Dan Barrera, Segment Manager, Carter Intralogistics
Mark Duncan, Marketing Manager Material Handling Industry OEM Operations North America, Schneider Electric
Evan Kaiser, Industrial Director of Warehousing and Logistics, Rockwell Automation
Divya Prakash, Director of Business Consulting, Industry 4.0, SICK Inc.
Sebastian Titze, Head of Digital Transformation, Beumer Group
The complexity of today’s distribution centers is increasing rapidly due to new technologies and increased consumer demands. Conveyors and sortation systems within these facilities can help provide users with a competitive advantage by leveraging technologies to improve throughput, accuracy and efficiency.
DC speed Group Editorial Director David Maloney recently brought together five experts who are all members of MHI’s Conveyor and Sortation Solutions Group (CSS), an industry body that promotes the efficient use of conveyor and sortation systems in operations. manufacturing and distribution, for a deeper dive into the benefits of these new technologies. The following are excerpts from their discussion.
Q: What has changed in recent years to enable businesses to leverage big data more effectively than in the past?
Sebastien Titze-Beumer: For quite a few years, we have been able to collect a lot of data, but what has changed is the infrastructure for disseminating large amounts of data to structure it in real time – or near real time – and thus the make it usable for businesses. We don’t just collect data, but we’ve also taken the leap to generate insights that allow businesses to analyze their operations and make decisions based on what they know, not what they think. or assume.
Q: What kinds of issues are we seeing with conveyors and sortation systems that could benefit from better data analysis and predictive analytics?
Mark Duncan – Schneider Electric: Maintenance of any type of conveyor and sorting equipment begins with the engine. If the engine isn’t working properly, nothing else will work. On top of that we see misalignment with the belt, belt slippage, tension control. Sometimes the rollers would seize up or you would get jams or jams due to wrapper interference or motor failure due to bearings, windings or rotors.
Q: The idea of Industry 4.0 is promising, but concrete examples of success are limited. Why are companies struggling to achieve the results promised by Industry 4.0 solutions?
Evan Kaiser-Rockwell Automation: Often clients try to conquer the world with data instead of being more specific and focused on a particular problem where the information can be used to achieve a particular result. They do more than they should in the first place and end up frustrated because there’s so much complexity in what they’re trying to implement that they don’t get the result they’re looking for. The biggest successes I’ve seen are companies that focused on a particular point in the operation that could really benefit from analysis and then scale from there.
Q: What data from conveyors and sorting systems should be monitored and analyzed?
Dan Barrera – Carter Intralogistics: It depends on the ultimate goal. First we can tell the speed, current, torque, position, temperature, faults and if the system is on or off. All of these variables allow us to make decisions and better understand what production looks like. It also allows us to understand where the bottlenecks are. However, many of these variables are going to depend on the business model you are developing that will be part of your digital transformation. In some cases, it’s just a matter of keeping the system operational and minimizing disruption.
Q: How do you see digital transformation taking place within DC?
Divya Prakash – SICK: Digital transformation must be a business driver. The fulfillment center is truly experiencing a hyper-acceleration, with e-commerce forcing companies to shift their fulfillment strategies and find a perfect omnichannel model. Getting the raw data isn’t a problem as every sensor gets smarter, but getting the raw data and applying analytics to it is the essence of digital transformation. Many disruptive technologies are coming throughout the DC region, so it’s not just about investing in conveyors. There is automation, drones, 5G, robotics, autonomy vehiclees, AMR, AgV. I mean, there’s a lot of things that happen that transform the whole distribution center.
Q: What are some of the risks associated with data analytics?
Sebastien Titze-Beumer: I think a lot of companies perceive the risk to be quite high, although if you think about it, data analytics only accesses machine and sensor data, so there really is a very high risk low for machine operation. Of course, there is always the risk of data security. But if you consider how many companies today store their emails in the cloud, etc., this risk [from machine data] is not much higher than other business risks. I don’t want to minimize that risk; however, the potential of data analytics and the opportunities it offers far outweigh these risks.
Q: What are the real consequences when conveyor and sorting systems fail?
Mark Duncan – Schneider Electric: I’ve seen statistics that 46% of unplanned downtime is due to hardware failure and malfunction. We heard recently that 80% of businesses have experienced some type of downtime in the past three years, and 70% of them are unaware that their assets need maintenance or upgrades. Material handling equipment in an average distribution center or warehouse is 15.6 years old. This sets up a legitimate business case for setting up analytics to avoid downtime. We have seen customers show us that [the cost of] downtime can average up to $160,000 per hour if unplanned, so the impact of downtime is significant, especially in e-commerce and other facilities which operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Q: Can you define the term “digital twin” and explain the value and benefits this technology can bring?
Evan Kaiser-Rockwell Automation: A digital twin is a virtual rendering of the real world. It’s a new way of engineering because you can move around in this virtual world and test things and experience different scenarios. You can manipulate a design very easily without the need for physical investments in hardware. The digital twin can help reduce errors, improve your time to market, and reduce commission time for complex systems. A digital twin scales very well and can be applied to a specific machine or to the entire operation.
Q: What are some of the benefits of interfacing your conveyors and sorters with other technologies?
Dan Barrera – Carter Intralogistics: That’s what management is going to be looking for, isn’t it? When we talk about digital transformation, usage, and cloud computing, they all think about ROI. The goal is to increase data-driven productivity. This will lead to improved quality, increased availability and lower costs. From there, we can also create value or benefits not only on the production side, but also on the system engineering side, up to after-sales support.
Q: What disruptive technology do you think will impact DC operations in the future?
Divya Prakash – SICK: At the distribution level, decisions need to be made much faster as conveyors move at higher speeds, but there is often a lag between the cloud and the shop floor. Modern sensors have microchips and a lot more computing power. Sensors not only detect but also think. You’ll see smart sensors eliminating some of the latency and bringing some of the computing power back to the edge. You’ll see these sensors perform analytics and certain types of calculations directly, providing you with alerts or even predictive analytics.
Editor’s note: MHI’s Conveying and Sorting Systems (CSS) industry group is an independent authority for end users and vendors on market trends, technology developments and applications. The group consists of more than 30 leading companies in the conveyor and sorting systems market with experience of thousands of projects. For more information on the group’s work and a list of CSS members, visit www.mhi.org/css.