How to successfully tackle digital transformation — Hilti’s Story

Timothy Smith
Dec 16, 2020 · 6 min read

Collaborations are key for efficient, break-through innovations that spur digital transformation. When corporates and specialized technology companies work together, they can achieve way more than they both could have on their own. Together, they can complement each other’s expertise and innovate with the newest technologies.

To show you what such a collaboration looks like, we will introduce you to our project work with Hilti. You will find out why we partnered up, how we worked together and what we collaboratively did to bring one of Hilti’s manufacturing processes to the next level.

Broad expertise to enhance digital transformation

First, let’s introduce Hilti. Based in Liechtenstein, Hilti offers a range of products, system solutions, software, and services for all kinds of construction and engineering purposes. As one of the world’s biggest players in the construction industry with more than 30,000 employees and 250,000 individual customer contacts each day, they strive to stay on top of technological developments and to apply emerging technologies in their processes.

Through their digital transformation efforts in the past, Hilti had already gained experience with technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) and machine learning. In order to follow through with their digital transformation strategy, Hilti wanted to complement their gained experience with distinct expertise in emerging technologies.

“For many of our projects and processes, we know that emerging technologies will be very helpful. That is why we are establishing innovations in the field of machine learning and computer vision”, says Unit Manager Martin Pitsch.

Talking about emerging technologies, this is where Motius comes into play. As a unique R&D company from Munich that is specialized in new technologies, Motius uses new tech to develop innovative products and solve technical problems with world renowned clients such as Hilti.

Even the most innovative companies need open innovation

Stefan Unger, project manager, makes clear what Hilti is all about: “We are known as one of the most innovative companies in our industry. We have always been aiming to spur innovation with the newest technologies — not for the sake of innovation itself, but to improve and secure the quality of our processes and products. Operational excellence is what we stand for.”

In one of their digital transformation projects, they aimed to improve the quality assurance process for their craftsman tools. The problem was that production defects, which occur in highly specialized and detailed processes, are almost unrecognizable with human eyes.

But Hilti did not want to compromise on product quality. That is why they needed a solution that recognizes the smallest defects with an unshakeable accuracy — something better than any human eye.

In order to achieve that, Hilti first identified the quality KPIs for the product. Knowing those, they concluded that they want to explore the best cutting-edge technological solutions out there. To create the biggest impact, Hilti decided to look for a partner with expertise in new technologies to complement their extensive industry know-how. Together, Hilti and Motius set out to develop a cutting-edge solution to further enhance Hilti’s digital transformation.

A performance-driven approach as a key to successful collaboration

Despite the importance of collaboration and open innovation, there is more to successful digital transformation projects. In fact, we faced operational challenges that we had to solve. To do so, we had a certain set of principles that we relied on. Here are some of the key principles that have proven to be helpful for us:

  1. Performance-driven approach: before we started working on something, we defined the outcome. With Hilti, we defined KPIs first, e.g. the accuracy of the computer vision algorithm. Once we achieved it, we tackled the next challenge.
  2. Agile development: developing solutions with emerging technologies requires a lot of iterations. In this project, Hilti and Motius collaborated closely in sprints to be able to react to changes fast and come up with a different approach if needed.
  3. Collaborative work: without a doubt, innovation and digital transformation require collaboration. Despite the physical distance between Munich and Liechtenstein, Hilti and Motius worked together closely, even after the official project ended.
  4. Clear documentation: this should be a given, but for many it is not. Hilti and Motius made sure to document every aspect of the project from the beginning onwards. This helped everyone to stay on track.

Why computer vision was not enough

When Hilti started their digital transformation project, it was obvious that their challenge required an advanced technological solution. But what did the solution look like?

“For high-accuracy product defect detection, we needed sophisticated computer vision algorithms. It was the only technology that could reliably achieve the high-quality standards that we needed to achieve in this project”, explains Motius Technical Executive Timothy Smith.

As soon as the requirements were clear, it did not take long for Hilti and Motius to sketch a vision for a first minimum viable product (MVP) and get the project going. However, as the long-term plan was also to integrate it to a productive system, we needed to do more.

In this project, “more” meant interdisciplinary work. We used IoT to develop a system that does not only detect production defects, but also gathers further meta production data, and bundles these by visualizing them via a central KPI dashboard.

“Our solution has enabled us to improve our production process and bring up the product’s quality”, emphasizes Martin. In his words, “the performance-driven agile development approach was key to accomplish this project together.”

The secret ingredient to successful digital transformation

As you see, both Hilti and Motius went the extra mile to make the project a success. Going this extra mile and developing interdisciplinary technological solutions require one crucial thing apart from aspects like tech expertise and collaborative work: motivation.

Among our customers we are known for diving deep and engaging in projects in fundamental ways — after all, we at Motius are used to partnering up with companies like Hilti and foster innovation.

Stefan from Hilti puts it like this: “The Motius project team was as motivated as us to make this project a success. Their intrinsic motivation was an important building block for this project.”

Combined strengths for a better solution

As technologies keep advancing, interdisciplinary projects become the new normal. Most times, it requires broad yet specific expertise on how to combine emerging technologies to innovate successfully. In this project, for example, it was computer vision, IoT and web development.

Interdisciplinarity is where big corporations like Hilti and agile companies like Motius can easily generate synergies. Whereas Hilti has industry-specific knowledge and expertise, we have profound experiences with new emerging tech. They know the why and what they want to do, we know the how by applying new technologies in a vast array of industries and use cases. The team that we formed combined these strengths.

For Martin and Stefan from Hilti, Motius stands for a new approach to digital transformation projects: “With emerging technologies and talented people, Motius approaches problems in a unique way. They helped us to first explore the whole range of cutting-edge technological solutions and then get to the outcome that we defined in the very beginning.”

Here is the moral of the story

Throughout this project, Hilti and Motius have repeatedly shown how to successfully master digital transformation. If big companies work together with smaller innovation partners, they can conquer the challenges that wait in the future.

Martin Pitsch, Stefan Unger and Timothy Smith

Martin Pitsch is Head of Production Diamond Inserts at Hilti.
Stefan Unger is Project Manager at Hilti.
Timothy Smith is Tech Executive AI, CV & IoT at Motius.

We are an R&D company that is specialized in the newest…

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