During the first SWISS MECHATRONICS TOUR on 26 and 27 October 2017, numerous members and non-members of the Swiss Mechatronic Cluster visited the canton of Ticino. There, they experienced the canton, which is otherwise renowned as a tourist region, as an innovative industrial location. Presentations and company tours were offered on the topic of complexity. The format allowed participants to network in a relaxed atmosphere. Intensive discussions resulted in one or the other deal being made. The original idea for the new event format came from Swiss Mechatronics member FAULHABER Minimotor SA, the drive specialist with the world's largest portfolio of miniature and micro drives. Also participating as cooperating partners were the Mikron company – the expert for production and automation solutions – and the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI), hub for scientific knowledge and technological advancement.
FAULHABER – complexity always under control
FAULHABER, a family-run group of companies founded in 1947, is today among the leading companies in the field of highly developed miniature and micro drives. The company – which invented the highly efficient DC motor with ironless winding – has been developing and producing drive solutions in the Swiss region of Ticino since 1962. Because there is no iron core, the motors are lightweight and correspondingly dynamic in movement. FAULHABER does not define itself as an industry, but rather constantly reinvents itself in new products and countless applications ranging from autonomous submarine robots to applications in satellites and rockets. The trend towards automation brings new developments in the field of medical and laboratory automation. The latter aims to provide analysis near the patient. This requires new product concepts for hospitals and surgeries. Focus is on, e.g., remote-controlled operation robots as well as interconnected but autonomously operating robots and systems.
"To keep a finger on the pulse of the industry, we realise complex projects together with the customer, which are then placed on the market as a complete solution with attachments," explains Rolf Leitner, head of sales in Switzerland. "The new motion controllers are one example of such a solution. Thanks to these, our drive solutions can be integrated in higher level control systems or PLC systems." But, the drives need to be even smaller, more efficient and quieter. As a result, the motion control product line is constantly being expanded.
Into the future with "customisation"
Our aim is always to become even more innovative and more efficient, to maintain top quality but also to address the high cost pressure. In addition to customer-specific development, FAULHABER therefore uses standard methods near the end application so that any necessary changes require only minimal modifications. Reliable, safe and highly precise, microdrives find their way into, e.g., medical technology. From the powerful DC motor with a continuous torque of 200 mNm to the filigree micro drive with an outer diameter of 1.9 mm, the portfolio has more than 25 million possible combinations. The range includes intracorporeal blood pumps as a replacement for heart-lung machines, compact and fully automatic blood pressure gauges or pharmaceutical pumps for individually dosing active agents to the patient. In the field of prosthetics, microdrives ensure that myoelectric hand prostheses grip quickly and securely. The microscope glasses with automatic focus adjustment have already become standard for surgeons.
Secret recipe: complexity management
It is clear to FAULHABER management that complexity management is a key to success, as product diversity has grown greatly in recent years due to increased competition and global expansion. Complexity also arises through the range of industries that FAULHABER supplies with individually adapted drives. Standard products alone have nearly no chance on the market today. What are needed are "customised" products that are individually tailored to the needs of the customer. And these need to be supplied quickly at an economically acceptable cost. This means placing customer-specific variants as close to the end of final assembly in the production process as possible, something to be taken into account already during product planning. The positive effects of complexity need to be utilised and the negative effects controlled and reduced. A company that has complexity under control has an excellent tool for utilising competitive advantages and tapping into optimisation potential. This can be seen using the example of the effects of design modifications, of a modified production control for component production as well as of modified processes in the final assembly: set-up times have dropped by 40%, the variance for magnet systems by 60% and the lead times by 62%.
Mikron: innovative spirit wanted
As the company Maschinenfabrik Mikron AG was founded in 1908, the watchmaking industry at that time supplied the company with the input for industrialisation. But already in 1986, with the takeover of Albe SA in Agno and its sales subsidiary in Tokyo, Mikron took the first step towards a global presence. Today, the group develops, produces and sells automation and production systems for precise and productive manufacturing processes. Customers include firms in the automotive, pharmaceutical, medical technology, consumer goods, writing instrument and watchmaking industries. Mikron SA Agno is the head office of the Mikron Machining Division. It develops and constructs manufacturing systems for the production of small- to medium-size parts made of metallic materials.
This is no small undertaking, as today great importance is placed on keeping the complexity of the products under control. In design and engineering, the challenges are new technical solutions, the demand for high performance and short lead times. For the production facilities, it is a confrontation of maintaining lead times, missing material and problem solving. And for quality assurance, it means high mix / low volume, pressure on rapid problem solving and the securing of knowledge management. "We reduce complexity with the Kaizen method. This means: each employee should take a critical look at his work and his workplace and improve his way of working a little bit each day," explains Quality Manager Stefano Sartorio.
SUPSI Manno – innovators at work
Established in 1997, the University of Applied Sciences and Arts of Southern Switzerland (SUPSI) conducts applied research in four departments with more than 20 research institutes and competence centres. Four institutes used concrete examples to show the participants of the Swiss Mechatronics Tour how the know-how is transferred to regional companies. The Institute for Information Systems and Networking is mentioned here as representative example. In a project funded by the Commission for Technology and Innovation (KTI), focus is on data acquisition and the classification of people and passenger cars. In the project – undertaken in collaboration with ETH Zurich and the DOS Group SA in Mendrisio, a company active in the field of information technology – a system was created that extracts information in real time from video sources and systematises it according to morphological and chromatic characteristics. This allows for a drastic reduction of the necessary processing effort for the time- and location-based search for interesting objects during a police investigation.
AGIRE Foundation: fertile ground for innovation
The AGIRE Foundation, which supported the Swiss Mechatronics Tour as a sponsor, offers a link between research and industry. The foundation coordinates the regional innovation system. It is responsible for the Technopark Ticino, which also happens to be where it is located. From there, the foundation organises events, engages in technology transfer and successfully supports innovative start-ups that are operating in the Technopark.
"Events such as the SWISS MECHATRONICS Tour are a symbol of our efforts to bring innovative minds from research and development together to exchange ideas," summarises Prof. Hans-Wernher van de Venn, President of SWISS MECHATRONICS. "When collaborations and joint projects arise from these discussions, it is a positive sign for us. In this spirit, we warmly invite anyone who is interested to contact us with no obligation – our discussion often leads to a creative and, above all, productive partnership with future potential."