There is a growing need for UK manufacturers to embrace new technologies as they face ever-increasing demand to improve efficiency. Whether this is due to foreign competitors, the ambiguity of what to expect post-Brexit, or simply stakeholder pressure, businesses large and small are forced to do more with less.
Marc Hauschild reports on a product that avoids factory floor disruption and helps make Industry 4.0 adoption straightforward.
The need for increased efficiency is not something new; businesses have always faced pressures to improve their output and minimise costs. What is new, however, is a specific focus on adopting new technologies to achieve efficiency goals.
Adopting new technologies is easier for some companies than others. Some UK businesses have the necessary in-house capabilities to quickly absorb new tools, machines, or software, while others are facing hurdles that get bigger each day.
Whatever the headwinds, not overcoming those issues today simply means they will be even more difficult tomorrow – for example, the widening skills gaps and legacy software issues.
However, the good news is that it is possible for all businesses to solve these issues, take on new technologies, and seize the opportunities that Industry 4.0 has to offer.
They can make a start on their Industry 4.0 journey without a complete overhaul of their operations – tools and technologies are available to help improve efficiency in the manufacturing process that can instantly add value without downtime.
These so called ‘plug-and-play solutions’ are designed to work straight out of the box. The advantage such solutions bring to manufacturing facilities is that they require no installation costs or particular skills to get started, thereby minimising financial risk.
Anyone can use these technologies, and some products are even available for an on-premise trial run to prove that that they work for the use case that the company specifies.
The ideal scenario for businesses is when such plug-and-play solutions can be tested in-situ by simply unplugging old tools and swapping in new ones. An example of this is ProGlove’s hands-free scanner – the MARK.
These wearable scanners have replaced the traditional handheld scanners in many manufacturing facilities in Europe.
“When we created our first product, the MARK One S, we wanted to be sure that customers who have an existing barcode-scanning solution can start using our scanners as soon as they receive them,” says ProGlove’s Derk Steemers.
“Now our customers just have to unplug their existing solution, plug in ours, which connects the scanner to their system, and they are ready to go.”
The plug-and-play aspect of these scanners lies in the way the data is transmitted. “If a business is already using a traditional handheld scanner to scan barcodes then it is a small change to switch to our MARK One S or MARK 2. We enter the same data into the system, but we allow the worker to do it in a much more efficient and ergonomic way,” Derk explains.
This is not just a marketing claim. For example, plant manager Armin Schwab from Bosch Thermodynamics says, “We foresee a significant improvement in ergonomics as well as an increase in efficiency due to the simple integration.”
“As more and more companies are switching from paper to digital by giving their workers tablets that connect with their barcode scanners, we want to make that switch easier for them.
That is why we are now launching the MARK 2, which can quickly connect with these tablets using Bluetooth. Just like you would do for your Bluetooth keyboard,” continues Derk.
What is unique about ProGlove’s MARK One S and MARK 2 is that they don’t require a company to change how they work, while still delivering a transformative effect. Derk explains that this is the result of putting the worker’s experience first when designing the tool;
“With our scanners, workers scan barcodes just like they did before, but this time they do that in a more intuitive way. The result is the elimination of two steps in the scanning process. The barcode scanner has been adapted so that it is operated with the user’s natural and intuitive motion, eliminating the repetitive effort of picking it up and putting it down. The result is a more ergonomic tool for the worker and a boost in efficiency for the company.”
At last November’s Smart Factory Expo in Liverpool – part of Digital Manufacturing Week, visitors heard about large enterprises that have embraced the MARK wearable scanners and the surge in efficiency they produced.
For example, at the BMW plant in Dingolfing in Southern Germany this solution manages to save four seconds per scan for each worker that uses these hands-free scanners. This adds up to an additional 20 hours of productivity for each employee that uses a MARK scanner.
One size fits all
It’s not just large international enterprises that have managed to increase their efficiency with ProGlove. Derk points out that their clientele consists of both big and small companies; “We are obviously delighted to have so many flagship customers, but we are also proud that we have made a solution that anyone can easily connect to their system and thereby scan more efficiently,” he explains.
One of the lessons that UK businesses can learn from this example is that there are solutions available that adjust themselves to how they currently run their operations. These products allow manufacturing facilities to optimise their current processes instead of disrupting them with costly, time-consuming solutions that force a company to abruptly change how it works.
UK businesses can work round the obstacles they face when choosing which Industry 4.0 technologies to invest in; testing the waters with an on-site trial or going straight to a plug-and-play solution.