the worldwide maintenance of their machines.

“What can be digitized is being digitized,” said Lars Vogel, head of T­Systems Multimedia Solutions in Munich. There are already numerous “chief digital officers”, working groups or think tanks are being formed, and companies with the necessary cash are founding hip branches in Berlin, yerba mate iced tea and chill­out lounges included. That is all well and good, but here and there it is sometimes hardly more than cosmetic. A bit of digital polish, in a manner of speaking, that only covers the surface. This is where the global player from Franconia, steeped in tradition, takes another path. Here, at one of the world’s largest producers of eyeliner, lip liner, and kohl pencils, digitization seeps deep into the pores, comes alive, and is the company’s bread and butter. However, the secret recipe for this is actually no secret at all: Here, digital transformation begins with the people and not with the machinery.

Everyone is familiar with the products of this industrial holding company, which was founded back in the 19th century, and has likely held at least one of them in their hands before or even uses them daily – which is, of course, always much better for customer loyalty. They are the highlighters with the characteristic shape and equally un forgettable name of “Boss”, the distinctly orange­colored fineliners with the white stripes for calligraphers, the eyeliners and lip liners from well­known cosmetic brands. All highly haptic products that have since also developed a strong connection to the new digital world. “When a known influencer with more than 100 million followers posts a video on YouTube on Tuesday giving makeup tips with our new kohl pencil, that same day, the wires start buzzing with new orders and production has to put the pedal to the metal,” reported Preuschoff. Incited by social media, the demand for one or two dedicated products can scale up exponentially. Both in national markets and worldwide.

“Digitalization starts with people – not at the level of machines.“

Bernd Preuschoff, VP Digital Transformation Schwan Cosmetics

A Bat Of An Eye With A Strange Impact

What power and the kind of dynamics digitization can unleash in real time have long been known in Heroldsberg. Not only that, they are actually orienting their business toward it – deeply, with focus on the future. Not just polish.

This is why they understood from the get­go how to go about using data glasses like HoloLens in the workplace. The immersion into “new work” began with virtual/augmented reality in order to optimize the maintenance processes at seven production sites around the world, since Schwan Cosmetics makes products in China, Mexico, Indonesia, the Czech Republic, Columbia, and Brazil in addition to the U.S. and the headquarters in Heroldsberg. All of these sites utilize complex, highly automated production systems. The factory floors are just as neat as a luxury limousine showroom. This is because the manufacture of cosmetic products is subject to the strictest requirements, not least of all dermatological. This means Schwan Cosmetics is not just lean, it is also clean. However, the challenge in this highly engineered, virtually sterile fabrication is an unequal qualification at the sites, which makes its presence known not least in the form of resource scarcity. Expert knowledge of the high­tech machinery is not at the same level everywhere, resulting in high costs. Technicians must fly around the world, and occasionally, machines suffer costly failures. Today, however, even quality audits can be performed at signifi cantly lower costs.

Nevertheless, industrial machinery everywhere is trimmed for efficiency, to some extent, from the day its built. “The rule is to obtain maximum output from the machine with minimum expenditure. That means when we’re at capacity, we don’t have time to look at new maintenance approaches using, say, HoloLens. But if the machine isn’t running, we still don’t have time because we need to get it working again quickly,” said Michael Wazlav – who is the Managing Director of Schwan Cosmetics Produktionstechnik, which manufactures and maintains the production machines for the entire network – in summary of the classical challenges of introducing new technology to industrial production plants. The implication for executives: “With us, digitization starts with our coworkers. If you ask someone today whether they miss augmented or virtual reality in their day­to­day work, it’s like asking someone 15 years ago whether they miss a smartphone,” explained Preuschoff. This is why it was important to him “to demystify, to give a hands­on introduction to” HoloLens at the plant, as he emphasized.

Look And Feel Of Digitalization

Picture shows Schwan Cosmetics employee with smock and hood, holding a kohl pencil in her hand.

The highest quality control standards are a must-have for Schwan Cosmetics.

To this end, Preuschoff and his teammates toured the facility, spoke with the works council, visited both the day and night shifts, and let them simply touch, put on, and try out the glasses. In doing so, they made the technology literally tangible. At this time, Schwan Cosmetics' production machines were primarily incidental. The team focused solely on finding internal “influencers”, so to speak, who have fun with new technology and get excited about it, then help colleagues understand it. “For our maintenance with HoloLens, it is crucial for people to talk to each other and work together efficiently to localize faults. We’ve managed to do that by getting them first to talk about the new tool and then to try it out for themselves,” elaborated Preuschoff.

This resulted in that deep­down digitization along with its greatest benefit: The initially desired savings effect – an amount in the upper five figures for travel alone – happened almost in passing. Sometimes, it is a machine failure, other times, it is operating instructions that give an employee the opportunity to put on mixed reality glasses and compare notes with colleagues around the world. But it is the indirect effects of HoloLens that are much more important: Above all, Schwan Cosmetics has achieved an immense transfer of knowledge within the company. “Everyone who works in an office knows this: Windows crashes, you call IT support, you get help. But you don’t come out of it any wiser. Now, however, employees in, say U.S. only get help from colleagues here in solving their problem by themselves. They only get a guide and make the repairs with their own hands. The next time, they probably won’t need the help,” Alexander Sarkissian, Digital Initiative Manager at Schwan Cosmetics, expressed with confidence. 

Effects Between Mascara And Machine Room 

Digitization at the employee level is now fully established. Whether it be problems in pencil assembly that suddenly result in too much scrap or the starting up of the largest system ever built for the cosmetics company and installed in Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic: The HoloLens has become an everyday work tool. It is now even used to run through complicated operations before actually executing them on the machines. And even the operators are becoming more confident with the technology. They appear more relaxed in handling new, complex machines, since they know there is always someone who can virtually assist them in the moment if needed.

With this strategy, Schwan Cosmetics has been able to break down reticence and make room for new ideas, such as digital color management, which is also being developed with T-­Systems. The company’s beauty products come in 350 different textures and 12,000 different colors. This level of variety is based on the different market needs around the world – “different countries, different colors.”

Digitization can help give transparency to the entire color portfolio, giving users various options for choosing their desired color to then determine which of the 12,000 colors works best. “Aside from speeding up the process and saving on actual sample pencils, customers will be directly involved in the color selection process,” said Sarkissian, who is leading the project. But no matter what the employees at Schwan Cosmetics come up with: “Our approach is always to connect people to work together and make something happen,” said Preuschoff of the company’s very special and successful digitization strategy – digitization always at the employee level first.

Contact: Martin.Reissmann@t-systems.com

Author: Sven Hansel
Photos: Oliver Krato

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