This week’s interview is about a solution for industry 4.0. More specifically our startup of the week is developing an operator guidance system that uses sensors to monitor every single movement during assembly, providing live feedback at every step. An exciting and complex idea that Head of Sales, Jorg Hendrikx explains to us in more detail. We are looking forward to learn more about Arkite’s technology, products and benefits.
Hello Johan. Thank you for taking the time today. We start directly with our first question: How would you pitch Arkite? Could you share some information about the underlying technology?
Arkite as a company was launched in 2015 with the first product launched in May 2016, but actually the roots of Arkite dates back to 2004. From that time, Arkite was actually a consulting company helping manufacturing companies in process innovation and process optimisation aimed to improving production. But we noticed that there were a lot of challenges because, even in the time of automation, still a lot of operations are done manually. Human in Industry 4.0 is something which is still very relevant as companies yet cannot automate everything. Human have a lot of advantages over machines as they can be creative, they are very flexible and dynamic and they can detect issues in the overall process. But working with people, still have some challenges. Operators sometimes forget things; they may lose focus and are prone to make mistakes such as missing a part or assembling a product wrong. This results in a lot of quality leaks and a lot of efficiency leaks. So, our first aim was to improve the quality and efficiency at the operator level. On the other hand, there is also a lot of employee turnover. We observed that a lot of manufacturing companies are struggling with training new people caused due to higher turnovers and most of the times due to lack of experience and technical knowledge. To actually target these two challenges, we launched our product. The product is called Human Interface Mate (HIM). It’s an operator guidance technology and what it does is it creates a dynamic and digital interactive work environment over the existing work place. So, we put the sensor above the existing work station and with that we can validate the operations that the operator is executing, we can see if they grab or assembled something or did, they used the correct tool or the wrong tool. Arkite is actually a software company, so, the sensor is combined with smart algorithms that runs on the same HIM unit and uses the sensor input to analyse the overall process. There is also an integrated projector sensor which as used to interact with the operator. The projector is used to project texts, images and videos with a goal of having the correct instruction, on the correct moment, at the correct place. So, all we need to do is to teach all the standardised actions and sequence once into the system and then we validate if the operator is executing its task in comparison with the standardised sequence of steps.
That sounds really effective. How easy is it to integrate the Arkite system in the existing infrastructure? How is the adoption for the end users?
There are two parts to it. One part is essentially the activation or the training of the system. And the second part is then the integration with production environment. Looking at the first part i.e. the activation, is done at the backend with the software using our proprietary algorithms, so, you can show the action to the system and the system will create a visualisation and an automated sequences. Depending on the process and the amount the steps, the complexity can go from few hours for assembly to a few days. Then, the second part is the integration. We have our HIM unit which often needs to be integrated with the overall production environment to communicate with other smart tools and the overall Industry 4.0 network, so, the system is integrated with the existing MES/ERP system. We are a sliver partner of SAP and we have already built a lot of integration with its software environments. The underlying reason for this is to receive information about the product specifications such as the product code, the quantity, the priority, the BOM and so on which our system can use I order to give the operator the correct instruction. In addition, we can generate a lot of data which can then in turn be shared with the existing networks so that the customer has insights about their manual operations.
In terms of adoption, let me say for new operators, that is if a new employee arrives, there is no struggle at all. They are supported by the technology as it aids the company to train new employees faster and more efficiently. So, for the new employees, it is definitely a big added value with almost no adaption delay to the new situation. On the other hand, for the experience employees, and that for every other new technology or system, you need a change management. That’s actually not directly related to our technology, but its just that every new procedure that you are optimisation, you need a change management support. So, what we can do with our software is that we can adapt the instructions based on experienced level. So, new employees can get a lot of text, images and videos, whereas with experienced operators, they can get almost no visual instruction but only a feedback if they make any errors. So, they can approve this technology even faster.
What we noticed in practice that the more we integrate our technology, the better it is being used by the operator because then the operator themselves have a choice to activate those virtual instructions. But what we recommend is to automatically activate the system depending on an input from a PLC or a MES system, the system will always be running which gives a possibility to connect tools, so you can block tool when they are not allowed to use or they will only be activated if they are being used at the correct spot, so, even if the operator is little bit forced to use to it, the error rates reduce significantly and we obverse that the adoption rate still remains very high.
We already learned that you are developing your technology in the area of industry 4.0 – an area with a pretty wide range. Which markets do you address within it?
At the moment, our biggest market is still automotive, mainly Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier. Our technology cannot be currently be used on moving lines, so, we focus on companies with sub-assembly stations and picking stations. In addition to automotive, we are also very active in aerospace, semiconductor manufacturing and traditional manufacturing like compressor and pump manufacturing industry. So, in every industry where companies need a proactive quality system rather than a reactive quality system so that they can detect mistake during the assembly, our technology can be implemented to support them. Our main headquarter is un Genk, Belgium but we work with global partners with a main focus on Europe, UK and Asia, mainly China and India.
And what is the average investment effort that the companies need for implementing Arkite solution?
We actually have two versions, standard and enterprise where the investment efforts are mainly low to medium per station and also directly depend upon the overall project scope. The goal of the overall system is follow-up and support a specific station for preferably several weeks or month to gain the most value on the production and have higher ROI. The ROI is highly industry specific depending upon multiple factors like how often are you using it, what’s the amount of product that is being made and what are the quality and efficiency issues that the company face during the manufacturing process. On average we can say it’s about 2-3 years.
Can you share some real case reference of how companies benefitted from implementing Arkite solution?
We have more than 150 systems installed and actively running in the production. One example can be Benteler. Benteler operates worldwide in the fields of automotive technology, steel and tube production, engineering and distribution. Benteler was looking for a solution to support both assembly and picking of critical components for its multiple product variants. HIM is first of all supporting the picking process of the heat shield, the floor shield and the shackles. Next to assembling these parts the operator is supported with a virtual checklist of the arm, the link and the protective cover in its correct position (potential damage on further stations). The HIM unit has been integrated with the Siemens S7 line PLC to allow a line stop if critical issues would arise. All process steps are logged to support Benteler having full traceability. Other references include, Ford Europe, Volvo, Danfoss and Atlas Copco.
That already leads us to the last question: What is your company’s approach towards Industry 4.0 generally?
There is a very big challenge to support operators in the overall Industry 4.0 context. Even, with robots, AGB’s and automated systems, there will be still a lot of operators in the manufacturing industry globally even in the future. If you look to the Industry 4.0 network, you will also see a big trend in platform technology. Companies like Siemens and SAP are investing heavily in IoT and Industry 4.0 platform and Arkite can be seen as an add on those platforms. Because we are the interface with the operator, the system can provide the correct instructions at the correct moment, so we can project and instruct data from those platforms to the operator. On the other hand, the system is also an input to those platforms because the system has human analytics with which it can see what operators are doing. The system can observe what their output is, their efficiency, the quality, so, it’s also very valuable data for those platforms because until now, all those platforms only have the data from the machines, the production line and all those operators are black boxes. So, the measurement at such a localised level can provide more room for improvements in the overall quality of the process and Arkite technology can give a lot of insights about those actions. The benefits that the companies can have by using the Arkite system can be firstly, improved overall quality of the process, reducing scrap and rework. Secondly, as I mentioned, the system can improve the efficiency, specially with new operators and very complex assemblies. Thirdly, we can generate a lot of valuable data that can then generate insights about localised challenges and then the lastly, which I believe is the most important one is the investment on what we call as “Human Capital” or “Operator Empowerment”. The system can make it easier for people to work in factories, do more complex assemblies, get augmented guidance of the instructions and create a much more flexible workforce planning.