Over 90 factory automation managers, engineers and trainers gathered in Waldkirch, Germany to find out what innovations were on offer at SICK company’s Automation Days

SICK is traditionally famous for its plant and process safety equipment, but at the company’s 2010 Automobiltage, held at its Waldkirch headquarters, the technology company offered insights into new areas of company activity. At the event, a total of 16 automotive manufacturers and suppliers spoke about their individual applications of SICK factory automation products from the ‘Sensor Intelligence’ portfolio, the presentations interspersed with presentations made by SICK representatives, who offered details on many of the company’s new areas of investigation.

Many of the biggest European carmakers were represented at the event, with delegates from Audi, BMW, Daimler, Ford and Volkswagen. The impressive attendee and speaker list also included senior engineers and managers from Tier suppliers and manufacturing equipment makers such as ABB, Bosch, Dassault Systèmes, Dürr, EDAG, Festo, FFT, Kuka, Schaeffler, Siemens and ZF.

Key presentations
Proceedings were started by SICK’s Markus Paschmann, who offered an overview of global automotive industry. He observed that while China and India are significant players in terms of overall production, their combined market impact is still unclear. According to Paschmann, global production will continue to be very volatile as it strives to meet the fluctuating demand and supply model choices suitable for cash-rich buyers and those with less disposable income.

Ewald Quell, of eQ-Innovation, a production technology consulting company, presented on the future of manmachine flexible production. Showing examples of how employees have moved from ‘direct working’ to management and support processes, Quell posed the thought-provoking question: “Will the man be removed from the factory in the same way that the horse was removed from farming?” He also covered the difference between Toyota’s method of integrating people into automated processes and the German style of installing as much automation as possible and then ‘fitting in’ the people.

Volkswagen variations
Quell was followed by Reinhardt Mielke, Head of Planning for global body-in-white processes at Volkswagen. Mielke spoke in detail about a single mechatronic component and how it was one of the ‘building blocks’ of modern automation. In addition to this, he outlined the construction process of a modern BIW cell, contrasting old and new ways of managing the work and how to avoid duplicated efforts in installing and proving systems through the use of centralised engineering teams. He further touched on the VW policy of de-centralising command processing, putting intelligent units in each cell to send and receive information as each unit dealt with every operation carried out in that station. The result was a simpler fault-finding process and the potential to add customisation for further flexibility.

The SICK approach
André Hack, Strategic Industry Manager of Cars and Vehicles at SICK, covered flexible automotive production and how the company’s expertise could add value to any area of the automated factory – beyond safety. He further illustrated SICK’s competences, comparing multi-model lines with standard layouts and how the intelligent sensor was central to a flexible production facility. Further, he discussed automated ID or track and trace, and sensor usage in AGVs and robot applications.

Hack also covered the ‘cooperative workplace’, combining the flexibility of humans and the efficiency and precision of robots with effective sensor-driven management and how this was a natural extension of SICK’s expertise, noted by its slogan of ‘Sensor Intelligence’.

The SICK ‘Automobile Days’ proved to be an interesting forum for the exchange of ideas about the design of manufacturing hardware and software, robots, lasers and AGV technology. With such a wealth of ideas, it will be interesting to see what developments SICK has to present at the next such gathering.