Conference Q&A: Andreas Hoell, Sick AG

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Sick’s technical industry manager – corporate solution center factory automation, on the Industrie 4.0 initiative and how it can help companies achieve further automation in manufacturing. 

What are the key components of the Industrie 4.0 initiative?

The German initiative Industrie 4.0 describes the main future development tasks required to achieve a smart factory. Core elements are vertical and horizontal communication integration, from sensor/actuator level on the shop floor up to company level and across companies. An additional core element will be the future development of human and machine in dialogue, to achieve a flexible and safe working environment.

Industrie 4.0 states that in the future we will have an industrial revolution in manufacturing whereby all new IT technologies will be brought together in automation. It’s not 100% defined how this will happen but the guideline is there and it can be applied to all things related to manufacturing.

The overall future challenge will be to achieve improved productivity combined with highly flexible production, to reach “mass customization”. If we continue using today’s automation systems we will fail due to the fact that we will create too much cost in automation, so with technologies and communication principals we have to become more flexible in this way. This flexibility will mean that manufacturers can produce every type of tire in a smart factory, which will adapt to new variants very quickly.

How can Sick help companies achieve this?

We are a sensor manufacturer and we have a complete portfolio from standard optical and inductive sensors to the complete safety equipment to vision and RFID equipment. In being more flexible in the manufacturing this means that more parts and production materials have to be detected, inspected and identified. To fulfill future requirements our sensors will have more intelligence, will be more robust and also have to communicate more. Today we typically communicate to the PLC on the machine level, but referring back to Industrie 4.0, this clear structure will be more transparent in the future. As mentioned at the beginning, one of the core elements will be the vertical communication integration, from sensor/actuator level on the shop floor up to company level. For example, information we collect with our sensors in the machine, supports the production planning systems, because we can bring transparency of the shop floor, for example where each production material is and if it will be available at the right time at the next machine.

What other key considerations are there in achieving further factory automation?

As already mentioned, there will be an ongoing process in human and machine in dialogue. To reach better productivity with improved production flexibility, it will also be necessary to find the balance between full automation and manual work. It doesn’t make sense to automate all manufacturing processes completely as the cost of that will be too high. Every application must be evaluated with regards to the break even point. For example, the higher automation will help get rid of boring work and heavy loading, but high-end manufacturing tasks and handling of flexible parts will still have to be done manually at the same place. For this new technologies and products will help to establish human machine/robot collaborating work places.

More on automation in the upcoming issue of Tire Technology International.

Don’t forget to visit the Tire Technology Expo Conference in 2016 where Hoell will be presenting a paper on this topic.

September 17, 2015

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Rachel's career in journalism began around five years ago when she started working for UKi Media & Events, having recently graduated from Coventry University where she studied the subject. Her favourite aspect of the job is interviewing industry experts, including researchers, scientists, engineers and technicians, and learning more about the ground-breaking technologies and innovations that are shaping the future of the automotive and tire industries.

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