In the world of Industry 4.0, all kinds of production processes are interconnected. The maintenance service receives a signal that a part needs to be replaced, even before it breaks down. The various machines in a production process are finely tuned to each other, so that the capacity can be used to the maximum. And at the touch of a button, all necessary figures can be called up in real time for management. That's Industry 4.0. Not a factory of the future. But harsh reality. Because it's all already available. However, it is not yet available everywhere in the Dutch factory halls. The Vision, Robotics & Motion trade fair, which will be held on 7 and 8 June 2023 in the Brabanthallen in 's Hertogenbosch, will change that. Eddie Mennen of Yaskawa Benelux and Henk Oosterhuis of SICK tell more about it.
Vision, Robotics & Motion has been the trade fair for 20 years where visitors can find smart solutions for automation in the manufacturing industry. This two-day fair features national and international experts and specialists in the field of Industry 4.0. There they will present techniques that give industrial robots 'view', so that they can see for themselves that a package is skewed during palletizing. There are systems with which complete logistics processes can be completed without the intervention of human intervention, such as a picking robot in automated greenhouses. And systems that allow the software of different machines to exchange data with each other for optimal use of production capacity. Industry 4.0 is a necessity in the eyes of the various exhibitors. Because it can, for example, mean the solution to the shortage of workers that is increasingly felt. Yet, as with every previous industrial revolution, there is hesitation to implement these solutions.
Smarter production systems
One of the exhibitors at Vision, Robotics and Motion is the Japanese Yaskawa Electric, one of the world market leaders in the field of drives, industrial automation and robotics. For example, production systems can become more intelligent and machines can be linked to each other by means of interfaces. But the operation can also become much more intuitive, so that the operator can concentrate on other things in the process.
“I think there is a lot of interest and willingness to get started with these new techniques,” says Managing Director Eddie Mennen of Yaskawa Benelux. “But there are many people who wonder: how? When I listen to the market, I see that there is a lot of struggle with a good plan of action to be able to implement it in their company. Most of them have the prospects in mind, but what they can actually do with them tomorrow or the day after tomorrow is not always clear. In the field of what we call i3 mechatronics, you first have to develop a good policy. That is quite difficult for many people.”
According to Mennen, Dutch companies are quite good at working with innovative techniques. In his opinion, the Netherlands is not doing so badly compared to other European countries. The Netherlands is considered a country of early adopters. A testing ground where entrepreneurs are willing to test new developments in practice.
Hesitation in entrepreneurs
However, Mennen sees a certain hesitation among entrepreneurs to actually set up such projects in practice. “That is not much different in other countries, you know. We are certainly not behind. Our knowledge level is quite up-to-date from an international perspective. But implementing it all properly and making it a success is another story. There is indeed a fear of investing in the wrong development, where you find out after a few years that you have to divest again.”
According to Mennen, a major stumbling block is still a lack of knowledge at many companies. That makes it more difficult to make the right choices. “Many companies need knowledge that they can acquire in a neutral way. And then not with a commercial party that directly benefits from selling you something. In terms of applications, the offer is meager.”
Different systems and bumps
We do have knowledge institutions such as TNO. But when it comes to making it really concrete and how to get applications going in your own factory, they don't know where to get that knowledge. A cluster such as the Mikrocentrum and the High Tech Platform can play an important role there. The best would be some kind of counter where an entrepreneur can put his question and where he can be helped with the implementation of these new applications in the field of Industry 4.0. That doesn't have to be free. There are still steps to be taken for knowledge institutions in that regard.”
One of the big hurdles to overcome is connectivity. How do you let the machines of different manufacturers communicate with each other? And suppose you have just invested in a good machine, but it turns out that it is not suitable for linking to another system? Can you retrofit appliances?
However, Mennen says, there are still manufacturers who do not want to open their software to third parties. In Germany, the VDMA is now working hard on an open-source standard: OPC-UA. This should make it easier to link systems from different manufacturers.
Objections from manufacturers at home and abroad
Product manager Henk Oosterhuis of the sensor manufacturer SICK also sees these reservations and objections among manufacturers at home and abroad. According to him, linking production processes to the IT environment causes many headaches for companies.
“Companies, for example, are not eager to link their production environment to a Cloud, where things happen that they cannot fully understand, but from which their machines are controlled. They find that scary. And they do have a point there. The impact is quite large. You see that companies are therefore looking for solutions that only work at their own location. Apart from Cloud-like environments. But that means opportunities are lost.”
SICK sensors are actually the eyes in industrial processes. This allows a system to 'see' that a product has been left behind in a transport box in a logistics line. To achieve this, various devices and machines must be linked together.
“We make it possible,” Oosterhuis explains, “to use that data from the sensors on the one hand for machine control and to use that data semi-independently for the IT environment. We are now doing this with sensors that work with a so-called IO link. That is the trend at the moment. But we will also introduce a platform - SICK ConnectX, where we will make all kinds of integration options between sensors and the IT environment even easier.”
According to Oosterhuis, artificial intelligence (AI) will play a major role in these linked production environments. “AI in sensors makes new things possible. Just take a look at components. When it comes to parts that have been nicely and precisely tailored, it is easy for a system to compare them with an example in the computer. This way you can pick out deviating specimens.”
“But try doing that with natural products, such as croissants or other foods. Such products are not really easy to define. However, in the field of inspections, quality checks and location determination, you can make a difference with AI. This brings automatic actions within reach that until now could only be done by a human being. Good example: is the almond on the filled cake correct? Try expressing that in a formula. With AI you can automate that control. This solves the problem of producers who have already automated their production lines, but who still rely on manpower for quality control.”
Different applications in an informal setting
According to Oosterhuis, such a system works best if the systems are linked in a Cloud. After all, the AI sensor must have thousands of examples of how an almond can properly sit on a filled cake. You can easily process those examples in the Cloud. SICK offers both systems that work autonomously on site and AI sensors that are linked to a Cloud. “You see those kinds of models emerging now.
In his opinion, the VRM trade fair is precisely the place to discuss the pros and cons of the various applications in an informal setting. “Here you see buyers and suppliers talking to each other. You can very easily put a problem on the table and ask an exhibitor what he offers as a solution for a certain specific problem in the field of vision, robotics or motion. That is also a reason for us to participate. And it's fun too. I always find them inspiring sessions.”
Oosterhuis remembers well how a manufacturer of precision parts approached him at the trade fair last year. “He had those parts he produced checked manually. He also lacked a quality report on those parts made. He wanted to know how to automate that. We suggested having our sensors check the individual product on the basis of the original product description and recording this in a report with a photo. This way you know that all parts that are delivered meet those requirements exactly. In fact, it gives you a leg to stand on if there are complaints afterwards that the product was delivered damaged. With that sensor report you can prove for each part that it was correct when it left the factory.”
Vision, Robotics & Motion will take place on 7 and 8 June in the Brabanthallen in 's-Hertogenbosch. For 20 years this trade fair has been the place where you can discover smart production automation solutions for the manufacturing industry. Your visit is free on both days, sign up here.