13 June, 2024

The smart factory at close quarters

08 December, 2017

What opportunities are hiding behind Industry 4.0? Where do the current challenges lie in the international competition? What significance do medium sized companies have? The Minister for Economic Affairs for Baden-Württemberg Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut shed some light on these questions among others during a seminar at the competence leader for gripping systems and clamping technology Schunk's premises in Lauffen, Germany.

In exchange with the managing partners Heinz-Dieter Schunk, Henrik A. Schunk and Kristina I. Schunk, it became clear that automation, digitisation and electric mobility offer significant potential not only for innovation-driven companies, but also for society.

Minister for Economic Affairs for Baden-Württemberg Dr. Nicole Hoffmeister-Kraut, commented: “With new business models for Internet-based order configuration and intelligent gripping modules for human-robot collaboration, Schunk is one of the pioneers of the Industry 4.0. I wholeheartedly welcome companies bringing their expertise, dedication and significant economic initiatives. Indeed, Schunk is a partner of the top cluster Elektromobilität Südwest and member of the Allianz Industrie 4.0 Baden-Wuerttemberg. Schunk is a model example for highly innovative family-owned companies in Baden-Wuerttemberg.”

At a production inspection at the headquarters of the company with over 2800 employees, the Minister experienced the effects of the high-tech components from Schunk at close quarters – from fully automated production right up to direct collaboration between humans and robots.

Array of possibilities

“We are at the beginning of a new industrial age that must be actively shaped,” said managing partner, Henrik A. Schunk. He perceives digitisation and the trend towards smart production as the biggest opportunity in the company's history. “For industry, mechanisation and automation of production processes, the collaboration between humans and robots and the intelligent interconnection of all process-relevant components is opening up an array of possibilities that must be actively utilised. The biggest risk at the moment is to miss the trend, because those who do not automate intelligently and flexibly will hardly be able to retain their footing on the market.”

Pioneer in the field of production automation

The technology expert has been a pioneer and idea generator in the field of production automation for years. Indeed, the company was most recently distinguished at the Hannover Messe for its visionary JL1 Co-act gripper with the Hermes Award, one of the most coveted industry prizes in the manufacturing world. With its sensory aura and integrated intelligence, the gripper defines the peak of technical feasibility in the field of human-robot collaboration. It adjusts its behaviour in real time depending on whether it is gripping a workpiece or a human hand. To establish and intensify digitalisation within the company, Schunk has set up its own ‘Smart Factory’ task force that is responsible for strategy development, interdisciplinary exchange between the individual departments and implementation of new business models.

Interplay between politics, research and industry

It becomes clear in conversation time and again that the challenges of the industrial transformation require a close collaboration between industry, research and the public sector. The fact that high-tech strategies are not only financially but also socially worthwhile is demonstrated by the way Schunk has developed as a company. Within the last ten years, the workforce of the Lauffen-based company has more than doubled. The high degree of innovation particularly attracts young people.


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