While robotics and automation in manufacturing and across many other industries is progressing steadily, there have been limitations to uptake. As with any new technology, initial incarnations can be prohibitively expensive for businesses to incorporate. Furthermore, conventional robots have often proven to be rather rigid in their applications, and regularly too large to integrate into production lines.
Just like the television set and the humble personal computer, robots are now being developed into smaller and more versatile models which are more suited to manufacturing landscapes. SICK AG are among the world leaders in sensor technology, who are helping to advance the robotics field and achieve the quality and efficiency that many businesses are looking for.
Born in 1909, Erwin Sick started his life as the son of a train driver in Heilbronn, Germany. In 1932, he began his career with Siemens & Halske as an optical arithmetician (say that 5 times, fast) and then moved on to laboratory work after his department was made redundant. Working specifically with colour film, Sick would soon discover his passion for technology and opto-electronic devices. He began working for himself in 1945 from a small barracks, and went on to present his revolutionary ‘light curtain’ at the German Inventor and New Development Trade Fair, in Munich. Orders began to flow in for this piece of technology, which greatly enhanced the safety of workers around hazardous machinery. The rest, as they say, is history.
Speaking in the documentary ’70 Years of Innovation – SICK’s success story’, Sick’s wife Gisela speaks about her late husband’s ingenuity in the field of environmental protection. He developed sensors which detected emissions from smoke stacks in Germany, which were causing problems for local residents. This innovation heralded the birth of environmental measurement technology at SICK.
“In the rural area, in the 20’s and 30’s for example, I had relatives telling me they couldn’t hang out their laundry because it would go black with all the smoke,” said Gisela. “But the days hanging out the laundry are no longer a problem, because they managed to get exhaust emissions under control.”
1972 saw the company go global, and it now boasts over 8,000 employees worldwide and recorded sales of EU$1.4 billion in the 2016 financial year. Leaders in their field, SICK are dedicated to constantly and unapologetically seeking out innovations in sensors for a range of industries; with their customers’ changing needs front of mind, always. Keeping ahead of the curve by investing heavily in research and development, SICK has become synonymous with cutting-edge technology.
“Our innovative capacity and flexibility are part of who we are. Our mission statement acts as a framework for everything we do. It lays out our values, ideas, and plans for the future.”
The most recent innovation highlights Sick’s dedication to creating solutions for the ever-changing needs of their clients, with a seemingly simple technology. As Sick’s own magazine, Sick Insight explains:
“Reliable detection from SICK can be summed up in one phrase: red laser light. A tiny laser beam provides the ideal starting point for detecting objects and their features, no matter how small they are. The light spot supports switching with maximum accuracy, thus providing the basis not only for optimum product quality but also for greater machine availability, as there are fewer switching errors.”
For the uninitiated, this reduction in potential errors equates to decreased cost and increased efficiency—which represent the golden goose for manufacturers. Sick’s PinPoint 2.0 LED is capable of detecting not only ultra black (which many other sensors struggle with) but just about any object you place before it. The lightweight and compact design also makes this sensor suited to a myriad of industrial situations, which would otherwise prove too restrictive.
Another of SICK’s products, the Inspector PIM60 2D camera is making robotic arms that much more compatible with their environments by removing the need for object guides. The SICK camera can be mounted to the robot or else sit stationary, helps the robot to detect objects and then decide on the appropriate action based on their programming. These integrative designs are developed to work alongside the human workforce, freeing workers from labourious or repetitive tasks. Furthermore, with the enhanced ability for robots to be reprogrammed quickly and easily these days, SICK’s technology, along with that of automation robots are suited to a huge range of tasks which would previously have been beyond them.
“Without any need for laborious installation work, they can take care of monotonous tasks and increase the efficiency of production processes,” according to SICK Insight.
“And if the robot works side by side with workers instead of operating on its own or if it functions as mobile robot station, SICK offers perfectly aligned sensor solutions from a single source to help ensure safe collaboration and movement.”
Safety, collaboration and innovation are at the heart of operations at SICK. Their global presence is testament to their dedication to these key values.
“What began with the functionality of a single product, has developed into complex systems solutions with a range of services from a single source. This full-range package has turned SICK into the recognised expert and marker leader for industrial sensors in over 40 key industries.”
Dr Robert Bauer, chairman of the executive board for SICK outlines the guiding principals of the business, which go a long way to explaining their continued success:
“The recipe for success from the small barracks to a global market leader has a few basic rules. The main one being that we will never forget the past and are conscious of our heritage. Development and innovation were the reason for SICK coming into being, and this has not changed today.”