Michael Blaß, Managing Director of e-chain systems® at Igus GmbH in Cologne, Germany

The Trend: Rethinking Processes and Focusing on Automation

Many customers seek personal contact at trade fairs. Igus is also looking forward to Motek as an on-site trade fair in 2021, because discussions at trade fairs always have a different level of quality and spontaneity, says Michael Blaß, managing director of e-chain systems® at Igus, in an interview with trade fair promoters P. E. Schall.


Mr. Blaß, how do you think assembly and handling technology, as a core technology of traditional industrial production, will change in the next few years?

There’s a boom going on in many sectors at the moment, so that fast assembly and handling technology is becoming increasingly important. Major goals include reducing throughput times, increasing capacity, launching products more quickly and making efficient use of available space. Within this context, the new technologies will have to become faster and faster and, at the same time, increasingly precise.


Which technological developments will have to be advanced to this end?

Flexible workstations and a large proportion of automated systems will change assembly and handling technology in the future. This will necessitate easy-to-operate, efficient and intelligent production systems with quick ROI.


The world of production has experienced a significant transformation due to the development of lightweight robotics. Which development do you find especially impressive?

Due to the fact that we ourselves manufacture low-cost, lightweight plastic components for robots at our company, I was naturally impressed to see how strongly this area has grown, especially last year in the midst of the pandemic. We’ve noticed that many companies are rethinking their processes and focusing on automation, which doesn’t have to be complicated or expensive, but can also be cost-effective and simple. For example, users can purchase a ready-made articulated robot arm with five axes and integrated controller from us for as little as €5000.


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?

The crisis has taught all of us how important it is to be able to change processes flexibly. For example, most of our employees were requested to work from home in March 2020, and we’ve introduced more than 250 preventive measures including a vaccination centre to keep production running. Our production employees have been on board right from the start, which has made it possible for us to ship product uninterruptedly to our customers all over the world. As we see it, this kind of flexible work and the rapid changeover to digital forms of communication, as practised by our employees when working from home, will change the world of work in the long term. We’re already offering our employees the option of continuing to work in a hybrid environment.


Which measures or methods do you consider especially effective for reaching the goal of climate-neutral production?

Every company should question itself and its processes, and explore new solutions for major energy consumers. Methodologies and measures have to be examined on an individual basis, because each company has its own options for reducing emissions. From our point of view, energy recovery from one’s own production processes presents a great opportunity. For example, we take advantage of this in our extrusion department. At the same time, it’s also important for us that materials processed in production should participate to a greater extent in a circular economy. New, promising methods are now available in this regard. We’ve invested in a start-up company called Mura Technology, for example. With the help of their HydroPRS technology, heat, water and pressure transform plastics back into usable petroleum. The first commercially operated plant is currently being set up in England.


Automation intelligence for production and assembly – you know Motek/Bondexpo as an outstanding, traditional B2B marketplace for the industrial automation sector. How important do you think an on-site event in the fall of 2021 will be for exhibitors and expert visitors?

I think an on-site event would restore a bit of everyday life for us all. It’s clear to us how many customers are seeking personal contact, and that to an ever-greater extent a sort of normality is returning thanks to low corona infection rates. Video chats and virtual trade fair booths are a useful solution for the moment and will certainly be used more often than before even after the pandemic, but face-to-face discussions at trade fairs always have a different level of quality and spontaneity – and we’re looking forward to that.

Igus has developed a new, highly flexible servo cable for motors and controllers in order to make drives fail-safe, and to supply them with power while they’re in motion. The servo cable is specially designed for the dynamic demands which prevail in energy chains. (photo: Igus)