Fits like a glove
The KUKA plant in Augsburg, Hall 8. Here, in goods receiving and the robotic logistics “supermarket”, is where Ronny Richter spends most of his working day – between packages, Kanban crates and tugger trains. Ronny recently acquired two new assistants: Mark and Katharina. You might expect these to be the names of two new colleagues. The truth of the matter is, they stand for something completely different.
Another step towards smart production
Mark and Katharina are wearables: networked mini-computers that employees wear on their bodies, that simplify their daily work, and that are connected to IT systems in the working environment via interfaces. Wearables can collect, process and send data, for example. Another step towards smart production, if you like.
“Mark is a smart glove. Laser scanner and trigger are already integrated into the glove. I don’t need any additional device or hand gesture to scan bar codes, for example. It is very comfortable,” says Ronny. The perfect companion to Mark is Katharina: a device that is worn on the wrist like a smart watch and feeds the data scanned by Mark directly into the SAP system. Katharina is currently being tested at KUKA. By using both devices, KUKA employees waste less time on non-productive tasks – for example, they are spared long walks and unnecessary hand movements. The error rate is also minimized.
“One small grip for man, one giant leap for the Logistics department,” says Markus Hirschmann, Head of Logistics at KUKA, summarizing the advantages of the wearable glove. “We work more ergonomically and significantly more efficiently than in the past with the new system. For us, the production facility of the future is a smart factory: this is centered on the human operator – supported by robots and other systems. We regard the cooperation with ProGlove as an important step towards the production of the future.”
Networked manufacturing in our own production shops
Mark and Katharina are developed and produced by ProGlove, a Munich-based start-up company. ProGlove market-launched its first product, Mark, in 2016: “We believe in human workers – they will continue to play an important role, even in the age of Industrie 4.0,” says ProGlove founder Thomas Kirchner. But why were those names chosen for the product names? “They are the names of an ex-boyfriend and an ex-girlfriend of two of our employees. The deeper, albeit jocular, meaning behind them is this: you should never fall in love with a product, as we subject them to continuous on-going development,” explains Kirchner.
Industrie 4.0, Big Data, artificial intelligence – so much at KUKA revolves around the production of the future. Even in the company’s own production shops, this vision is becoming reality one step at a time.