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Welcome to reality: Industry 4.0 at SICK

What is still a future vision elsewhere is an everyday event at SICK: Production to Industry 4.0 standards // Bei SICK ist Alltag, was andernorts noch Zukunftsmusik ist: eine Produktion nach Industrie-4.0-Standards.

What is still a future vision elsewhere is an everyday event in Hochdorf: Production to Industry 4.0 standards, with software-controlled processes, and digitally networked machines that communicate with one another and optimize processes autonomously. 13 employees are a fixed component in this scenario because – despite all the automation – humans are important participants in this system.

One would look for rigidly linked production lines in vain in Hochdorf. Twelve fully automated and four manually operated assembly modules, as well as one hybrid made up of automated and manually operated components, stand like islands in the light and airy hall. AGCs supply material to the modules, driving along the aisles and sharing a collaborative workspace with the personnel. All this is controlled by high-performance software specially developed by SICK. All the information on an order is laid down in this decentrally organized and networked ‘control center’, e.g. product properties, unit numbers, and which production step is necessary on which module. The system transmits this information to the machines, or provides it to the employees via a digital assistant system. In the other direction, the higher-ranking factory system constantly receives feedback on the state of the order. SICK sensors are decisively involved in this communication, proving themselves in Hochdorf under real Industry 4.0 conditions.

Five of a total of twelve planned product families are currently produced in Freiburg-Hochdorf; 500,000 product variants are conceivable thanks to this highly flexible system. “This allows us to respond to increasingly individual customer requirements and even produce small unit numbers affordably,” explains Joachim Schultis, Head of Operations, Photoelectric Sensors & Fibers. In addition to this high flexibility comes enormous resource efficiency: “With the help of the software we prioritize orders – producing sensors, in effect, on demand. Product variants are first laid down in the system and produced when they are actually called up by a customer.”

And what does this mean for the colleagues at Hochdorf? “The strengths of Industry 4.0 production are shown in the collaboration with the personnel,” says Klaus Burger, Manager Assembly, Photoelectric Sensors & Fibers. In this way, machines can take over activities that are monotonous, tiring or particularly prone to error: “Machines can take over the work if, for example, tiny little screws have to be turned with a particular torque, relieving the employees.” Overall, work in an Industry 4.0 environment is more varied than on classic assembly lines. “Everyone can do everything here. This requires new skills and holistic understanding,” says Burger. Who takes on what is clarified by the team (currently in one-shift operation). “This promotes communication and team spirit. Everyone maintains an overview and makes major contributions.”

And precisely this is also of central importance for the further development and expansion of Industry 4.0 at SICK: “Although we already work productively, we are still a learning system. The feedback we get from the people makes an important contribution towards further improvements,” says Schultis, advocating patience and trust if, at times, some things cannot be achieved immediately. Everyone at the Hochdorf site is well aware of how important this pioneering work is: “It’s a super feeling being able to actively contribute towards the success of this important project,” adds Burger.

Exhibitor: SICK AG

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