"Many people still associate the term Industry 4.0 with the idea of a deserted production facility," says André Pöppe, Product Manager at industrial tool specialist Desoutter in Maintal. But the opposite is the case. After all, by digitizing assembly, companies not only increased quality and productivity; they also showed themselves to be an attractive employer that provides its employees with innovative and ergonomic workplaces.
Mr. Pöppe, Desoutter offers a worker assistance system for assembly workstations. What problems of your customers can you solve with your assistance system PivotWare?
André Pöppe: Right at the top of the list are the issues of quality and efficiency: these must be right in a high-wage country like Germany; because very few people can afford rejects. The industry has to be economical with the material used, especially with the value-adding time. Worker assistance systems can provide very good support here. Some companies also approach us with a concrete quality problem. These can be forgotten screw connections or exchanged components, for example O-rings. Sometimes individual components are not fastened correctly or are attached at the wrong angle. Or entire assembly sections are simply not completed. Modern assistance systems help to avoid these errors. Protection by traditional means has its limits.
Are you talking about assembly templates, colour markings or training?
Exactly. Some also try premiums, but such approaches do not help in the long term. Because people are always a source of error, at least potentially. Especially since assembly is becoming increasingly complex. If many variants are produced or complex components are manufactured, confusion is more likely to occur. We have customers with 20,000 or more variants per product. Nobody can remember them - and color markings are no help here. In addition, product life cycles are becoming shorter in all branches of industry. And there is a trend towards individualization everywhere, keyword "batch size 1". However, such diversity and complexity must first be reflected in production. With a worker assistance system such as our PivotWare, this can be done very quickly and easily.
Can you give an example of how worker assistance supports in such cases?
You can integrate pick-by-light boxes or provide the component variants with different codes. The worker scans the variant before assembly and a light signal indicates the material box with the appropriate screws. The software registers whether he takes the right screw and only then releases the screwdriver for assembly.
How much worker assistance is used, by the way, is decided by our PivotWare customers themselves. The system has a modular structure. The "basic equipment" can be supplemented by almost any number of features - depending on how complex the requirements are.
Are there other reasons for using worker assistance besides quality assurance and mastering complexity?
Yes. Some customers simply want to increase efficiency, facilitate training or implement a digital process for traceability. For example, one of our customers who pre-assembles automotive components has to maintain and verify a defect rate of less than 2 ppm. With our PivotWare this is easily possible. Faulty screws or components are detected in time, before possibly defective components leave the company and later lead to quality problems with the end product. Or before unnecessarily much further added value is invested in a part that later has to be dismantled or discarded. Other customers, on the other hand, have to comply with legal requirements or simply have a good reputation to lose when defects occur.
How do the employees perceive the new technology? And how do they cope with it?
Usually very well. Another reason for the use of worker assistance is to relieve the employees mentally and physically, for example from manual activities that are not ergonomic. Or to relieve them of the responsibility for faulty screw connections. This reduces the workload, and sick leave also usually falls. In some companies there are even internal application lists for assembly workstations with worker assistance! This means that the employees perceive these workplaces as modern and innovative. One must understand digitalisation as an investment in the future of the workplace. This makes an employer attractive for applicants - and this is not unimportant especially in the affluent belt of large business cities, where many companies compete for rare skilled workers.
But isn't the increasing automation making the workers superfluous?
No. The degree of automation in assembly will continue to increase in the future. But most processes are far too complex to be fully automated. They require an insight that only a human being can provide. The approach is rather that the know-how and jobs at the location should be maintained. That's why companies have to make sure that they avoid mistakes, are efficient, train people quickly and improve continuously. With a worker assistance system like PivotWare, they can ensure that manufacturing in Germany is still worthwhile. And efficiency plays a major role in this.
On the keyword "efficiency" - what can a worker assistance system do in this context?
I become more efficient with an assistance system like PivotWare because many manual steps - and thus potential sources of error - are eliminated. For example, collecting data or searching for information. I use it to bring a computer to a workplace that communicates with devices, sensors, actuators and tools. In the classic work instruction, the worker may need to look something up - PivotWare shows him without delay. Theoretically, he doesn't even have to scan the component anymore because I can integrate MES or ERP systems into my solution. I also avoid so-called media breaks, which not only cost time but are also the cause of numerous errors. One example: I use a dial gauge to measure the length or concentricity of components and transfer the values to a sheet of paper. This in turn is entered into a computer by a third party. With a worker assistance system, this break is eliminated because I can easily integrate digital measuring devices into the process. And I can configure the process so that measurements have to be taken - or the process stops.
So PivotWare can handle complex or lengthy processes and a multi-variant production. Where else does the software support?
Such a system can also help with simple processes. For example, when it comes to proving the correctness of a single screw connection. With our assistance solution, the simplest products are assembled just as easily as extremely complex components, such as huge vehicle or ship components. With a worker assistance system, I can also not only prove the quality of the assembly, but also optimize my own processes by analyzing the records.
How exactly does this self-optimization work?
With PivotWare I can document my entire process and have the possibility to create birth certificates at component level. So I can prove which components have been used in a product and that I have manufactured according to the specifications. But I can also make the production of entire time periods quantitatively tangible and thus draw conclusions from my processes: Where do I need a particularly long time, where should I rethink the process or where do I need to support the worker even better? I can put all this into figures without anyone sitting next to me with a stopwatch. This data is collected "en passant" during production.
You mentioned birth certificates at component level. Is this type of documentation frequently requested?
The need for documentation is definitely on the rise and no longer concerns only the automotive industry. The securing of screw connections according to class A of VDI/VDE 2862 is also increasingly demanded in branches of general industry. And even if "life and limb are not at risk" when a screw connection fails, companies today want to be able to prove that they have done an excellent job. For some it is a matter of being able to defend themselves against complaints in case of doubt, for others it is a matter of image enhancement. We often experience companies inviting their end customers to visit them after the installation of our PivotWare. A modern production, which is lean and efficient and delivers excellent quality, is often shown around.
Even recall campaigns become much easier and more efficient.
It is very important for more and more companies to be able to draw the right conclusions, for example when their suppliers recall components. If the supplied assemblies are also recorded by serial number and these are documented in the birth certificate, a manufacturer can write to the customers concerned in a targeted manner without having to recall production for several weeks.
By the way, documentation via PivotWare is also a plus point when production is audited. For example, it can no longer happen that the wrong character index is on paper at a station. With a worker assistance system I always have the current index on my control system.
How do you advise companies interested in worker assistance? Can the system be viewed beforehand?
Yes of course. Before a customer takes the first steps towards digitising the assembly, he can get to know the system at our company. For this purpose we invite to a workshop in Maintal, to which the company should bring its own components. At our Smart-Factory-Line the customer can experience the structure practically and we will build the process around the components brought along together with him. For this purpose we use pick-by-light systems, screwdriving tools, sensor technology, scanners, printers and much more. So everyone can see immediately how easy it is to use. As far as I know, no other system can do this with this range of functions. This is unique on the market.
But also complex ... How long does it take to implement such a worker assistance system?
That varies greatly. We exchange information with companies from six weeks to a year and a half. The decision-making processes for implementation often take a little longer at the beginning because many departments are involved. IT plays an important role in the integration of databases, equipment and computers; our customers' foremen, engineering, but also the commercial management participate, because the introduction is also a strategic decision. We support our customers from the first enquiry to project planning and implementation. Some customers want to start with a pilot to gain experience. We are even in favour of this, because it is easier for them to try out the system themselves after a training course. The customer can set up and change processes, create new variants - and experience how easy it is. With this one station, the universe of worker assistance becomes comprehensible, so that he can gradually introduce the system in his production as needed. We offer all the tools he needs for this: screwdrivers, software, displays ... And of course we embed all this in tailor-made training and comprehensive service. In any case, our experience shows that customers who buy a test station from us come back to us.