Whether in China, India, Russia or the USA: the red painted agricultural machinery made by GRIMME Group dots fields around the world today. Founded in 1861, the company supplies customers in 120 countries and has its own sales and service subsidiaries in all major growing regions. The GRIMME Group product range consists of more than 150 different types of machines from self-operated potato harvesters to special carrot, onion and cabbage harvesters. When it comes to potato technology, the company is considered the undisputed world market leader.
The GRIMME Group is on a growth trajectory with its state-of-the-art agricultural machinery. Yearly turnover last grew by double digits to over €459 million. The company currently employs around 2,200 people worldwide including almost 1,400 at its headquarters in Damme and neighboring Rieste. International expansion is also progressing steadily. In May of 2018, GRIMME opened a new production site in Tianjin which mainly manufactures potato technology for the Chinese market.
The challenge: change to a new PLM and CAD-CAM platform
GRIMME aspires to provide customers with the most innovative and economical machinery for their needs. That’s why the company embraces new innovations and technologies at an early stage. At the moment, automated vehicle monitoring, digital machine files and predictive maintenance are the focal point. For example, GRIMME adds GPS boxes to its new machinery so that customers can collect data on operating performance on the go and evaluate it online. New services like theft protection using geo-fencing are also made possible.
“We’re constantly working on innovative solutions that offer our customers real added value in the field,” says Oliver Lücker, Infrastructure IT Coordinator at GRIMME. “Our users’ practical experience and suggestions are systematically incorporated into the continued development of the machinery”. For the approximately 150 GRIMME design engineers at home and abroad, which means: they work closely with customers and regularly interact with them in the development and prototype phase. In addition to new customer requirements, the special features of different markets and climates must also be taken into account.
In order to provide optimal support to the design engineers in their work, GRIMME switched to a new software platform. All product lifecycle management today is handled by the Siemens PLM solution Teamcenter. Siemens NX is used as a CAD-CAM system.
Before introducing the new platform, though, the IT organization needed to overcome several challenges. On the one hand, the existing client infrastructure had reached its limit since the new software placed more demands on hardware resources. Nearly 70 endpoint devices failed to meet minimum requirements. On the other hand, a training environment with around 45 workstations needed to be set up very quickly. There, the GRIMME design engineers were to be shown how to operate the new apps.
The solution: CAD virtualization with Citrix technology
In order to provide the new work environment for the CAD design engineers as quickly as possible, the IT organization relied on a virtual desktop strategy. Several years ago, GRIMME started operating standard applications such as ERP, personnel and logistics software in a virtualized Citrix infrastructure. The majority of client applications today run in the GRIMME data centre and are made available to users at the various locations via Citrix Virtual Apps.
Graphics-intensive applications such as the company’s CAD software were previously exempt from this virtualization strategy. “However, a lot has happened over the last few years, especially with Citrix HDX 3D Pro technology and NVIDIA's vGPU technology,” says Jan Hendrik Meier, IT Architect at GRIMME. “It’s now become much easier and cheaper to run graphic-heavy IT workstations as virtual desktops.”
GRIMME’s IT organization worked closely with specialists from Citrix and NVIDIA as well as the solution partner msg services ag in implementing the CAD virtualization strategy. The project team built a powerful Citrix virtual desktop environment parallel to the existing Citrix infrastructure and tested different system configurations. In the end, the decision was made to equip the servers for the virtual desktops with NVIDIA Tesla M60 high-performance graphics processors. Thanks to NVIDIA’s GRID vGPU technology, it's possible to split the power of a physical graphics processor into several virtual desktops. GRIMME configured the vGPU profiles so that up to 30 design engineers can work simultaneously on one server.
“With the Citrix solution, we were able to provide the training environment for our CAD designers on time,” says Martin Leifeld, PLM Team Lead at GRIMME. “Although there were a few technical challenges to be overcome in the test – that included integrating 3D mice from 3Dconnexion – the environment was always stable and performed well, right from the start. Our design engineers were able to complete the CAD and PLM software training on time.”
New solution lowers the cost of CAD infrastructure by 40 percent
The switch to virtual desktops also paid off from a cost perspective. For the training environment alone, GRIMME would have had to procure almost 50 high-end workstations. Further investment would have been required to replace the client hardware at many workstations. “We compared the cost of a traditional CAD infrastructure with the cost of the Citrix solution beforehand. Over a period of five years, we expect savings of up to 40 percent,” explains Jan Hendrik Meier.
As part of the transition to the new CAD and PLM system, GRIMME quickly expanded its virtual desktop computing infrastructure. In the meantime, up to 150 design engineers at the main locations in Damme and Rieste now have access to the environment. The first CAD users in China were also recently connected to the infrastructure. Despite the long distance, they can also work productively with the virtual applications running on servers in Germany. Additional advantage for GRIMME: The business-critical design data does not have to be transmitted over the network but always stays in the secure data center.
More flexible access options for users
Whether in the office, from your home office or on site with customers: GRIMME’s design engineers can now access their desktops regardless of location and endpoint device and they can use the CAD and PLM software wherever they are. “The flexible access options were the key to inspire the design engineers to create a new solution from the beginning,” says Jan Hendrik Meier. “Users are no longer tied to a specific workstation, they can now do their tasks from anywhere.”
The solution also made it easier for GRIMME to involve new user groups. Assembly technicians in production now also have access to the complete design drawings at any time. With the Citrix Workspace app, they can even open and view CAD files on mobile endpoint devices like tablets. High-performance infrastructure in the backend is not necessary for that purpose: the project team set up a virtual desktop environment for the users’ own use in the production environment with cheaper GPUs and a different vGPU profile. In this way, up to 45 users can work simultaneously on one physical server.
New strategy relieves IT
“The Citrix solution has made it much easier to migrate to the new PLM and CAD software,” acknowledges Martin Leifeld. “We didn’t have to invest in new client hardware but could continue to use existing workstations instead. In the future, we will largely replace worn-out endpoint devices with thin clients – especially in the production environment.”
Even during operation, the IT team benefits from the virtual desktop solution. About every ten weeks, new service updates are released for the PLM system – the CAD software is updated even more frequently. In the Citrix environment, administrators only need to install the new software releases on the central servers one time. Then all users work with the same version across the company.
“If necessary, we can also switch very quickly between different software versions,” says Martin Leifeld. “That helps us, for example, if we’re testing new features or compatibility with other apps.”
Greater agility, security and availability for the business
In essence, GRIMME was able to increase its agility and accelerate development processes with the new IT strategy. For example, if external support is needed at short notice for a particular PLM project, IT will only need to run the required number of virtual desktops. The external consultants will then have immediate access to the relevant apps on the web.
The company makes no trade-offs when it comes to security. A Citrix Gateway solution protects remote access and encrypts all communications with internal resources. This ensures that sensitive product data won’t end up in the wrong hands.
“Today, Citrix networking solutions are important building blocks of our digital workplace strategy,” says Tobias Zurstegen, IT Architect at GRIMME. “In addition to Citrix Gateway as a secure access solution, we also use Citrix Application Delivery Controller and the SD-WAN solution. Citrix ADC ensures high levels of availability of our core services as a load balancer – Citrix SD-WAN reduces data traffic when connecting external sites to the data centre. Depending on the app, this enables us to reduce bandwidth requirements by as much as 75 percent.”
Forecast: graphics virtualization even for standard desktops
Together with solution partner msg services, IT managers are already planning further development of the virtual desktop strategy. “In the future, our other users will also benefit from the experience gained in the design environment,” says Oliver Lücker. “Windows desktops, office applications, and web browsers are also placing ever-increasing demands on graphics performance. For this reason, we’re considering using GPU acceleration for standard workstations as well. We expect to get an even better user experience on the virtual desktops – and a simultaneous reduction in CPU load on our servers.”
In addition to the GRIMME agricultural machinery factory based in Damme and Rieste, the GRIMME Group includes the North American potato and beet technology manufacturer SPUDNIK and the Danish vegetable technology manufacturer ASA-LIFT. With more than 150 machine types from the fields of potato, beet and vegetable technology, the GRIMME Group offers by far the widest and most comprehensive product range in these segments.
The machines are distributed in over 120 countries worldwide through specialist retailers. In the major growing regions in Great Britain, France, Denmark, Poland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Russia, USA, China, Belgium, India and Turkey, separate sales and service subsidiaries have been established.
About msg services
As an IT service and consulting partner, msg services ag develops high-performance, innovative solutions with which customers can achieve lasting added value in their business. The company belongs to the msg group, one of the most important IT consulting and system integration companies in the German-speaking region. Manufacturer-independent and cross-industry oriented, the core competencies of msg services range from process consulting to infrastructure solutions through to operating and application services.