Features

Helping manufacturers reach Industry 4.0

Praveen Kannan, National Product Manager for SICK’s Industry 4.0 platform, shares how the company’s new Inspection Plus Tracking (IT+) solution is bringing manufacturers up to speed with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

As the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) continues to evolve, businesses need flexible solutions to adapt, says Praveen Kannan, National Product Manager for SICK’s Industry 4.0 Platform.

“The move towards Industry 4.0 is an unfolding macroeconomic trend that has been occurring across all sectors,” Praveen says. “We are seeing a shifting focus from traditional quality control and lean manufacturing to more agile processes. An example is a customer who wants their product made in a factory but doesn’t necessarily want the same product as everyone else. It’s that customisation that is driving the adoption of Industry 4.0, making manufacturing very flexible in terms of not only what is made, but also customising things to a degree we haven’t seen before.”

Under the umbrella of Industry 4.0, says Praveen, is the idea of ‘Seamless Manufacturing’, which allows organisations to scale up and down production-based variabilities of Stock Keeping Units [SKUs], lots, and batches. 

MAKING IT SEAMLESS 

SICK’s Inspection Plus Tracking (IT+) solution is playing a big role helping firms to achieve their goal of seamless manufacturing, says Praveen. Central to this solution is the use of machine vision and radio frequency identification systems (RFID) for quality control and end-to-end tracking. 

“Our advanced machine vision system uses a high speed, three-dimensional camera system,” says Praveen. “This system allows for infinite quality control on the production line. The accuracy of the system is down to micron level. With three-dimensional inspection, objects of varying sizes and shapes can be assessed for quality; and the system is suitable for any production line.”

The IT+ solution combines this machine vision with RFID for automated identification of products and assets, and provides digital visualisation for users. 

With superior tracking and inspection technology, Praveen says, comes better data and data visualisation for manufacturers. 

“Data is key for all manufacturers,” he says. “We at SICK are trying to create new data through our inspection and tracking system. Previously, our customers haven’t had the best data because they haven’t had the technology that produces that data. So with new data we create new value – and align with customers’ business synergies to create both top line growth and bottom line savings.”

INTERNATIONAL ADVANCES

SICK was founded in Germany after WWII to provide safety manufacturing solutions. Today, it employs more than 10,000 employees across all the major continents. While owned by its parent German company, he says that SICK’s Australian business is entirely focused on the local market.

“In terms of technology adoption, Australia is lagging behind, both due to price point and competency perspectives,” says Praveen. “But in terms of need and desire we are in greater need than – for instance – the United States or Germany.” To that end, he says that SICK has been investing in competency development in Australia for both machine vision and RFID, so that customers can leverage technologies at the right price point for their business.

Praveen says that SICK sets itself apart from its competitors both because of its own high-quality, German-produced engineering solutions and its energy in adapting those solutions to the Australian context. 

“SICK invests locally in resources to build competencies: we have onshore Industry 4.0 engineers working in Australia developing applications to link software with customers’ systems, and to assist in implementation,” he says. “We have a very large services and application skill set available for our customers. And we also have a great deal of local experience. Culturally, it’s a very different workforce in Australia for manufacturing and supply chains – so our experience working in Australia means we can tailor our solutions.”

Building core competencies and helping Australian firms to implement Industry 4.0 technologies is a core focus for SICK in the near term, says Praveen. “A lot of our customers have expressed a desire to implement Industry 4.0 technologies, but they don’t know where to start,” he says. “If a customer asks us: ‘I’m at level one how do I get to level 3.0 or 4.0?’ then we come up with a blueprint to help them get there. 

TAKING THE NEXT STEP

Praveen says that SICK’s IT+ solution is a great place to start for many manufacturers. Often, machine vision and RFID technologies are used in isolation, so businesses aren’t seeing the optimal results of either. “An example might be a customer who is using RFID in isolation, but not seeing the true value of tracking because they’re not seeing the defects as well,” he says. “On the other hand, a customer might be using machine vision solutions to locate defects but can’t leverage the true value of their insights because they lack the tracking technology to do more targeted recalls.” 

The key, he says, is to get RFID and machine vision working in harmony: “By marrying machine vision and RFID together we are seeing exponential benefits and synergies for our customers.”

For a concrete example of where IT+ is paying dividends, Praveen points to customers SICK has in the Australian food and beverage sector: “There have been increasing compliance requirements in terms of maintaining traceability as well as maintaining quality standards. And this is where our RFID and vision technologies are really helping our customers.” 

Praveen notes with pride SICK’s work with a large Australian-owned multi-species meat manufacturer to achieve its vision of farm-to-plate transparency. “By tagging and tracking every single animal on their production floor, this customer is able to achieve full traceability from raw material to finished product,” says Praveen. “These tracking events, combined with machine vision inspection, assures them that every single product is subjected to the highest quality check and can be tracked all along their production and supply chain.”

SICK’s sensor and tracking technologies are proving very helpful in high-risk businesses, such as meat production, to track and maintain workforce and consumer safety. 

“In Australia we think the adoption of Industry 4.0 technology will make Australian manufacturers more resilient,” Praveen says. “And this will build a very strong foundation for Australian manufacturers to remain relevant and competent going into the future.”

For more information on SICK, click here

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