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The human hand as a sensor – worker assistance system with connection to ERP and server structures

Use Case ifm + St. Sozialwerk Georg
4 minutes Reading time
4 minutes Reading time

In many cases, monotonous and frequently repetitive tasks such as packing and picking are still carried out manually despite the progress of digitalization. They require highly trained specialists and must be performed with a high level of concentration. This creates a permanent need for further training, even if experienced colleagues are on hand. Training new employees in existing production processes also means a high investment in time and money.

Worker assistance systems help here: They display information and check processes for correct execution. In this way, they help to reduce the error rate, ensure product quality and save costs. An excellent example of this is the ifm mate, the Manual Assembly Training Engineer from ifm.

The challenge: Avoiding packaging errors, training effectively, reducing costs

Many processes are still carried out manually, partly because they cannot be automated. But the set time frame within which orders have to be completed on time is getting tighter and tighter, and the quality requirements are becoming increasingly stringent.

For example, Sozialwerk St. Georg e.V., headquartered in Gelsenkirchen, received an order from an internationally active machine manufacturer for its Lenne workshop for people with disabilities in Schmallenberg. This involved packing sliding bushings and O-rings of various designs in special pressure-sealed bags. Each bag contained up to 18 different parts.

A strict zero-defect policy had to be adhered to for this order. A faulty or incorrect part can lead to machine downtime with immense consequential costs. For this reason, a three-stage control system had to be set up: After the parts had been packaged and inspected by the worker, the result was checked and then checked again manually to ensure that it was free of defects. Although this resulted in one hundred percent quality, it required an immense amount of work. In addition, the monotony of the operations sometimes led to a loss of concentration, which in turn could lead to quality problems.

With the introduction of the ifm mate complete system, it was possible to meet the high quality requirements with the help of an easy-to-use system while maintaining the scope of performance. And not only in the daily routine, but also in the training process for new employees or new workflows.

The solution: Real-time instructions through intelligent image processing with perspective connection to SAP and server structures

The success story of ifm began in the founding year 1969 with the invention of inductive proximity switches for 220 V supply voltage. In the meantime grown to more than 8000 employees in more than 60 locations worldwide, ifm had originally developed the worker assistance system for its own needs.

ifm mate is available as a complete solution and basically consists of a PC with powerful pre-installed software. It uses the human hand as a sensor without relying on further technical or optical aids.

Due to artificial intelligence, the software uses a 2D/3D camera to determine the exact position, height and orientation of the hands. This verifies the correct execution of the individual work steps. The employee is visually accompanied through the process in real time via a display at the workplace, without the need for additional accessories such as tracking wristbands or VR glasses.

In the live image, both the work steps already performed and the subsequent work steps are highlighted in color. Reaching the hand into the predefined areas automatically acknowledges the completed activity, so that the employee is not distracted in any way. In the event of a deviation, a message appears on the monitor and optionally also on a signal lamp located in the field of vision.

ifm mate can be easily set up for any manual activity. It is also possible to specify whether the work steps are to be carried out in a predefined sequence or in a free sequence. A combination of both options is also possible.

The result: AI-supported error-free order processing with dramati-cally reduced effort

“The simple operation and the reduced technology played a significant role in the decision in favor of ifm mate,” confirms the production manager of the workshop, and adds: “The most important argument for us, however, was that we can achieve 100 percent order processing with efficient time expenditure. The fact that the software reliably prevents skipped or faulty packaging steps during the process means that redundant testing is no longer necessary.

Using ifm mate for operations means:

  • Simple, intuitive and flexible visualization and instructions for defined work steps in real time
  • No tracking wristbands or VR glasses required
  • Standardization of manual workflows
  • Individual real-time support, adjusted to the speed and working method of the employee

In application

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