Smart Search

The AI-infused Search Module
in Shiftconnector®



Advanced Knowledge Management

Increasing Efficiency With AI 

While the general conditions in the process industry are changing indescribably fast and competitive pressure is increasing rapidly, adaptive systems offer an opportunity for more efficient production processes. Digitalization using artificial intelligence (AI) is steadily gaining significant importance to help manufacturers meet these changes. eschbach integrates AI into the enterprise platform Shiftconnector®, providing a powerful assistant in 24/7 plant operations. 

New Solutions for Changing Challenges

Companies in the process industry must respond to rapidly changing conditions. Natural gas prices — especially in Europe — show, for example, the enormous pressure to which the process industry is exposed and, at the same time, how volatile and unstable the framework conditions have become. In addition, complexity in production has increased steadily in recent years due to constantly changing market requirements and technological innovations. Competitive pressures present process engineers and operations management decision makers with uncertainties and new challenges. 

For production teams, this means that processes must be optimally controlled and malfunctions must be eliminated as quickly as possible. After all, unplanned downtime is very costly. At the same time, every shift team can understand how difficult it can be to make the right decisions or how time-consuming it can be to resolve incidents. In many cases, similar incidents or conditions have occurred in the past. In many cases, corresponding solutions to the problem have even been documented. Having existing knowledge, operational incidents could be avoided or quickly eliminated. But when problems arise in production, employees lack the time to sift through documentation and records. 


AI Supports Humans

With the goal of making Plant Process Management sustainably more efficient, powerful systems, machines and AI are becoming increasingly important in production. But the digital transformation in the process industry must center on people. Machines or algorithms cannot react to changes and take responsibility for the safety of processes and plants, only people. The goal is to create a process landscape in which humans remain in control while being supported in the best possible way by machines, digital communication and powerful, cognitive assistance systems in other words, machine-assisted humans. The future of the process industry requires solutions in which machines and AI support employees, so that maximum efficiency and safety can be achieved in 24/7 shift operations. AI acts like an assistant at the side of production workers. Ultimately, decisions in production plants are made by humans, but can be supported by the knowledge of an AI. 

Naturally, frustration is high when digitally documented solutions are available but cannot be found. More seriously, if the workforce is unable to quickly access process-relevant information, the efficiency of the plant declines with every passing minute — and time and revenue are lost as a result. Adaptive systems that learn from past data and provide solutions are in demand. 

New Picture Proposal

Relevant Information

To create a decision-making process that takes a holistic view of process disturbances, a well-thought-out algorithm is needed. Nowadays, it is simply no longer sufficient to rely on simple "IF-THEN" programming. The amount of data, the flow of information and the process landscape are too complex for this. When a piece of equipment fails, it is common for shift teams to perform standard reset and troubleshooting procedures to no avail. When more experienced production staff arrive, their knowledge provides context: "The last time it was freezing outside, the line for the liquid partially froze. This changed the pre-product, which eventually caused the line to stop later." This example illustrates that human language can decisively explain contexts in the operational process. 

Best of Industry Award 2023

eschbach's AI-Team Garners "Best of Industry Award"

The award was recognised in Würzburg for the Shiftconnector ® module Smart Search, which was developed by eschbach's AI team. Smart Search provides relevant knowledge in a user-friendly way, making it a powerful assistant in 24/7 operation.

For more information on the Best of Industry Award and the award ceremony, just click here.

Smart Search in Manufacturing

eschbach integrates a new AI-supported feature into its Shiftconnector enterprise platform that addresses precisely this challenge. Their "Smart Search" provides production teams with process-relevant knowledge in a user-friendly format and as spontaneously as it is needed. The aim of the AI function is to provide employees with the best possible support in the form of relevant information and suggested solutions from the past. A major challenge is that two different workers' description, for the chain of events described earlier, would look completely different. If we now consider that thousands of entries occur in operational communication, the problem becomes clear. With conventional means, searching for an existing event is like searching for a needle in a haystack. This is exactly where AI algorithms come in to assist in finding solution descriptions. This allows shift personnel to more efficiently and, most importantly, more quickly use historical knowledge to make predictive, informed decisions, thereby avoiding or more quickly resolving disruptions. 

In classical programming, the human defines the algorithm and tells it exactly what criteria should be used to perform actions. In contrast, AI can learn these criteria itself by recognizing patterns in the data. The algorithms can then provide predictions of estimated outcomes with certain probabilities whereas humans provide the framework for the data search. The algorithm adjusts the search criteria accordingly based on intelligence. From this, correlations in the data can be determined faster than a human can work out that logic. AI provides production teams with desired results and picks up on a variety of details in addition to the problem. In this way, AI enables well-founded approaches to solutions. 

Capturing and managing knowledge is domain-specific, which is why our Smart Search is specifically designed with our customers in mind. Managing data and information in a 24/7 shift operation is a challenge. With a smart application, modern information management offers a huge opportunity for greater efficiency and safety in manufacturing. AI also makes it possible to collect implicit knowledge to make the experience of employees available for future generations,” explains Andreas Eschbach, CEO and founder of eschbach.

Implicit Knowledge as a Basis

Data is a fundamental prerequisite of AI. This is important both in terms of the quantity, but even more so in terms of the quality of the data. Only when sufficiently good data is available can AI algorithms be meaningfully trained. The enterprise platform from eschbach was developed specifically for the process industry and enables a solid database: In addition to plant performance, work orders and incidents are displayed transparently in digital overviews. In this way, Shiftconnector ensures interactive operational communication in shift operations. At the same time, shift logs are recorded in an audit-compliant manner and can be retrieved at any time. The data basis — the documented wealth of experience of the employees — expands with each new entry and even can be used across locations. In this way, the real-time information helps to further increase efficiency and safety in plant operation. 

Plant malfunctions often cannot be rectified during the ongoing shift but need to be communicated to the following shift team. Here, too, the advantages of the multifunctional enterprise platform are evident. 

With Shiftconnector, shift handovers are used efficiently without process-relevant knowledge being lost. And the new Smart Search feature shows the production teams which solution approaches are target-oriented for certain malfunctions and which are not. 

More Than Just a Smart Search Algorithm...

Suggested solutions are only part of the potential of Smart Search in Shiftconnector. In addition to filtering stored information, Smart Search can process communications by cataloging and indexing topics, keywords, phrases and more. In this way, Smart Search provides insights into the overall picture of the situation and, in the event of disruptions, delivers solutions that have already been proven to work. Ultimately, standardized processes and workflows are essential in the process industry; however, different processes, languages and even communication capabilities create enormous diversity in the process landscape. Where previous programming is no longer able to handle information inflows that do not conform to a precise format with prescribed form fields for data entry, new, smarter technologies are taking hold. The overarching goal is to take human-to-human communication and knowledge management to a new level. 

From Development to Success

The development of the module began already five years ago with the help of AI-based natural language processing (NLP). Under the leadership of Dr Christian Matt, eschbach's AI team designed the search function in close cooperation with an important customer. The team worked closely with Prof Dr Bela Gipp and Anastasia Zhukova from the University of Göttingen (Germany), who contributed with their leading research in the field of Natural Language Processing. "The successes following initial implementations are impressive. Smart Search is well accepted in production plants and used several times a day. 

Where users previously spent several hours searching through documentation, sometimes without results, Smart Search now displays process-relevant results in a matter of seconds. Statistics also show that the knowledge accumulated over the years in Shiftconnector® is no longer lost, but is repeatedly picked up by users. Before implementation, however, only information that was less than a month old was used. This means that employees in shift operation, from plant operators to plant managers, benefit from the AI-supported and innovative plant process management solution," explains Dr. Christian Matt, AI/NLP Team Lead at eschbach.

“Truly user-centered, this application demonstrates the value of bringing customers into the design process from the onset to help drive and ensure satisfactory outcomes,” said Andreas Eschbach. “With close to 20 years of experience in developing solutions for the process industry and almost 70,000 users, we understand the challenges of the process industry. We welcome suggestions from our users to provide solutions that will help them win in an increasingly competitive environment,” he added. eschbach's dedication to customer-centric software development, along with their commitment to harnessing the power of AI technology, has positioned the company as a leader in the process manufacturing industry.

The new Smart Search function makes production plants more reliable and productive by recording knowledge for shift teams and making it easy to search for information. As we move forward into Industry 5.0 where the human element is the focus in plant operations, using AI is a leap forward in gaining the information necessary to drive process efficiency, mitigate risk, and ensure regulatory compliance.

The collaboration with the university is funded by the Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK).

image (3)
Andreas Eschbach (2nd from left) and Dr. Christian Matt (3rd from left) receive the Best of Industry Award in December 2023.


Interested in finding out more about agile solutions in the process industry?

Smarter.  Safer.  Stronger.