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emkon. SmartGlass technologies
Mr Dittrich, the company Corning presented a fascinating future vision of the omnipresent touch displays in 2011 in its promotional video “A Day made of Glass” (26 million hits on YouTube) . There are impressive approaches in the areas of daily life, education, business, medicine ... How do you assess, from today’s view – 6 years later – these approaches: fantasy or our future? How close we are?
Dittrich: This technology is indeed the way to the future. It is nearly impossible that things will go another way. At least 80 percent is already in use – especially in the private sector and in communication. Currently missing is the so-called “translator”. So far there is no common denominator for all incoming data; therefore work is required on this superior unit. The hardware seems to make it possible, but the technique in the background does not work properly yet. Even in the communication sector, the technique only works within one operating system and there is no compatibility across different systems. Ultimately we are talking about „independent hardware“ and a software area in „virtual realities”. To my mind, in the hardware area only nuances have to be developed for using the topic optimal user friendly. We are very advanced in the area around the mobile phone and gaming consoles with their gesture controls. Most of the opportunities are still not used in the industry yet, but that is our future. I would like to point out one issue in particular: it is enormously important to use the technology and its opportunities positive and careful because it can hold many dangers, for example crime.
The futuristic appearance is fascinating for all of us. What benefits do you see – in particular to the everyday work situation in the industrial production and packaging?
Dittrich: Everyone can put together their necessary data and operating elements – like the apps on their mobile phone. That means, everyone can make their ideal workplace and is therewith able to generate optimal performances.
The interface between human and machine plays a decisive role. Informations from the machine must be implemented fast and clear, especially in critical operating situations. It is important that these implementations happen in understandable operating and handling instructions. Smart glass machine cover vs. standard operating display – which benefits do you see?
Dittrich: By using the smart technology, the information is always where the malfunction occurs. It will be displayed in the right language and proper visualisation where the current operator needs it. The smart technology ensures that no complex adjustments on central operating elements have to be made (which, as we all know, are always at the wrong position). We reduce and minimize misinterpretations, ineffective and time-consuming actions to find the cause of an error and production downtimes. An example: By the use of our operator guidance system we have up to 30 % less downtimes in night shifts. The operator does not need to orientate himself for a long time but rather can directly intervene at the error location. That is only one step of many others to optimize the operation and thereby to increase the productivity.
In addition to the comfortable operation, glass surfaces are easy to clean and offer small pollution surface. That is important for many sectors in the industry. Which benefits do you see?
Dittrich: Glass surfaces are absolutely hygienic. That plays an important role in the sectors food, cosmetic and pharmacy. Glass surfaces are better to clean and by comparison to conventionally casing significant wear-free (no scratches as for example Lexan). The used surface can insulate sound, heat and vibration. Glass can be formed very flexible and gives each view a clear image. We know the realistic representation from the mobile phone industry and that can be used in our industry too. The disadvantage that glass may crack can be countered: by using special coatings, the material can be made impact-resistant and shatterproof. The diversity of control and operating systems in the smart glass technology can be optimally implemented. Buttons, switches and keys from the analogue operation are transferred into the digital world. And – they are freely positionable…
The communication sector is a pioneer in this particular field. Which other industry sectors and topics do inspire you with your developments?
Dittrich: Neural networks, selflearning machines, robotics – especially in the field of robotics there is much going on with selflearning systems. It fascinates me that a machine will be able to continuously learn and correct itself. But, as mentioned before, the gesture based controls of the gaming industry is very exciting for me. And last but not least the automobile industry with the autonomous systems that will bring many changes to the way we drive in the next 10 to 15 years…
The question about the costs comes to mind. Is this technology already so affordable that its usage is possible and reasonable in price sensitive market segments, too?
Dittrich: No, unfortunately not. In its final stage it is not yet economically viable at this time. But there are already many small steps one can make. That on the other side may even today be highly useful and econimically viable and leads to many advantages - that goes without saying!
These benefits may be:
- A predictable production that guarantees a specific output.
- A technology that makes high quality products possible even without highly trained operators.
- International competitive advantages because language barriers and related issues don't matter any more.
- Optimizations across different locations and production sites.
But still: The economic efficiency may change faster than we think. Who could have expected that mobile smartphones are available and affordable for nearly everyone so fast?
You are addressing this topic and its industrial usage for quite some time now. In August 2016 you presented the first emkon. machine with a SmartGlass panel (which is simultaneously a machine door) to the public.What is coming next?
Dittrich: It is our goal to present a smart technology in the near future that includes a high level of individualisation, operating comfort and a selflearning mode in several networked machines. A smart technology that adapts individually to the operators' needs (e.g. his height, his preferences) providing him with the proper assistance that matches his level of knowledge. In 2020 we intend to have a complete smart line in production. By then we will have to test and implement the technology in many small steps. But the basis for all this is already here. It's the modularity that characterizes emkon. from the beginning in the year 2000. And it's crystal clear that this is the path to success.
Mr Dittrich, many thanks for this interview.