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New Technologies Behind Smart Manufacturing Systems
By Indrek Ruiso, CEO of Eliko and Saskia Undusk, Marketing Manager of Eliko
Smart industry solutions based on emerging technologies can increase added value in your organisation. For instance, modern automated systems in production and warehouses combine UWB and machine vision technologies in addition to the well-known RFID. Such new solutions for object identification significantly increase the efficiency of many processes.
Eliko develops reliable tracking systems to help companies achieve their business objectives with real-time location data. Eliko’s CEO Indrek Ruiso says that they contribute to creating future-proof autonomous systems. To achieve this objective, they combine the best industrial practices and R&D. Eliko is helping to automate industry as well as other sectors around the world.
Eliko was founded in 2004 by several IT companies in Estonia and the Tallinn University of Technology. Close collaboration with academic circles ensures the hardware designed in Eliko has a solid science-based theoretical foundation, which also guarantees its sustainable development.
On the other hand, the company’s team has considerable practical experience in implementing new technologies in a real industrial environment. They collaborate daily with leading machine and electronics industry companies in Europe and various factories, integrators and software development companies worldwide.
New technologies generate competitiveness
According to Ruiso, we should start experimenting with new technologies today. To postpone this or develop something currently widely available on the market would put us way behind tomorrow.
“As we all know,” explains Indrek Ruiso, “technology is developing at a fast pace. If you don’t start to modernise your processes today, you will be a step behind tomorrow."
“A research-based approach,” Ruiso says, “bringing both practitioners and scientists to your project team, is also helpful when implementing new technologies. This way, you can develop future-proof systems together, applying modern technologies and methods. This will grant you a competitive advantage on the market, even in ten years’ time.”
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Plenty of room for growth
Studies show that the European industrial landscape has plenty of room for growth. By adopting digital technologies, businesses can increase efficiency, reduce costs and better engage customers and business partners.
The Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI) is a complex index that summarises relevant indicators on Europe’s digital performance. It helps track the progress of EU Member States in digital competitiveness.
Based on the DESI Index, the adoption of robotics is quite low in all EU Member States for which data are available. Almost 25% of large enterprises use both industrial and service robots. Less than a fifth of companies in the EU are highly digitised. Still, the situation across countries varies, ranging from 50% of companies in Finland and Denmark to only 10% in Bulgaria, Greece and Latvia.
Vodafone surveyed 1758 businesses worldwide, and their latest IoT Barometer revealed that more than a third use the IoT.
Moreover, 74% of IoT adopters say that within five years, companies that haven’t adopted IoT will have fallen behind their competitors.
Analysts have predicted that this year, the manufacturing industry will invest more than $70 billion in Industrial IoT (IIoT), including real-time data enabled by real-time location systems (RTLS).
Real-time data increase production efficiency
Production managers face the daily challenge of lacking information on various production stages. “You may have an initial plan prepared,” explains Ruiso, “but the actual situation is often different. If information is missing, you cannot make timely decisions to optimise productivity.”
According to Ruiso, the situation in manufacturing is continuously changing. “Each hour could bring about changes not provided for in the initial plan,” says Ruiso. “Finding a correct roll of material takes more time than planned, a machine breaks down, an order gets cancelled or a deadline changes.”
“Classical management software lacks sufficient input information,” Ruiso continues. “Therefore, it doesn't offer the flexibility required in such situations. RFID and barcodes are not always reliable and don’t make all the supply chain details visible.”
To make the right decision, you need to know exactly what is happening in real-time, says Ruiso. Decision-makers must get the necessary information on time and in the correct format. “Real-time tracking of various objects in production and storage is an essential element of smart manufacturing. If unplanned changes and details are visible, you can have better control over your operations in real-time,” explains Ruiso.
Gathering data and using them is key to success
As Ruiso sees it, the availability of the data is still only one step towards increasing efficiency – how to interpret these data and make decisions based on them is equally important. The reality is that most companies are only getting a fraction of the value from the data of their connected systems. A study by McKinsey found that 54% of companies used 10% or less of this information.
“Eliko also helps in understanding and analysing the collected data. By adopting real-time location technologies, factories are moving toward a future free of prolonged production cycles. In other words, it builds a foundation for a smart manufacturing process,” he adds.
Companies are seeing results
Companies carry out their long-term automation vision and implement new technologies in stages, and this takes time. However, these companies see their first results during the initial phase. According to Vodafone's report, 95% of IoT adopters have seen measurable benefits from their IoT projects, such as reduced costs, improved collection of accurate data and increased employee productivity, to name a few.
“At the warehouse of the Ruukki company producing construction materials,” Ruiso provides an example from the local industry, “they analysed the routes of warehouse personnel to test the new technology. The analysis provided them with an overview of which racks were most used. Based on the initial proof of concept, they can plan material locations to optimise routes.”
“Havi Logistics partnered with Eliko to innovate, optimise and manage the supply chain of leading local supermarkets,” he adds another example. “They track their employees in the warehouse and have also optimised their routes and goods locations. Real-time monitoring has helped identify bottlenecks in the supply chain and reduce downtime. It has also added more flexibility to supply chain management by enabling employees to be allocated to different processes in its warehouse,” he says.
Accurate and reliable UWB positioning
Eliko has been developing positioning applications for over ten years. Since 2014, Eliko’s team has mainly been focusing on developing tracking systems based on ultra-wideband (UWB) technology.
UWB enables us to locate objects indoors and outdoors with an accuracy of 5-30 cm depending on the environment and system setup. Based on your solution needs, you can have positioning coordinates in both 2D and 3D. UWB technology has several advantages: low energy consumption, high reliability and the ability to penetrate obstacles.
Eliko collaborates closely with UWB chip provider Decawave and belongs to the global UWB Alliance to create reliable systems using the latest domain knowledge.
Complete digital solutions
Besides having top-notch expertise in UWB technology, Eliko's team has developed custom machine vision systems. These include a variety of applications from parking to industrial automation. Machine vision systems can help identify and guide objects in production. They use various mathematical methods for machine vision that allow precise extraction of information from images.
“If you consider both reliability and sustainability,” explains Indrek Ruiso, “you can supplement the widely used radio frequency identification (RFID) systems with machine vision and UWB technology. This kind of completely automated solution is capable of both identifying assets and providing a real-time overview of the processes. This will save time spent on manual effort, which you can use for more meaningful work.”
R&D programme of Eliko
The purpose of the programme is to develop innovative IoT products and systems and implement them in Smart Factories. The European Regional Development Fund finances the programme, and 20 Estonian and Finnish enterprises have used it to carry out their innovation activities.
Your company is a perfect fit for the programme if you want to develop novel IoT products and services. You may also want to develop smart process automation systems for the supply chain. In the long run, the enterprises participating in the programme will obtain a sustainable solution for achieving their business objectives.
See also: Eliko: Powering a Smarter World.