For Anita Renc, Chief Sales Officer at Afag Engineering GmbH, it’s important to be on hand in person at the Motek/Bondexpo 2021 on-site trade fair, and to rekindle the all-important dialogue with customers and partners. She also talks about trends in assembly and handling technology in an exclusive interview with P. E. Schall. Amongst other things, these include mechatronic products with integrated micro-electronics or micro-mechanics, as well as embedded electronics with corresponding on-board software.
Ms. Renc, handling systems for assembly and handling technology are Afag’s core business and the lifeblood of traditional industrial production. Name three keywords that have shaped developments in this area to an especially significant extent over the past ten years.
- Electric axes with linear motor technology which permits significantly higher dynamics and more precise positioning,
- combined rotary-gripper modules with the option of endless rotation (no limit to the angle of rotation),
- fast transport systems with maximum positioning accuracy
… and three keywords that will change assembly and handling technology in the next ten years.
Smart modules, harvesting exploitable information from collected data and balancing innovation with competitive pricing.
Which technological developments will have to be advanced in particular to this end? Are there any obstacles or special challenges? If so, which?
- The tendency or trend towards mechatronic products with integrated micro-electronics or micro-mechanics.
- Embedded electronics equipped with corresponding on-board software such as control algorithms, and making it possible for products to function quasi-autonomously.
- In addition to this, buses such as OPC UA, OPC UA over TSN, AML etc. – based wherever possible on real-time communication such as Ethernet – are playing an increasingly important role.
- The Iot capability of products will become increasingly important, and the algorithms that generate relevant information for the customer from available data should ideally already be integrated into the product.
- Where dynamic motion is concerned, the issue of functional safety, for example, will become more and more important and axis controllers will have to include increasing numbers of corresponding capabilities.
- In the future, digital twins will have to be provided for components and subsystems in addition to 3D CAD and CAE data, in order to make virtual commissioning possible for customers with the corresponding simulation tools.
- Increasing dependence on software requires ASAP concepts which ensure the necessary cybersecurity, in order to be able to sustainably provide protection against corresponding cyberattacks.
Assembly and handling technology has gained a fresh image due to the explosive development of robotics. Which development do you find especially impressive?
The speed at which this technology is being adapted to the technical requirements and pricing options for the applications. The effort required in order to integrate these technologies into projects has decreased significantly over the past ten years. Programming has become much simpler and companies have rapidly developed their expertise in this field. Universities offer corresponding courses of study, and young engineers are approaching this topic with confidence and self-assurance. The goal must be for robots and vision systems to be configured by installation technicians in the future instead of being programmed by programmers.
To what extent has the pandemic situation changed industrial processes and routine daily production in your opinion? Will these be lasting changes which continue after the crisis?
First and foremost, the pandemic has obviously changed the way we work. Opportunities for digital collaboration have been around for a long time, but otherwise they would never have gained such widespread acceptance so quickly. I’m convinced that these insights will persist beyond the crisis and create new opportunities in our routine daily work. Moreover, the crisis has also refocused attention on the value of local supply chains. When the restrictions are lifted, some sourcing will certainly take place overseas again. But I nevertheless believe that we’ve become more aware of the risks, and that strategic emphasis will still be placed on at least one alternative local source for critical parts.
Which measures or methods do you consider especially effective for reaching the goal of climate-neutral production?
The issue of sustainability has been an issue at Afag for a long time and is currently being deliberated once again in several projects. Climate neutrality is only one important aspect within this context. And thus not only do resource-conserving, energy-efficient production and climate-neutral buildings play a role. The service life of the products is important as well. For example, we just received a conveyor system from a customer for refurbishment, which had functioned perfectly for 30 years. Initial procurement costs may have been a few euros more, but over its entire service life significant amounts of energy for new production have been saved, as well as the costs associated with disposal. And there are lots of other aspects too. I think we need to attempt to view this issue from a holistic point of view.
You know Motek as an outstanding, time-tested trade fair, and as a traditional B2B marketplace for assembly and handling technology. How important do you feel a face-to-face event will be in the fall of 2021, both for Afag and for expert visitors from the industry sector?
Motek isn’t just a traditional trade fair, it also reflects current technologies and developments in the field of automation. I think it’s important for Afag to be represented at the event because we can make an important contribution as an innovative supplier of automation components and solutions. Of course many companies are experiencing uncertainty due to the pandemic and possible further developments prior to the trade fair. As a result, some companies may keep their presentations smaller than usual. But it’s important to be there and to rekindle the all-important dialogue with customers and partners − in the spirit of Europe as a business location as well.