Bit-Wizards helped build a marketing and entertainment customer experience kiosk for the Anheuser-Busch corporation. The project consists of a custom software and hardware solution that uses laser engraving and 3D controllers to engrave three different size Stella Artois chalices. User can enter up to 3 lines of text to be engraved on their chalice. They can also choose from a variety of emoji-like images that will engrave below the text and can select from a few different patterns to engrave around the top of the chalice.
RN Engineering approached the Bit-Wizards team to assist in their in-progress project for Anheuser-Busch. The RN Engineering team previously worked with a single developer shop that had technology challenges and could not scale the highly customized hardware and software system to fit the needs of the customer.
The initial version of the software was not optimized to run the engraving hardware at a speed that met the customer’s project requirements.
The software was also not able to run a complete wrap of engraving around the Stella Artois chalice globe area.
Along with the engraving setbacks, the promotional video needed for playback on a 7” mobile screen before and during the engraving was not playing correctly for optimal viewing.
The project was under a tight deadline with executive visibility. The first software company encountered issues and a decision was made to seek more advanced assistance. Anheuser-Busch and RN Engineering chose Bit-Wizards to bring enhanced expertise and experience to the immediate needs of the project. Bit-Wizards' professional approach and quick grasp of the issues and goals would ultimately lead to a successful outcome.
To meet the needs of the project timeline and the highly customized solution, the Bit-Wizards team swiftly made several decisions to allow for speed of development and to achieve necessary customer expectations.
First, during the discovery phase of the project, the Bit-Wizards team performed a project audit to determine which aspects of the software and hardware were working properly and which ones may need to be adjusted to meet the customer expectations. One of the first changes required was a shift from the Linux-based Python development language to C#. This switchover of programming languages allowed for the needs of the highly integrated software and hardware system to be met along with meeting customer experience needs. The Bit-Wizards team also applied a proper software development lifecycle (SDLC) integrated with Azure DevOps. This included release cycle management as well as continuous feedback and testing with the integrated hardware.
Next, the Bit-Wizards team shifted to the use of off-the-shelf components to assist in keeping hardware costs low. Bit-Wizards worked directly with RN Engineering to ensure that both the custom hardware components and off-the-shelf components were wired properly for optimal power and efficiency. The Bit-Wizards team wrote code to allow for multi-directional engraving instead of the linear-only that the original software did. This improvement reduced the engraving time by 50%. Acceleration and deceleration were also added to speed up and slow down during times the laser was and was not engraving, thus optimizing the entire engraving process.
During the last phases of testing and deployment of the project, Bit-Wizards worked closely with RN Engineering to finalize how the software would perform on the initial load during the manufacturing process and then also how the software would update over the air to the kiosks that were in use in the field. Multiple testing runs on prototype models were performed to ensure the system was complete for the Stella Artois customers.
During the initial discovery phase of the project, Bit-Wizards determined that the switch from a Linux-based Python coding language was necessary to meet the needs of background threading to speed up the application and the user interface responsiveness. The entire software user interface was redesigned for optimal user experience and to accommodate the use of a custom 7” touch screen.
A change of hardware also became necessary as the need to perform “over-the-air” updates was a critical customer requirement. The Bit-Wizards team determined that the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B and Smoothieboard would be adequate for this solution. Smoothieboards are numerical fabrication controllers designed to run the open-source Smoothieware.
After further inspection, several other changes to speed the engraving process became evident. Bit-Wizards built a GCode Generator that allows for on-the-fly generation of GCodes. GCodes are files that serve as instructions for the engraver to produce text and images. The GCode generator also creates static GCode images allowing for much quicker transmission of the GCodes to the engraver.
The combined hardware and software testing were critical to the success of this project. One significant improvement made to the voltage relay allowed Bit-Wizards to lower the noise level of the kiosk cooling fans when the engraver was not in use, by throttling the fans to minimum power. Then when the engraving begins, the voltage relay allows the fans to speed up to maximum power, thus cooling the kiosk for the engraving process.
Yet another improvement resolved a floating ground issue that was intermittently preventing the device from stopping the engraving process when someone opened the door of the device during engraving. This critical solution allows the entire device to safely power off immediately, which is a requirement by Federal OSHA guidelines.
Because of the unique nature of each Stella Artois chalice, each glass is unique and has various hidden imperfections on its surface. This situation was an unforeseen challenge for both teams. During the testing process, the Bit-Wizards team learned the nuances of applying the Smoothieboard and 3D motion controlling hardware to move the laser precisely enough to engrave each chalice with accuracy.
For deployment, Bit-Wizards leveraged the Microsoft device portal and over-the-air updates for devices already in the field that had earlier versions of the software installed.
The success of this project came from several factors. First, RN Engineering and Bit-Wizards met the tight customer delivery timeline, and the engraving kiosks were immediately in operation at several high-profile events worldwide. The time required to engrave a Stella Artois chalice was also optimized to meet the client's requirements. The engraving requirement for three lines of text was requested to be under 1 ½ minutes, which the team exceeded by achieving a complete engraving in under 40s seconds. The full chalice wrap engraving requirement was set at four minutes by the customer. RN Engineering's and Bit-Wizards' combined solution performed the full wrap design in less than 1 ½ minutes. The total engraving time for a complete design is less than 3 minutes, which exceeded the customer expectation by a full 2 ½ minutes.
We had our first public engraving event last night and I am so excited to say that the Stella Artois Engraving kiosk worked perfectly for the full event. There was a line of people waiting to get their chalice for the entire night—HUGE success!
—Samantha Conway, Anheuser-Busch Marketing
Anheuser-Busch places the Stella Artois chalice engraving kiosks at large national sporting and industry events, including the Wimbledon and the MLB World Series. During the 2020 Super Bowl event “Port de Stella” in Miami, Florida, the kiosks engraved 1,440 Stella Artois chalices. During the Brewery of Lights event in St. Louis, Missouri, they engraved over 2,600 chalices for event attendees. These unique kiosks are the result of the skillful integration of software, hardware, and IoT into one complete customer engagement solution.