Industry 4.0 - vision or reality?
12 Oct 2015
The following is an translation of the interview published in German by the magazine inspect.
inspect: Mr. Zollitsch, the words "Industry 4.0" and the "Internet of Things" are on everybody's lips. In your estimation, to what extent are we talking here about a vision of tomorrow or processes that have already been implemented in the industry?
Christof Zollitsch: The goal of Industry 4.0 is the "smart factory", which amongst other things should have properties such as flexibility, ability to learn and resource efficiency and is intended to enable the automatic exchange of data between the various production systems. Ever since this concept has become a buzzword, many efforts have been made to implement the concept in real plants and I've no doubt that some initial successful solutions have also been achieved. In my estimation, however, Industry 4.0 is still in its early stages at this moment in time and far removed from being in extensive use.
inspect: What relevance does Machine Vision have for Industry 4.0 and - conversely - what influence is this having on current developments in industrial imaging?
Christof Zollitsch: From my point of view, some of the goals of Industry 4.0 have been used successfully in the world of imaging for some years already. Just to mention one example: inspection data from the manufacture of sheet metals are passed on to manufacturers of car body parts. These are used to decide whether these sheet metals are used for visible vehicle parts such as wings or the bonnet, or whether, for example due to slight scratches, they are used only in areas that won’t be seen such as the underbody.
In order to meet the requirements of Industry 4.0, however, optimised and direct networking of imaging with the production plants is necessary along with a suitable database link. That is the only way to achieve flexible production control. This close integration of machine vision is also required in order to guarantee traceability of the production data, which for reasons of liability is essential for safety-relevant products such as brakes or steering components in vehicles . Today, many industrial imaging systems are more than just pure inspection systems, since they allow the early recognition of trends in the production process - if the results are interpreted and processed appropriately. In this sense, they are already corresponding to the concepts of Industry 4.0. For example, the increasing wear of a tool can be recognised on the basis of increasing error rates or the progressive worsening of the quality features of the manufactured products using machine vision data.
All in all, I view machine vision technology with its many possibilities as being a fundamental component of Industry 4.0: this concept cannot be put into practice at all without it. Due to the high demands placed on sensor-based systems, Industry 4.0 represents a big opportunity for machine vision to establish itself further as a key technology in production. No other technology is able to classify certain types of error like imaging. This capability is an important requirement for flexible manufacturing within the meaning of Industry 4.0.
inspect: What does that specifically mean for your marketing strategy as a technology supplier for machine vision - now and in future?
Christof Zollitsch: We want to face up to the challenges of Industry 4.0 and take advantage of the opportunities connected with it. One of STEMMER IMAGING's important goals has always been to be the ideal port of call for all questions regarding this technology through co-operation with leading manufacturers of machine vision components. We expect that our customers should be able to obtain the best available components, associated service and know-how on the market from us. That also applies in connection with Industry 4.0: we will be precisely monitoring the technical developments in this field and incorporating our experience where possible in order to remain at the cutting edge in the interests of our customers.
inspect: To what extent are these developments influencing your product range? Are there or have there been changes or adjustments?
Christof Zollitsch: At present the changes to machine vision components caused by Industry 4.0 are still limited. However, there are already initiatives aimed amongst other things at closer co-operation between the PLC and the world of imaging. The goal here is the improved, simpler integration of imaging in the production environment, which is a major requirement for Industry 4.0.
inspect: What should potential users of machine vision systems pay attention to today in order to make their investment as future-proof as possible?
Christof Zollitsch: Nowadays, very few systems are still being developed in order to manufacture a single product in high quantities over many years. The number of items in a product range is also often decreasing, therefore modern production lines must be flexibly designed so that they can be converted quickly and simply to other products. This has a direct effect on the selection of the integrated machine vision: the plant's "eyes" must be capable of reliably detecting errors even in changing products or fast production cycles. The composition of an imaging system therefore becomes a tightrope walk between the technically feasible and the economically reasonable. Experience in the selection of components is required here, and that is what STEMMER IMAGING offers its customers.
inspect: What help and special services can you offer your customers for this?
Christof Zollitsch: We support our customers with many different measures for the implementation of more competitive and thus more successful systems and plants. This naturally also includes direct advice from experienced experts on all aspects of machine vision in the solution development phase, which we can also back up with feasibility studies where necessary.
In addition, you must be able to rely on the long-term assured availability of individual components if you want to build future-proof systems. Our customers benefit here from our close co-operation with our suppliers and the high standing that STEMMER IMAGING enjoys with these partners.
Beyond that, our own hardware and software development capacities allow us to implement custom components and partial solutions that can help our customers to achieve genuine unique selling points.
Among the many other services that we offer, I would like in particular to emphasise our training activities, which we offer through the European Imaging Academy: in our continuous training courses covering all important aspects of machine vision, we train our customers and prospective customers and thus prepare them for imaging. The great interest in our Machine Vision Technology Forum, which is taking place for the second time on 3 and 4 November 2015 in Unterschleissheim near Munich, clearly shows that the users of this technology have an enormous thirst for knowledge. I'm not surprised at that: imaging is an important key to the development of successful systems. You are well on the way to success if you know more about this subject than the competition.
Das gesamte Interview mit Christof Zollitsch mit der Zeitschrift inspect finden Sie hier zum Download als PDF.