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Getting to 4.0 – one hard-won gain at a time

13 November 2018

If you work in manufacturing, you will be used to hearing about Industry 4.0, the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, and its vision of a brave new world for automation, just around the corner. It’s an exciting prospect. Yet, in reality, Industry 4.0 is much less about revolution, than it is about winning through steady, incremental progress, according to Seb Strutt, senior product manager for SICK UK

In the field of sports science, the concept of winning through ‘marginal gains’ is well-established. Famously pioneered by Sir Dave Brailsford, general manager for Team Sky and one-time head coach at British Cycling formula, it’s a tried and tested formula that has made winners of elite teams and kept them at the top of their sport.

Sweating the small stuff

It seems to me that the same concept can be applied successfully to production and automation. Most of the time, we make progress not so much through inspiration, as through day to day perspiration over small improvements to even the most prosaic of equipment and processes. It’s rare that we get the opportunity to engineer a big transformation.  

Instead, it can be all those 1% gains, made across a wide range of parameters, that together add up to keep us one step ahead of our competitors. At SICK, we work with customers every day in just this way with the aim of making those gains a little easier to achieve. 

Sensors and sensing systems are the trusty footsoldiers that cut downtime, increase throughput, improve product consistency and protect employee safety. 

Hard-fought margins

Many of our customers in food and FMCG production, for example, understand the pressures of high-volume, 24-hour operating environments. Many different types of sensors are sentries that stand watch over their processes to ensure slim margins are protected. SICK works with customers to develop sensing systems that result in lower overall cost of production, through simpler installation and operation, less waste and downtime.

Technology developments in imaging and machine vision, for example, have made 2D and 3D online inspection much more accessible, easy to set up and use.  Affordable systems like the 3D SICK TriSpector 1000 enable real-time quality control in a self-contained unit that is ‘plug and play’, saving on set-up and programming, then reducing rejects and line stoppages.

Consumers are demanding greater product variety, resulting in more production batch changeovers, and a greater need to gather data about products at every stage. So, it’s not just about whether the cap fits, but whether it is the right, cap, film, label, lid, or outer for the product inside

Now, we can integrate auto-identification systems with quality inspection to track, trace and record failures and trends. The SICK Inline Code Matcher quality control system, for example, is an easy set-up, stand-alone system that helps to ensure sure that the right product, flavour or batch has ended up in the right packaging. It is easily configured for high-production speeds and for 1D and 2D code validation across multi-lane production lines.

The Lector 600 image-based code readers at the heart of the system can be easily configured without any special training to monitor up to four lines simultaneously. The system tracks and records error patterns and long-term trends, so that processes can be improved, and any errors eliminated. Batch changeovers are accommodated quickly and easily ‘on the fly’. 

Light bulb moments

The greatest achievements and inventions of our time – from space flight to the light bulb – came about through grit and determination to build on previous experience. Similarly, Industry 4.0 is a battleground that will be won, in the end, one hard-fought step at a time, rather than through a once in a lifetime quantum leap.