Martin Regnet discusses Materials Handling 4.0 with Dr. Ralf Garlichs, Executive Vice President, Head of Products & Technology bei Interroll Group.

Is materials handling 4.0 at Interroll still a subject of the future, or are your products already equipped with Industry 4.0 solutions?

We are already experiencing first-hand the "future" subject of materials handling 4.0. To truly maximize the benefits of ubiquitous networking, a consistent flow of information into the value-added chains must be ensured. This includes being able to map out business processes in digital form, for example using SAP. As a manufacturer of platform solutions which facilitate the flow of materials between incoming and outgoing goods departments, this firstly means that we system integrators have to provide the necessary interfaces for passing sensor or control data to higher-level processing systems. We have been working on that and now provide the first plug-and-play connection solutions.

One example is our MultiControl, a certified network card for PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and EtherCat for controlling the RollerDrive EC310. A single MultiControl can easily be used to switch between various field buses. Thanks to the MultiControl, sensors and the RollerDrive are integrated directly into the field bus level.

Material Handling 4.0: Making products "intelligent"

At the same time, we are also developing solutions for capturing data about the status and performance of our products using sensors, such as for solutions which predict maintenance and servicing measures.

What is Interroll's view of these developments in general? Can we really talk of an industrial revolution or is it more a case of standard product enhancement as a direct result of technical innovations?

Industry 4.0 is emerging almost as an interface between logic and mechanics
Industry 4.0 is emerging almost as an interface between logic and mechanics

In our field of business, we do not regard the development as a disruption, but rather as an accelerating technical evolution. Industry 4.0 is emerging almost as an interface between logic and mechanics. We have been pursuing a successful strategy of modularity and quality across the entire product range for a long time. For us, making our products "intelligent" is now a logical evolution of our existing Interroll philosophy to increase customer benefits by means of maximum quality and innovation. To ensure continued success with this approach, we have again significantly topped up our financial year 2017/2018 research budget, the majority of which will be used for specific projects related to materials handling 4.0.

Optimization of efficiency and productivity in intralogistics

In which areas are innovations brought about by Industry 4.0 most noticeable? Is it simply networking and the provision of data or is this development having an impact on other areas?

Naturally, the subject of Industry 4.0 involves more than just changes in the information technology (IT) sector. It is primarily about changing processes on the basis of data which is interpreted intelligently to optimize efficiency and productivity in intralogistics. We have to provide tools which our customers can use to improve the creation of added value in the project workflow and when operating intralogistical solutions. In the smart logistics of the future, workflows will be more flexible, more complex and even more efficient; the demands on the reliability of solutions will consequently increase further. Such developments are positive for a company like Interroll, which scores highly with its outstanding quality and service.

However, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that employees are the company's most important resource when it comes to discussions about digitalization and automation. Only those who succeed in taking people forwards into this changed world can fully exploit the technological potential for further growth. Training and development programs—like the ones we organize at the Interroll Academy—are a key component in exploiting this potential.

What are the specific benefits of Industry 4.0 solutions to users of materials handling technology?

One key benefit is, of course, a significant increase in productivity in the flow of materials, but also less downtime thanks to predictive optimization of maintenance. Furthermore, logistics centers with a modular design can naturally be managed with greater flexibility and operated for longer.

Likewise, business-to-business (B2B) processes can easily be integrated between two or more partners using standardized machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, provided that data exchange and transparency are desired by all those involved.

Trends of Material Handling 4.0

Do you anticipate that the materials handling market and the products will fundamentally change as a result of these innovations?

Yes, in the medium to long term there might be consequential changes which drive the dynamic development of production logistics further forward. We will see improved solutions, as well as brand new ones. Customer service and advice will have a greater role to play. Improved efficiency and sustainability will remain the central requirements for the user, however. From the consumer's point of view, greater convenience, shorter delivery times and customization are at the top of their wish lists. These trends will have a profound influence on materials handling 4.0.

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Dr. Ralf Garlichs, Executive Vice President, Head of Products & Technology Interroll Group
Dr. Ralf Garlichs, Executive Vice President, Head of Products & Technology Interroll Group

Dr. Ralf Garlichs studied mechanical engineering with a focus on production engineering at the University of Hanover, Germany, and holds a PhD degree (Dr.-Ing.). After working for Festo Tooltechnic as Head of Production and Logistics he joined the Winkelmann Group where he held several management positions. He joined Interroll Group in 2006 as Executive Vice President "Drives & Rollers." Since 2011 Ralf Garlichs has been Executive Vice President Products & Technology and a member of the Interroll Group Management.

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