Manufacturing submarine cables is a complex business, and unscheduled downtimes can result in huge costs for NSW (Norddeutsche Seekabelwerke). A mobile app is helping the sea cable manufacturer keep a close eye on production and respond to issues quickly.
Twenty-five feet down, beneath the bed of the Delaware River in the U.S., a giant submarine cable is being installed. It will transmit power from the Hope Creek nuclear power plant in New Jersey to neighboring Delaware.
The sea cable has a long, trans-Atlantic journey behind it. Three months ago, seven cables – each five kilometers long and weighing 1,800 tons – were loaded onto a ship at NSW headquarters in Nordenham in northern Germany.
Since 1899, NSW has become a major player on the global market for developing, manufacturing, and installing submarine cables. In 2018, the company and its 500 employees became part of the Prysmian Group, the Italian global market leader in cable products.
Each cable that leaves the NSW factory in Germany to transmit power or data somewhere in the world is totally unique. NSW configures sea cables to its customers’ requirements before the time-consuming and complex process of manufacturing and transporting them.
Video by Angela Klose
“This is heavy engineering,” says Senior Project Lead Oliver Marrek, who holds a huge responsibility on his shoulders because it is not just the cables that are gigantic, so are the sums of money at stake for NSW. “We count every single minute to avoid costly delays.”
“Downtimes are very expensive, and we try to minimize them,” explains NSW Managing Director Heiko Dirks. There are risks attached to every project. What matters is the ability to make decisions fast. “Our challenge is that we need real-time information to make real-time decisions.”
Live Sea Cable Production Data at a Glance
This is exactly where the operations dashboard, which NSW began using in mid-2018, comes in. “This cloud application gives us transparency across production,” says IT Project Lead David Wagener. The dashboard is fed in real time with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and machine data. “That means we have a live view of the current status of all our production orders and machines.”
Because it can be used on a mobile device, the dashboard offers massive benefits for Torsten Rohde, NSW’s head of Production.
“It’s our daily business to deal with critical situations,” he says. “We now have 24-hour monitoring. So if I’m away from my desk and the app notifies me that the production line has stopped, I can quickly consult with my colleagues, which means we can respond much faster.”
IT Department Reinvents Itself in the SAP Cloud
This wasn’t always the case. In the past, preparing the data was a much more complex process. It often took days and required myriad systems and software tools. The IT department took the initiative to change things.
“Everyone’s talking about digital transformation, but we wanted to make it real,” says Wagener. “As an IT department, we know what modern technology is capable of doing. So we actively approached the business to discover what our colleagues’ requirements were and to find solutions to them.”
The impetus for the operations dashboard came from a week-long workshop with a team from the SAP Digital Business Services organization at the SAP AppHaus location in Heidelberg. This inspired NSW IT specialists to deploy the SAP Build service to help develop their own applications on SAP Cloud Platform.
“SAP Cloud Platform, in combination with an agile development method, produces results very fast,” says Wagener. The team was able to present an upgrade, a new version, or even a new application after every single development cycle. “Our colleagues from the business feel that they are getting involved sooner, and that they can engage and take an active part in the development process, which makes for higher levels of satisfaction.”
No consulting services or training courses were required. The IT department was able to develop applications independently, seven of which are already in use, including a project dashboard and a finance dashboard.
NSW: Innovation Engine in the Prysmian Group
NSW is currently discussing plans for more business cases. Wagener foresees an app that would allow customers to track their order statuses: “If you can provide that kind of information to your customers, you create a better experience for them, and this could give us a major competitive advantage in the future.”
“NSW is quite special, because here tradition meets innovation,” explains Dirks. “That has always been the key to our success and it always will be. We have gained so much information and expertise through our SAP project that we can now be a multiplier and serve with our knowledge in the entire Prysmian group.”