SICK expert provides insights on new comprehensive sensor-based solutions portfolio supporting digitization of production processes
SICK has been developing sensors for over 75 years. During that time the company has always been a little bit ahead of the times. We spoke to Christoph Müller, Senior Vice President for Industrial Integration Space at SICK AG, about how SICK is continuing to following this path with its new digital services.
The digital aspect of sensors is an area that SICK has not been particularly known for in the past. Why is SICK now following this path?
SICK has been working on issues relating to the automation of tasks in the industrial sector for almost 75 years. Sensor innovations and applications continue to be a key area of focus to this day. We know this sector well and the challenges faced in production, logistics, and the process industry. We also know that sensors are the starting point for Industry 4.0. It's where data is created. That gives us the opportunity to utilize our sensor technologies in a unique way. Digitization enables us to expand our role in the industry and offer solutions for sensor-based applications.
And what will this role look like in future?
We have long been offering solutions that extend beyond pure automation components. Now we are expanding this systems approach into the digital space. We help our customers employ virtual development methodologies during the development phase by virtualizing the sensor functions. We also ensure that the data – which grows greater each day – automatically makes its way from the sensor to the computer on the factory premises or into the cloud. Once there, the data is networked and further processed within broader contexts. Valuable information no longer goes to waste in the sensor. We make it accessible.
What added value does this bring to customers?
Today, customers come to us with problems that have nothing to do with classical automation engineering or issues relating to sensor systems, logic, and actuators. Instead, they want to design an overall business process to be more efficient. Our sensors and systems provide the necessary data to help solve this problem. Just having the ability to visualize the data offers enormous added value. If I link the data to further process parameters, or simply to experiential knowledge, I can avoid quality problems or reduce downtime.
How might that kind of visualization look?
To represent the sensor information in the digital space, the LiveConnect capability from SICK provides a standardized connection from the sensor to the SICK AssetHub via an edge gateway, such as our SIM1012. The SICK AssetHub has services for processing and networking not only static data, but also the values measured by the sensor. The available services include online and real-time visualization of the sensor data, and administration of the maintenance plans and certificates of devices.
How does the customer acquire the right data for a process?
Using SICK AppSpace, the customer can access individual apps for quickly adapting sensors to the specific task to be solved. SICK Integration Space® enables our customers to access cloud-based software solutions. Edge gateways, like the Sensor Integration Machines or the TDC-E, connect SICK sensors to the cloud. Once these prerequisites have been met, all kinds of sensor products can be easily and quickly vertically integrated for these cloud solutions. This enables us to create easy-to-implement solutions that not only generate data, but also utilize that data.
Can you nevertheless briefly summarize what SICK AppSpace is?
Simply said, the idea behind it is to provide apps for sensors. We want to give the customer the ability to tailor sensors to specific sensor tasks. Today, SICK AppSpace is home to SensorApps for specific applications that can be quickly installed on the sensor or the edge device. Furthermore, software developers can independently, or in collaboration with our experts in the developer community, develop custom SensorApps for sensor applications.
What applications have SensorApps available?
Our AppPool currently includes user apps for quality control, robot guidance, and positioning. From mid-2020, SICK will be opening AppSpace to a customer segment with no programming knowledge in order to also give these users the opportunity to solve specific sensor applications without having to write any code. We have developed a graphical interface for networking and configuring pre-defined function blocks for this purpose.
What role does the automation architecture play?
This too will change. Up until now, data has usually been sent to a PLC that creates an automation logic – namely for controlling and regulating machines. That's where the use of the data ends – with no information being provided about the manufacturing process or the value adding on the production line. We can help with this. For example, our PC-based FieldEcho program makes the data available to IO-Link sensors through the controller. But, these days it’s very common for the system to be expanded with a second connection separate to the actual control system.
Could you explain how edge devices help with this?
Yes. Coupling sensors and actuators to an edge device opens completely new possibilities. The further processing and networking can happen locally or in the cloud. What data does the customer output? That's entirely up to you!
That brings us to the topic of data security. Are your customers willing to disseminate their data?
That depends on the data and, of course, also the added value that can be generated from it. At a fundamental level, however, it’s mostly not about “giving away” data, but rather about adequately protecting the data against unauthorized access or use for a purpose that was not agreed upon. As a foundation member of the International Data Spaces Association, we are actively engaging with this issue. We are working together with a number of partners to guarantee the secure handling of data.
Want to learn more about SICK’s digital solution portfolio? Contact a SICK representative today at firstname.lastname@example.org!