What do you see as the single most important technology trend influencing machine safety system in a company?
Industry 4.0. is a real ‘mega trend’ that is sweeping through the industry. Virtually, every company has been touched by this mega trend and we’re likely to see significant changes in every stage of industrial production as a result. This also affects machine safety in a multitude of ways. New machines and production concepts impact the design of safety systems. If components are manufactured in highly automated one-size production batches, machines need to offer much greater flexibility, as too must the safety equipment.
What are your thoughts on the current pace of digital transformation in the industry? Could you please tell us about the work you are doing in the digital domain when it comes to machine safety and appliances?
The industrial production in times of industry 4.0 is data driven. Real-time data of every machine and component will create more transparency and will be used to leverage further potential for efficiency. Therefore, our company will continue to focus its R&D efforts to develop intelligent and reliable sensors and integrated system solutions. For example, we work on solutions that enable our components and systems to also deliver non-safety related data. The advantages are obvious: Components used to comply with safety standards can simultaneously contribute to productivity gains as a “data supplier”. So, it kills two birds with one stone.
What is your strategy for improving and accelerating the innovation processes in your company? When you say new ground needs to be broken when it comes to the introduction of new technologies, how do you think that can be done?
In times of rapid technological change, we need to make sure that we deliver our customers with innovations and “working” products as early as possible. So, we started introducing agile development methods at our R&D department. The biggest change with this method is a new way of thinking and interacting. For example, the way we listen to and communicate with our customers or the way R&D engineers and sales people work together in self-organising teams. So far, we have achieved excellent results with this method.
How do you visualise the establishment of group-wide R&D standards in terms of Schmersal’s global product portfolio?
We have eshtablished seven R&D locations to turn new ideas into marketable products. After a successful implementation in Germany, we will roll out the new agile approaches globally with a focus on building interdisciplinary development teams. In addition, we leverage the individual strengths of the global R&D community by forming competence centers, covering a wide range of technologies from cost-effective electromechanical products through high-end electronic safety sensors and solenoid interlocks to IoT/cloud-based software solutions. Our aim is to launch innovations as quickly as possible, which meet customer-specific requirements and bring real competitive advantages to our customers.
What are some of the best practices and tips for companies on handling machine safety problems today? What are some of the potential mistakes companies make?
We have many leading customers who have incorporated safety well and considered the safety strategy of their machinery from the very first pencil sketches. In these cases, the safety chain, i.e. the sensors and interlocks combined with safe analysis, have already been incorporated in an exemplary fashion. But unfortunately, that is not the norm. There are machine manufacturers who only consider safety at the very end of their design chain. The machines are often already completed and the safety technology is then spoilt. There is no doubt that it is more economical to consider safety technology at the planning stage. After all, besides protecting the operator, machine safety also has a second essential objective – process efficiency. A well-planned safety solution can help reduce downtimes of machines and increase availability and productivity.
How is your approach different from other machine safety system companies in this space? Can you share some recent success stories?
Our safety services division named tec.nicum makes us unique in the market. We have seen an increasing demand for qualified support on different aspects of machine safety. Also, our global customers expect from their suppliers a single point of contact to be available for all their questions and problems, a contact who knows and understands their applications and has comprehensive know-how. That’s the reason why we have set up this business unit. This safety service division offers all machine manufacturers and operators a manufacturer-neutral consultancy on all statutory guidelines and supports them with the safe design of their machines.
What is the vision that your company has for itself?
Our vision is to be the leading system and solution provider in machine safety by reaching the highest level of customer satisfaction. This means that we want to meet the specific needs of our customers even better than before. There are various ways to achieve this. For example, our global customers are increasingly demanding complete solutions from a single source. Therefore, our company is entering strategic alliances with other suppliers. Satech Safety Technology is one of our sales partners, whose safety fences are an optimal tool to safeguard, eg robot workstations – and even more so when combined with our company’s safety sensors and solenoid interlocks. The product ranges of our companies complement one another perfectly, meaning that we can offer one-stop shop solutions.