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How We Built the Most Efficient Pop-Up Factory Yet For Hannover Messe 2024

Discover how we created our most intuitive operator experience ever under a week of development time in Tulip.

Background

At this year’s Hannover Messe trade fair in Hannover, Germany, Tulip partnered with Vention, Banner, and Landing AI to build the latest installment of our fan-favorite Pop-Up Factory, powered by Microsoft Azure. Hannover Messe is the world’s largest industrial trade fair, so we knew we had to create a high-caliber experience while ensuring that the assembly process was as efficient as possible to handle the huge volume of attendees we expected to visit the Factory.

By leveraging the composable content from the Tulip Library as a starting point, our team created a fully digitized assembly process in just a few days of development time, enabling hundreds of attendees to make their way through our Pop-Up Factory. Each visitor got to step into the shoes of a frontline operator and see first-hand how human-centric digital tools can augment workers and make processes more efficient — all while getting to assemble their very own word clock, which they got to take home with them.

We proved that with an open, composable platform and a human-centric approach to digitization, you can fundamentally transform the frontline operator experience for the better, and do so rapidly without months of development and testing cycles. We’ll show you just how we pulled off this feat for the third year straight and how we took our Pop-Up Factory experience to the next level for its first international appearance at Hannover Messe!

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Why Build a Pop-Up Factory?

This year, we set out with three main goals for the Pop-Up Factory. First and foremost: Create a completely intuitive operator experience to reduce the cycle time compared to last year's iteration and make this the most efficient Pop-Up Factory yet. Second: Take advantage of Tulip’s open architecture to seamlessly integrate with best-in-class computer vision and industrial automation solutions from third-party vendors. Third, build it all as quickly as possible, this time by leveraging composable content from our Library. But why build a Pop-Up Factory in the first place?

Traditionally, MES solutions have been essential in managing and monitoring factory floor operations, but the relevance of this category is gradually waning. The industry is shifting towards more flexible and composable systems that can adapt to the specifics of any production process rather than forcing manufacturers to make their process conform to the limitations of rigid, legacy MES solutions. According to Gartner, “By 2025, at least 25% of manufacturing operations applications will use a composable technology architecture, up from less than 2% in 2022.”

The move away from the one-size-fits-all model of traditional MES solutions towards a more composable and adaptable framework calls for systems that are not just broadly flexible but that can be entirely customized to individual manufacturing processes. But how exactly are manufacturers supposed to build a cohesive solution to problems on the shop floor when choosing best-in-class software and hardware means having to integrate disparate pieces of tech from different vendors? And how can they deploy these solutions rapidly to reshape their operations and avoid falling into the typical trap of pilot purgatory? That’s where our Frontline Operations Platform comes into play.

We partnered up with Banner, Landing AI, and Vention to showcase just how quickly Tulip can be used to build cohesive workflows for frontline operators that seamlessly integrate best-in-class software and hardware from a variety of vendors. This year’s Pop-Up Factory allowed attendees at Hannover Messe to experience what it’s like to be a frontline operator. They were able to see first-hand how a Tulip app was able to guide them through the process of assembling their very own word clock, while collecting important production and error-proofing their work in parallel. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how exactly we were able to achieve this feat.

Our Vision for the Pop-Up Factory

For this year’s installment of the Pop-Up Factory at Hannover Messe, we resurrected a classic Tulip demo: building a word clock. The word clock, which attendees would get to assemble and take home, was developed to be straightforward to build and consisted of a custom-designed PCB along with a battery and additional injection-molded components.

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To accommodate the huge crowds at Hannover Messe, we knew we would need to up our game and create a workflow that would allow attendees without any prior knowledge of the assembly process to build their own word clock from start to finish quickly. The operator experience would have to be completely intuitive, and the app would need to error-proof their work while being as efficient as possible to ensure that everyone left with a functioning device.

Building the Workstations With Vention

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A critical part of the overall operator experience were the workstations where each attendee assembled their word clock. Our requirements included an area to assemble the device, DIN rails for mounting parts bins, a screen, machine vision cameras, and other IIoT devices used in the production process, as well as wiring channels to hide all the associated cabling. The workstations also needed to be robust enough to withstand the nearly 1,000 attendees we expected to make their way through the Pop-Up Factory over the week-long trade show.

To meet these requirements, we turned to Vention and their MachineBuilder, which enabled us to create and iterate on a design for the Pop-Up Factory’s assembly stations in mere minutes. With thousands of modular parts, user-friendly 3D design tools, and collaboration features, MachineBuilder made it straightforward to design custom benches that fit our particular set of requirements.

Vention made putting the benches together quite simple, with auto-generated instructions for our custom design and engraved part numbers on each component. Once we had the benches fully assembled using the included tools, we moved on to mounting the IIoT devices and other equipment we would need to power the experience.

Our final design for the Pop-Up Factory production line consisted of four identical workstations, each of which included:

  • One screen to display work instructions

  • Five bins to store our inventory of parts

  • Five Banner pick-to-light indicators and break-beam sensors to guide picking

  • One scale to help error-proof the process

  • One 3D printed jig to streamline assembly

  • One RFID reader and four RFID tags to seamlessly switch between languages in the app using Frontline Copilot

  • One off-the-shelf camera to scan attendee badges and perform quality checks with the help of LandingAI’s LandingLens and Tulip’s Computer Vision capabilities

  • One Banner andon light to show station status

  • One Tulip Edge IO device to connect to all our IIoT devices

Integrating With Tulip’s Open Ecosystem

With our workstations fully kitted out, our word clock production line was nearing completion.

Our final task was to tie together the various pieces of hardware and software with an intuitive user interface that would help attendees quickly assemble their word clock while error-proofing the production process and capturing important production data. We took advantage of our Frontline Operations Platform to build an app that would walk attendees through the production process while natively integrating with the IIoT devices and third-party systems that we would need.

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Tulip is the only no-code platform for operations — meaning it was designed from day one with the needs of frontline operators and engineers in mind. It empowers citizen developers to build powerful, human-centric solutions, like the one we created for the Pop-Up Factory, without needing to know how to write code themselves.

Thanks to the ease of use of our app editor along with our Library’s regularly updated repository of apps, templates, connectors, and more, we were able to go from a concept on paper to a fully functioning app in less than a week. In practice, this means users can achieve a much more rapid time-to-value compared to traditional development approaches when building and deploying new solutions in your operations. All in all, the app we built to power this year’s Pop-Up Factory was created in just under a week of development time! While that kind of speed might sound unrealistic for a real production line, thanks to the app templates and other content available in our Library, we were able to put together a fully functioning solution quickly.

Running the Factory on Microsoft Azure

At Hannover, we leveraged Microsoft Azure to host the apps powering the Pop-Up Factory, as well as Microsoft’s suite of Azure-based AI tools to power our Frontline Copilot™ suite of capabilities. Tulip is a cloud-agnostic platform, meaning customers with a preference can decide whether they want their workspace hosted on either Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s AWS cloud computing platforms.

Powering Our Production Line With Tulip

As the doors opened on the first day of Hannover Messe, attendees began streaming into the convention halls, and it was finally time for the Pop-Up Factory to come to life. However, unlike your typical frontline operator who may have years of experience on a particular production line, our “workers” would effectively be going in blind.

To make sure that they could get it right the first time and assemble their word clock without any defects — all while achieving a fast cycle time — we knew we had to design the most intuitive operator experience of any Pop-Up Factory thus far. To accomplish this, we built a Tulip app that would guide each attendee through the process using digital work instructions while also carrying out in-line quality checks to validate that every step was being done correctly. Here’s how it worked:

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As visitors lined up for the Pop-Up Factory experience, we used andon lights and a large dashboard to display the status of each of the four workstations, helping direct attendees to an open station as soon as one became available.

Using our native computer vision features and a camera mounted on the workstation, the app running at each workstation would wait until an attendee approached and scanned their convention badge before beginning to walk them through the assembly process with instructions on the screen. Throughout each subsequent step of the build process, each attendee was guided by interactive work instructions while the quality of their work was verified by computer vision and other IIoT devices.

  • Thanks to automatic app translations powered by our Frontline Copilot™, attendees also had the option of switching to their preferred language — German, French, Hungarian, or English — at any point throughout the demo. Using an RFID scanner and four different RFID tags (representing four of the 29 supported languages), attendees could simply scan the tag corresponding to their desired language, and the app would immediately be translated.

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  • With the badge number scanned, the app automatically transitioned to the first step, which instructed attendees to take a backplate for the word clock. To make it easier for them to select the right component from among the multiple parts bins, we integrated with Banner’s pick-to-light system, which illuminated an LED indicator in front of the correct bin for each component. The integration also made use of their break-beam sensors to detect which bin the operator reached into, allowing us to confirm that the right parts were picked. When the app detected that the correct part had been selected, it provided an on-screen confirmation for the operator before automatically moving on to the next step. Unlike previous iterations of the Pop-Up Factory, which required operators to navigate from step to step using a touchscreen or foot pedal, this year, the navigation was completely automated, allowing for a highly efficient workflow.

  • This picking process then repeated itself, with the second step calling for the operator to grab a battery from one bin and a spacer component from another. Again, the app highlighted the correct components using Banner’s pick-to-light system and detected which bin the operator actually picked from — allowing us to error-proof the process and provide immediate visual feedback. Once both parts had been correctly selected, the app automatically moved to the next step without requiring additional operator input.

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  • With the parts selected, it was time to begin the assembly process. The app displayed instructions for what to do next, using rich media, including images and animations, to make it easy for the operators to understand. Using a 3D-printed jig to help align the components, operators would assemble the backplate, battery, and spacer before weighing the subassembly using a scale connected to the app. By integrating with the scale, the app was able to verify that the backplate and spacer components were present before automatically progressing to the next step. If either component was missing and the weight was outside the expected limits, the app displayed a warning that the weight check had failed, as well as a gauge indicating the current scale reading and the expected value.

  • Because the weight of the battery was quite low and within the scale’s margin of error, we couldn’t use the scale to consistently detect whether it was present. To solve this problem, we turned to our partner Landing AI and their LandingLens computer vision capabilities. Their visual prompting system made it easy for us to train a computer vision model tailored to our specific application without the need for programming or data science skills. With just a small number of training images, we created a model to detect whether or not the battery was present in the assembly and correctly installed. Thanks to the LandingAI content in the Library, we were able to integrate the model we had just trained with our app, all without any code. By using an off-the-shelf camera mounted above the scale, we were able to successfully detect whether the battery was installed and provide guidance to the operator if the model detected that it was missing.

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  • Once the app detected that all the required pieces were assembled correctly, it displayed a confirmation message before automatically progressing to the next step—picking the front plate of the word clock. Here, attendees were presented with the option of picking the component in the color of their choice, either white or black. Again, using pick-to-light indicators and break-beam sensors, the app directed operators to the right components and detected which color they ended up picking, providing an on-screen confirmation before automatically moving on.

  • For the final assembly step, the app provided instructions on how to attach the front plate to the subassembly and once again directed operators to weigh the completed word clock. Failing the weight test would automatically display instructions directing the operator to add the missing component and re-weigh, while a successful weight check would display the final on-screen confirmation.

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  • With the final quality control step completed, the app then presented attendees with data gathered during the production process. Because we already had each attendee confirm their identity with an image of their badge in the initial step, we were able to extract their names using the optical character recognition (OCR) capabilities of Frontline Copilot™. Along with their cycle time, which the app had been measuring, we were able to show each attendee how they stacked up against the other visitors to the Pop-Up Factory.

With the assembly process completed and quality-controlled, attendees were now free to take home their new word clock, confident that it would function as expected. After running the production line continuously for five days straight at the conference, the data we collected with the app showed that nearly 895 people had made their way through the Pop-Up Factory, with an average cycle time of just 2 minutes and 27 seconds.

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However, guiding attendees through the assembly of their mouse was just one part of the production process. Using Tulip, we built a suite of interconnected apps that were used to gain visibility into the process and make sure that the Pop-Up Factory was running efficiently.

Achieving Visibility With the Production Dashboard

Among the benefits of using Tulip apps to drive our production line was that we automatically captured a variety of data points every time the word clock assembly process was completed. This included the name of each operator, the time it took them to complete each step of the process, and their total cycle time to build the clock. Leveraging our intuitive Analytics Editor, we built a number of analyses to display on our production visibility dashboard.

Thanks to the real-time charts and analytics, this dashboard helped us gain insight into how efficiently the Pop-Up Factory was running. One half of the dashboard displayed process data, including a historical view of cycle times, the average cycle time and deviation from the target, as well as a plot of the cycle time for each of the four stations. To gamify the experience for attendees, we also added a leaderboard showing the top 10 cycle times that day. The other half of the dashboard provided an overview of the number of clocks built that day and in total, as well as a historical view of how many clocks had been built each hour.

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The dashboard served a dual purpose, as it was also used to prominently display the status of each workstation and direct attendees to those that were open. By using conditional logic in each app, we could determine whether or not each station was in use and then display this information on the dashboard along with each station’s current cycle time. This simple addition to our dashboards helped to guide attendees to the right station, ensuring that our production process ran smoothly as attendees flocked to the Pop-Up Factory.

The value of dashboards like these quickly became evident at the show. Partway through the first day, a look at the process data made it clear that we would run out of word clock components long before the show wrapped up at the end of the week. This real-time information allowed us to manage the inventory issues by rationing how many people could take home their clocks. By day four, we were down to the bare minimum number of components we needed to keep allowing attendees to go through the experience.

What Does Building a Pop-Up Factory Prove?

Although building a fully digitized assembly line in under a week might seem outside the realm of possibility, we proved that with composable industrial software tools, it’s entirely achievable. And in today’s economic environment, this rapid time-to-value is not just a luxury but a requirement for businesses looking to stay competitive. When challenges arise in production and processes change, the technology powering your operations must be able to adapt with it.

The Pop-Up Factory served not just as a public demonstration of Tulip’s capabilities when paired with an open ecosystem of other technologies but also as a way for us to put ourselves in our customers' shoes and remind ourselves what digital transformation is really about. Here’s what we learned:

https://tulip.widen.net/content/dcupgjfgj5

The Value of Composability

In order to meet the unique set of requirements for the Pop-Up Factory, the one-size-fits-all model of traditional MES solutions was simply not an option. The composable approach enabled by our platform allowed us to build a solution tailored to the specific needs of our operation. In practice, this means that changes can be made rapidly, and new systems can be easily integrated to meet shifting production demands, allowing for improved efficiency and agility. Successfully adopting a composable approach requires more than just a new software architecture — manufacturers also need to adopt changes in culture, ownership, and development.

Focus on the Frontline Operator

Digital transformation cannot be successfully implemented with a purely top-down approach. When implementing digital tools in your business, the needs and concerns of your frontline operators should be considered first and foremost. While Tulip was designed from the ground up to make building highly visual, intuitive interfaces for the shop floor easy, this year we paid extra attention to the user experience of our app and made sure that it was as streamlined as possible. By implementing fully reactive work instructions that moved from step to step without operator intervention and adding the ability to easily swap to the language of their choice, for example, we improved the operator experience and also helped reduce cycle times to accommodate the throngs of attendees.

Embrace the Open Ecosystem

Thanks to Tulip’s open architecture, everything from andon and pick-to-light systems to computer vision and BI tools was integrated entirely straightforwardly. The shift towards open, interoperable digital architectures marks a significant departure from the era of proprietary, closed systems that once dominated the manufacturing industry. This open ecosystem approach enables you to build your manufacturing tech stack around best-in-class solutions without being locked into a single vendor, which ensures that your business can remain adaptable and future-proof.

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