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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Moving beyond sensors

They say it’s an important virtue to practice what you preach – which is why SICK went all out to assemble a ground-breaking Industry 4.0 factory from scratch

THE concept of the Industrial Internet of Things and the idea of a “Smart Factory” has become a familiar talking point, yet while most manufacturers understand the concept, relatively few have had the opportunity to turn theory into practical experience. Industry 4.0’s big picture view of seamless connectivity can seem somewhat abstract to production teams on the ground. They want to adapt their machines and systems to meet the day-to-day challenges of tight margins, pressure for more production uptime, transparent product traceability – all while juggling more frequent batch changeovers. Take a sensor’s-eye view and it’s easier to see the impacts of Industry 4.0 at the shop-floor, micro level, as well as a global, macro one. That’s because intelligent sensors are the workhorses that collect the data at the field level to initiate and drive processes and provide vital information right from the heart of a machine about its efficiency and condition.

Industry 4.0 From Scratch
As one of the world’s leading sensor manufacturers, SICK has taken a bold decision to practice what it preaches and build an Industry 4.0 factory from scratch. The new 1,000 m2 facility nestled in the valley town of Hochdorf, near Freiburg in the German Black Forest, is a fully-operational Smart Factory, that has left conventional, linear mass production far behind.
SICK’s smart photoelectric sensors, among them core product ranges, are manufactured in high volumes and with a high level of product variety. Here, pristine rows of glass-encased, robotic production cells operate silently while a fleet of small, elegant Automated Guided Carts glide effortlessly between them.
The modular production process has at its core 12 automated technology cells. Instead of a conventional linear manufacturing sequence, the workflow progresses flexibly according to the ‘recipe’ of each customer order, so that material flow can be optimised and the best use made of available production capacity.
Autonomous digital production and control were essential to the Hochdorf blueprint. Yet, the factory is not just conceived as a fully automated and robotic environment from which humans are shunned. Alongside 12 automated universal machines, each with several complementary technical processes or ‘services’ on board, such as robot gluing, vision camera inspection, or a housing assembly process, there are nine manual workstations and one hybrid workstation. SICK sensors of all kinds: smart sensors, laser scanners and vision cameras are at the heart of every process. Each production cell/module uses SICK sensors for its own automated quality control using an integrated camera Automated Optical Inspection (AOI) system, to check the work step and reject any sub-standard assemblies.

Lot Size of One
Above all, what sets the factory apart as a flagbearer for Industry 4.0, is its fully-flexible operation, down to the almost-mythical ‘lot size of one’. While its annual capacity may be upward of 1.2 million pieces, there are virtually no limits to the variety that is conceivable. Small production batches can be easily accommodated at an affordable price for customers.
SICK’s experiences at Hochdorf demonstrate how companies of any size can take on board aspects of a factory of the future today. Industry 4.0 technologies accelerate production, streamline material flow, optimise capacity utilisation, and respond more flexibly to customer priorities. They enable proactive maintenance and intelligent data exchange on demand.
In the past, establishing a high-volume production facility would have required fixed equipment to build one product, or a small number of variations. Crucially, SICK has embedded a universal flexibility into its Smart Factory to adapt and develop in future. As a result, the plant is capable of manufacturing products that are yet to be conceived.

For more information, contact Andrea Hornby on 01727 831121 or email andrea.hornby@sick.co.uk

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