Progress is generally the result of ongoing, detailed improvements that eventually lead to a new standard of quality. But just like in any evolution, there are sudden leaps and revolutions in technology, too. Conquering such new territories requires a company to be courageous, willing to take risks, and to have a vision for the future.
The uncompromising attitude with which Interroll has pursued this new modular conveyor platform is quite remarkable. After all, they have accumulated know-how and experience over the past couple of decades that would certainly enable them to effectively optimize their successful conveyor product range even further. This is generally how innovation works in engineering- driven organizations. The courage to consistently take the perspective of the customer and to put his needs and product requirements at center stage during the development process cannot be taken for granted.
Most important product launch since Interroll foundation
The significance of this project was clearly defined from the outset. The new conveyor platform is the most important product launch in the 57-year history of Interroll. The pressure was on from the very beginning, and so was the team's determination and motivation.
Besides the customer-oriented engineering approach, there were other things that made this project stand out. System integrators, system builders, and end users were included in the development of the product early on through a large-scale customer and user survey. Flexibility has become the key word and the pivotal point when creating requirement specifications. Because, in the end, what must be dealt with are increasingly unpredictable throughput fluctuations and changes to order structures and product assortments—in ever shorter cycles. Speed is increasingly important and is becoming an essential selling point, in particular for the end user. The best example of this is online selling.
No flexibility without modularity
This should have been etched onto the walls of the offices of the development team as a guiding principle, but it was omnipresent in their minds anyway. This is the lesson from the current developments in all areas of manufacturing and commerce and therefore also for intralogistics. Strict mass production is becoming the exception. Small runs, mass customization, and "long tail" have had an impact on logistics requirements as well: Quick changeover of parcel sizes, weights, and units must all be considered. This kind of flexibility can only be achieved with a modular overall design: a modularity that allows for total modular kit solutions, including simplified maintenance and one that can be expanded easily.
Customers and experts are convinced from modular conveyor platform
Now it has arrived, the new modular conveyor platform. And Interroll has done everything right. This impression is quickly confirmed when you carefully listen to customer comments and the statements of experts.
At an international press event at Interroll's Center of Excellence in Sinsheim, the birthplace of the new platform, it was rather impressive to learn how well Interroll had anticipated the requirements of the quickly evolving intralogistics industry.
In addition to Michael Kuhn, at that time Managing Director of Interroll Automation GmbH and the "father" of modular conveyor platforms, other experts in different areas of logistics gave lectures. Prof. Dr. Horst Wildemann, CEO, TCW Transfer-Centrum für Produktions-Logistik und Technologie- Management GmbH & Co. KG, talked about worldwide mega trends and how they are affecting the intralogistics industry. The requirements on the process chain from ordering to delivering products is amazingly simple: Integrated, flexible, and scalable solutions are necessary to allow companies to actually keep their product and service promises.
Conveyor and distribution logistics orientated on customer requirements
Important parts of this are functioning conveyor and distribution logistics. Large system integrators have been relying on Interroll for logistics solutions for many years.
Francis Meier, Managing Director Technology Center, Swisslog AG, a longtime partner and customer of Interroll, has worked as a development partner for the new conveyor platform. In his speech, he pointed out how positive—and productive for all parties, in the best sense— this special cooperation was and still is. What was remarkable was the early involvement in the development process. The extensive know-how of Swisslog allowed for solution-oriented dialog even before the planning phase. Very early on, before the decision for a new development had even been made, the extensive and multilayered feedback of the Swisslog experts paved the way in this direction. The extensive requirement profile was firmly based on customer and market requirements and thus the bold decision was made to pursue a completely new development.
Conveyor systems: It's about flexibility
This means "total reset" (Mr. Kuhn): The white piece of paper was now on the table. Swisslog was an important and inspiring development partner from the beginning, and their continuous input contributed significantly to staying focused on the customer's needs; something that is easily lost amid the technical fascination that comes along with such a task. Like all other participants, Swisslog is looking forward to the very first end-customer installation.
To make sure the installation goes smoothly, a smart control system in every sense is a prerequisite these days. Adaptability and scalability are of utmost importance in terms of sustainability. In short: It's about flexibility.
And that's exactly what the focal point was for Michael Kuhn in regard to the new conveyor platform: "As a neutral supplier of conveyor modules for system integrators and system builders, we have designed this new platform mechanically and electronically for open standards. Future-oriented and pre-installed fieldbus systems guarantee easy interfacing with parent systems or larger systems, for electronic hardware and software. Not only does this provide flexibility, it also makes this solution futureproof."
In May 2014 the modular conveyor platform of Interroll was presented for the first time at CeMAT in Hanover. By now, several projects all around the world have been successfully implemented.