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June 28, 2017

Tulip and Merck KGaA Partner to Accelerate Operator Training for Complex Assembly

Internet-of-Things-enabled manufacturing apps reduce Merck’s training cost by 57 percent.

Eric Bender

Natan Linder
Founder, Tulip

At a Merck KGaA factory, fully training new operators on the assembly of a highly complicated lab equipment took a trainer over 200 hours. Using manufacturing apps in a joint project with Tulip of Somerville, Massachusetts, Merck engineers have cut that time by over 90 percent.

In addition to speeding operator training, the proof-of-concept collaboration between the startup and the giant manufacturer successfully employed Tulip software to begin measuring and analyzing assembly procedures on the production line.

“This proof of concept was a huge success story,” says Jerry Megaro, Merck KGaA’s Global Head of Advanced Analytics & Internet of Things (IoT). “Tulip’s technology offers a blend of human-operator-focused technology that takes advantage of the Industrial IoT space, solving problems that we did not have the inhouse expertise to solve on our own.”

Tulip’s manufacturing operating system software allows engineers without programming expertise to create shop floor apps, with interactive step-by-step work instructions that are enabled with sensing and data collection using IoT gateways. The Tulip apps access cloud-based data and real-time analytics to help companies measure and optimize their manufacturing operations.

Tulip is an MIT STEX25 firm, one of an elite cohort of startup companies given priority access to MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP) member companies. The MIT Startup Exchange and ILP brought Tulip together with Merck.

Tulip creates digital manufacturing
apps that integrate operator
and machine data to decrease
errors and reduce training time.

“ILP made the right introduction, with the right match between what Merck was looking for and what we were doing,” says Natan Linder, Tulip co-founder.

Megaro began discussions with the startup after a Merck digital innovation scout spotted Tulip at an ILP event in 2016. He ended up presenting Tulip with the challenge to improve training for a highly manual assembly process with very stringent quality and performance specifications, on a large production line at a Molsheim, France facility.

“We took a purely paper-based system and automated it,” Megaro says. “We thought it would be a great opportunity to demonstrate how their technology works and how we could use it solve some good problems. We also thought that we could help to influence Tulip’s future product designs, which is one of the advantages of being an early adopter with a startup company.”

The Merck engineers who built these apps “got very little training on the software tool itself, literally hours, and they started building additional apps on their own,” says Linder. Deployment in the plant also went quickly, with the entire project completed in under three months.

Merck and Tulip found that new shopfloor operators could progress through the assembly training almost entirely by themselves, freeing up the seasoned operators who normally were required to lead them through the processes. Merck estimates that seasoned operators have saved over 92% of the time previously spent on training, freeing them up to assemble products. With training apps new operators do not need to wait for trainers to free up to ask questions on assembly and so progress more rapidly through the training, saving approximately 30% of the training time. Merck estimates that with Tulip, total training cost is reduced by 57%.

“The Tulip apps also could capture a lot of ancillary data, like how operators interact with the parts and how fast do they move, and could connect to other devices such as scanners,” Megaro says. “Once you have the ability to measure, you can make procedures run more efficiently—by examining the causes of part failures, for example.”

Merck and Tulip are in ongoing conversations about potential other use of Tulip products.

“The open collaboration between the two companies was critical in validating many of the product and solution promises that our team has been working on since our inception,” says Linder.

“MIT’s Startup Exchange program has been invaluable to us at this stage in our development,” he adds. “We get great introductions, and showcases where we can put on a demo and get a lot of facetime exposure to many companies at once.”

About Tulip
Tulip grew out of a team of PhDs at MIT leading groundbreaking research in augmented reality systems, intelligent hardware sensors, computer vision, assistive user interfaces, and applied machine learning. Each team member had manufacturing experience and recognized that their research collectively had the potential to radically transform the manufacturing industry. Tulip was formed to bring these latest technological developments from the lab to the shopfloor. Multiple Fortune 500 customers have implemented Tulip to solve some of manufacturing’s most pressing challenges. We enable the manufacturing workforce to create shopfloor apps to improve work instructions, visualize relevant information real-time and connect existing shopfloor equipment.

About Merck KGaA
Merck KGaA of Darmstadt, Germany, which is known as “Merck” outside the United States and Canada, is a leading science and technology company for innovative and top-quality high-tech products in healthcare, life science and performance materials. Founded in 1668, Merck KGaA is the world’s oldest pharmaceutical and chemical company. In the United States and Canada, the company also operates as EMD Serono in the biopharmaceuticals business, as MilliporeSigma in the life science business, and as EMD Performance Materials in the materials business.

About MIT Startup Exchange, STEX25, and MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP)
MIT Startup Exchange actively promotes collaboration and partnerships between MIT-connected startups and industry. Qualified startups are those founded and/or led by MIT faculty, staff, or alumni, or are based on MIT-licensed technology. Industry participants are principally members of MIT’s Industrial Liaison Program (ILP).

MIT Startup Exchange maintains a propriety database of over 1,500 MIT-connected startups with roots across MIT departments, labs and centers; it hosts a robust schedule of startup workshops and showcases, and facilitates networking and introductions between startups and corporate executives.

STEX25 is a startup accelerator within MIT Startup Exchange, featuring 25 “industry ready” startups that have proven to be exceptional with early use cases, clients, demos, or partnerships, and are poised for significant growth. STEX25 startups receive promotion, travel, and advisory support, and are prioritized for meetings with ILP’s 230 member companies.

MIT Startup Exchange and ILP are integrated programs of MIT Corporate Relations.