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Production automatisation and the rise of the cobots

A key focus in 2016 was the automation of the production line. With collaborative robots, or cobots, Sirris is responding to the demand from industry for solutions to address, for example, performing repetitive or physically arduous work, for small batches and rapidly evolving environments. After expanding the infrastructure on our site in Diepenbeek, we launched a new site in Kortrijk (Belgium), specially focusing on technologies to support operators.

Smart & Digital Factory opens site in Kortrijk

On March 3, 2016, Sirris opened its eighth site, in Kortrijk, housing the high-tech Smart & Digital Factory application lab, devoted specifically to automating the production line and tapping into the potential provided by cobots. Through this lab and our collaboration with the West Flanders Provincial Development Agency (POM West-Vlaanderen), our aim is to make technological applications from for example Factories of the Future and Industry 4.0 available to companies in West Flanders and elsewhere in the Flemish Region. Indeed, this site is surrounded by a host of SMEs specialising in mechatronics and is located near the research partners' facilities. It has the office space and labs required for this purpose, including a demo area for the flexible automation of production, where companies can assess and trial the feasibility of the relevant technologies. To get an idea of what avenues were open to us, three types of automation were put in place on the new site.

Inspiration

Cobots - the better you know them, the more you love them

Various events looking at the automation of the production department and cobots were held during 2016. Sirris used these to further raise awareness of cobots and their capabilities, so lowering the threshold for companies to introduce them themselves. We were involved in organising all kinds of awareness events, both in-house and at pioneering companies in this domain, participating in roadshows - featuring events on September 15 at Valeo and on November 17 at FN Herstal - and in Open Company Day on 2 October and on 10 November we organised the first hands-on cobots workshop in Diepenbeek.

Introduction to cobots at 'Meet the cobots'

Cobots are a flexible way of automating the production line. The possibilities are endless, but where do you start in practice? At this first hands-on workshop at the lab in Diepenbeek, Sirris let the participating companies discover the answers for themselves. The Sirris advisers explained how this issue can be addressed systematically and indicated a series of 'dos and don'ts'. In this way, our experts guided the participants through the initial steps of rolling out a practical assignment. The participants were able to see for themselves what the problems and opportunities were and got a first insight into what integrating a cobot involves.

Projects in 2016

SMEs fully involved in production planning and control through Plan&Co

In their communications with SMEs, the Sirris advisers noticed that many of them had not expanded or digitalised the processes, methods and IT tools relating to planning and control enough to get the required overview and thereby ensure short lead times. The Plan&Co project provided a lot of SMEs with the chance to catch up with state-of-the-art methods and software tools for production planning at the office and control on the shop floor. The wide-ranging focus included QRM, Lean, ERP, planning tools, and MES. In the space of two years the experts visited more than 200 companies, making analyses on this basis and preparing advice. Other possibilities included monitoring and even short courses. No fewer than 85% of the participating companies adopted the best practices, resulting in 26 projects. Even after the Plan&Co project and its funding ended, a two-day audit continues to embody the spirit of this initiative.