Perfection, flexibility, and efficiency are key factors in today's industrial production.
To ensure quality, many companies in the manufacturing industry still rely on downstream, manual checks. However, methods such as the 4-eyes principle are neither flexible nor efficient and are particularly prone to errors. In high-precision industries such as medical or electrical engineering, these methods are problematic as a zero-error tolerance is mandatory.
For this reason, increasingly more companies are turning to smart technologies that optimize and automate processes and ensure quality through digitalization. Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH in Rottweil-Neukirch has recognized this trend and taken the step towards digitalization.
In this article, you will read how Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH achieved an error rate of 0 PPM with the worker assistance system Smart Klaus - in just 12 months.
Watch the video testimonial to see the benefits for employees and production since implementing the intelligent assembly assistance system.
1. The challenge of quality control in medical technology
The international technology company based in Rottweil-Neukirch specializes in innovative plastics and tool technology. Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH offers a diverse product range, from individual single products to large-scale modular plastic solutions. The international company supplies its products to customers in a wide range of industries, including healthcare, measurement and electrical engineering, environmental and energy technology and automotive.
In addition to its broad product range, Schwarz also supplies the medical technology sector as a reliable supplier of high-quality plastic parts.
Since 2020, the company has recorded a significant increase in deliveries to this sector, which simultaneously entails higher requirements in terms of product quality, traceability, and documentation.
Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH was faced with the challenge of meeting complex variant diversity as well as high customer demands. Ensuring error-free products and 0 PPM is extremely challenging when manual processes are involved, as human error is unavoidable. Quality defects have repeatedly occurred in the past despite intensive quality control measures such as the 4-eyes principle or poka-yoke fixtures.
The pressure of zero-defect production called for an intelligent technical solution that would detect and minimize these errors.
In search of the optimal solution for this industrial challenge, the specialist in plastics assigned his in-house technician the task of examining suitable solutions.
After extensive analysis, comparison of various options and an initial test phase, this ultimately led to the integration of the worker assistance system Smart Klaus into the production process.
After just twelve months since implementation, the results speak for themselves.
We knew we were getting better, but this good? Nobody could have guessed that! In a period of 9 months, we went from 1500 PPM to 0 PPM.
– Bernhard Dürr, Leanmanager
2. Working with the worker assistance system
2.1. Automatic real-time quality control
With the camera-based worker assistance system, the expert for plastic system solutions opted for an innovative solution that accompanies production in real time, supports employees at every step and thus guarantees quality assurance.
In addition to the assembly process, the system supports the automatic documentation of booking processes, production quantities, production times and the provision of digital information.
Once I take out the raw parts, I present them to Smart Klaus and he shows me step by step what I have to do until the product is finished. For example, what I must screw, whether I have to insert a spring or print a label.
- Karin Besenfelder, assembly worker
For real-time feedback, the worker assistance system is based on advanced computer vision and image processing. The worker assistance software captures and analyzes images in real time. If the system detects potential errors or deviations from the previously programmed parameters, it issues an audiovisual warning. This enables not only early error detection, but also the ongoing optimization of production processes.
2.2. Satisfied employees
In an interview with Karin Besenfelder, employee at the international specialist, she reports with satisfaction: "It's a good feeling when you know that the customer is getting nothing but good parts".
The quality assurance guarantee provided by Smart Klaus is an additional motivating factor for employees.
Bernhard Dürr, Lean Manager at Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH, reports that the employees quickly recognized the numerous advantages after the initial phase of familiarization. They say that their working lives have been simplified, they must concentrate less and experience a more relaxed working atmosphere overall.
The employees, both in the operational and technical areas, are impressed by the user-friendliness and flexible user ergonomics of the worker assistance system. This includes a separate, height-adjustable touchscreen and a front-mounted control display.Working with Smart Klaus is not only fun and easy, but also motivating.
3. Data protection and privacy
Occasionally, employees worry about their privacy when camera-based assistance systems are introduced. The fear of being constantly observed and monitored can lead to unease, which is understandable.
Both privacy and data protection are respected with Smart Klaus. The cameras focus exclusively on the work area, such as the assembly table, and do not record any parts of the employees' bodies or faces. Personal characteristics or identification data are neither documented nor logged.
Assembly manager Marcel Chudzik underlines this with the words: "With Smart Klaus, the employees' privacy is guaranteed - only the table is filmed, no part of the body is filmed, documented or logged."
4. The process of implementation
4.1. What was the process like?
Once the project for process optimization had been assigned to the in-house technician, the search for a suitable system began.
The technician carried out an in-depth market analysis, visited numerous trade fairs and conducted interviews with various service providers. A total of five potential worker assistance systems were considered.
A concrete benefit analysis was carried out for two systems, which included Smart Klaus. The system was installed in production as a trial and immediately proved its worth. Today, 4 out of 13 manual workstations at Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH are equipped with the worker assistance system.
Assuming everything goes well, the project will continue next year.
- Bernhard Dürr, Lean Manager
4.2. Who was involved in the process?
Several departments were or are involved in the implementation and maintenance process.
- The IT department ensures that the computers and workstations are reliable.
- Mechatronics engineers take care of the maintenance of the workstations, as these represent a different level of complexity than conventional workstations.
- The quality assurance department regularly checks the functionality.
4.3. Implementation at the workplace
The pre-existing manual assembly workstations were simply expanded with an industrial computer, touchscreen, and lighting with an integrated camera.
In addition to these basic components, further functions were integrated:
- Interface to the in-house ERP system
- A scale for weight documentation and plausibility checks
- Torque screwdriver with corresponding interface
- Label printer.
With these extensions, features that the camera cannot detect visually can now still be checked. For example, the torque or final weight of a product can be seamlessly checked and documented and even a label print can be initiated after the final quality check. The result: a further level of quality assurance is created.
5. The advantages of the worker assistance system
5.1. Consistently 0 PPM
Since the introduction twelve months ago, the international plastics specialist has been able to reduce the previous PPM rate from around 1,500 to zero errors.
Lean Manager Bernhard Dürr emphasizes: "We are confident that this success will endure. Even if errors occur, we are now able to react quickly and rectify them by retraining Smart Klaus accordingly."
By continuously guiding the assembly activities, employees always know what needs to be done. With the help of the accompanying images, they can even see how it must be executed. Thanks to the automatic optical inspection in real time, errors cannot occur in the first place and if, they are detected immediately. This enables the team to deliver defect-free products and achieve a defect rate of 0 PPM.
This is also noticeable with customers. During feedback discussions, they are impressed that "such small screws, such small data matrix codes" can be recognized by the worker assistance system.
5.2. Faster induction phases and increased production efficiency
Another major advantage that has resulted from the implementation of the worker assistance system is the simplification of training processes.
Previously, employees had to memorize all the assembly processes. With increasing and fluctuating customer requirements, this became an even greater challenge.
Managing Director Danny Schwarz reports that with Smart Klaus, they can now "react quickly to these requirements and train new employees much faster and better", as they simply need to follow the instructions on the screen.
The changing assembly requirements can be flexibly programmed into the system and are instantly available. This means that every employee works with updated assembly instructions immediately. This makes the process flow and the assembly work highly efficient. "With Smart Klaus, we can be more flexible and faster in future," says Danny Schwarz.
6. Conclusion & future outlook
Smart Klaus has proven to be an indispensable tool for Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH. Since the introduction of the worker assistance system twelve months ago, the error rate has fallen rapidly to zero. Thanks to the introduction of digital instructions, production is now paperless and massive time savings have been recorded for bookings. New employees are now being trained more quickly and easily, despite the increasing complexity of customer requirements.
The achieved zero error rate of 0 PPM gives Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH a decisive competitive advantage and strengthens its reputation. On top of this comes the economic aspect: the outstanding quality and efficiency lead to considerable savings.
In the future, the company plans to further expand the use of Smart Klaus and integrate additional technical devices into the production process. The digitalization of analogue devices is also planned to make the processes at Gebrüder Schwarz GmbH continuously more secure.
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Today, the error rate at Gebr. Schwarz is 0 PPM. Thanks to the worker assistance system Smart Klaus, the production is now error-free.