How much Industry 4.0 can we find today in the automotive industry? What role does safety technology play in human-robot collaboration, and what are the requirements manufacturers of high-performance and rugged sensors place on flexible automation and quality assurance? To find answers to these and other questions, SICK hosted the Automotive Days under the motto “Get the Progress Rolling – Do not be afraid of Industry 4.0”.
For the first time, the event concept included expert meetings. These expert forums were held on the topics of machine vision and tire industry and took place concurrently with the actual Automotive Days. “Thus we have responded to the participants’ feedback from the previous years and provided a platform for the visitors who are interested to obtain more in-depth information,” says Bernd Keunecke, Sales Manager – Automotive Industry, SICK Vertriebs-GmbH. The expert forums not only included the presentations but also a sophisticated, interactive exhibition of products and system solutions.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Wahlster, CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) in Saarbrücken, delivered the keynote speech on Industry 4.0. He used specific practical examples to illustrate how intelligent sensor networks facilitate the flexible control of production with minimal set-up times. Other presentations, given by guest speakers from the automotive industry, offered exciting insights into topics such as human-robot-collaboration, the use of carbon fiber-reinforced polymers in the BMW i, or an outlook on trends and developments in global car production.
In their presentation “RFID for work-in-progress tracking – automated component tracking in final assembly” both speakers from Volkswagen gave a specific example of how Industry 4.0 is implemented at the shop-floor level. According to Keunecke, RFID-based asset tracking poses a challenge in technical terms, but a manageable one, as has been clearly proved by extensive tests on the Passat production line in Emden. The next step would be to include the entire supply chain from the part suppliers to the service to adapt the existing data and IT structures to the requirements of Industry 4.0.
Machine vision in times of Industry 4.0
Many manufacturers have long been using optical sensors to monitor the manufacturing process and check if each component is in the right place. “We are going a step further with our camera systems,” says Ingo Schübel, Manager Solutions Engineering Automotive Industry, SICK Vertriebs-GmbH. “These systems not only detect if the component is in the correct position, but also monitor its quality. The system can thus be used for quality assurance.
Camera systems can also be used in track-and-trace applications. “Image-based code readers will allow customers to monitor the bar code quality of all components,” says Detlef Deuil, Product Manager 2D Vision and Image-based Code Readers, SICK AG. “Information that is obtained this way provides answers to questions such as: Why was the code reader not able to read the code? Is it in an unsuitable position? Has the print quality of the code been affected by preceding processing steps?” For some time now, SICK has offered to customers from other industries a special software program called Analytics Solutions for the evaluation of the image data supplied by the camera systems. “If the customers are interested, SICK could also offer this software for the automotive industry in the future. It could be used, for example, to compare the performance of production lines at different locations,” says Deuil.
What are the requirements of tomorrow?
The more features are added to the bar code readers and systems such as the PLB (for parts localization in bins) the more important it will be to provide the customers with a user-friendly control and configuration interface. “The PLB is a very good indication of what the future will look like,” says industry expert Schübel. “Our camera systems perform an increasing number of tasks which were previously the responsibility of system integrators and robot manufacturers. Our cameras not only tell the robot where the part is located inside the bin, but also which movements it has to make to retrieve this part. Our cameras also monitor the surroundings of the robot and can detect, for example, if an employee is close by.” Deuil adds: “The automation level in final assembly is not very high yet. Due to the large variety of components and colors, we see some potential here, for example, for vision sensors, which can identify bar codes as well as the color of components.”
SICK welcomed a total of over 100 attendees in Waldkirch. They offered very positive feedback, which was full of praise for the agenda and the organization of the customer event. “The first preparations for the SICK Automotive Days 2016 are underway,” says Bernd Keunecke.
Solutions from SICK for the automotive industry
SICK offers to customers from the automotive industry a broad range of technologies – including vision sensors, such as the Inspector, smart cameras for complex tasks, robot guidance systems for parts localization in bins or parts localization for de-racking, and RFID.