igus Accelerates Transformation to Sustainable Industry 4.0

igus accelerates transformation to sustainable Industry 4.0

At the Hannover Messe, igus is presenting innovative solutions for the future of industry and automation, focusing on smart maintenance, cost-effective robotics, and AI-powered online tools. These offerings aim to enable lubrication-free and environmentally friendly operations.

igus GmbH specializes in developing and manufacturing motion plastics, which are lubrication-free, high-performance polymers that enhance technology and reduce costs in moving applications. The company is a global leader in energy supply solutions, offering highly flexible cables, plain and linear bearings, and lead screw technology made from tribo-polymers. Based in Cologne, Germany, this family-owned business operates in 31 countries and employs 4,600 people worldwide. In 2022, igus achieved a turnover of €1.15 billion.

Its industry-leading research conducted in the largest test laboratories continually delivers innovations and enhanced safety for users. With 234,000 articles available in stock, customers can calculate the service life of products online. igus has also expanded its offerings by establishing internal startups, such as those focusing on ball bearings, robot drives, 3D printing, the RBTX platform for Lean Robotics, and intelligent “smart plastics” for Industry 4.0. Notable environmental initiatives include the “chainge” program for recycling used e-chains and investment in a company that converts plastic waste into oil.

To address the contemporary challenges faced by industrial firms, such as the shift towards Industry 4.0 and the goal of achieving CO2-neutral production, igus, a motion plastics specialist based in Cologne, is leveraging a threefold approach at the Hannover Messe: artificial intelligence, plastics expertise, and local knowledge. The showcased innovations include intelligent sensor technology for future maintenance needs and user-friendly, cost-effective robotics aided by AI.

Additionally, igus will unveil an AI-powered application that swiftly highlights the potential enhancements of using lubrication-free motion plastics in various applications for design engineers. Innovative technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, and digital twins are transforming how industrial companies manufacture products and optimize processes. AI, for instance, streamlines designers’ tasks by assisting in the selection of suitable components. At the Hannover Messe, igus demonstrates this with igusGO, an AI-based app.

Within seconds, the app can suggest how an application can be technically enhanced using lubrication-free components from igus, eliminating the need for designers to sift through catalogs, make calls, or send emails. Instead, they simply need to take a photo of their application. By leveraging AI algorithms, the app identifies the object and recommends igus products that enhance reliability and reduce costs.

For instance, for a bucket wheel excavator, it might suggest heavy-duty bearings made of high-performance plastic. A recent study by scientists at RWTH Aachen University and igus has quantified the economic and ecological benefits of lubrication-free polymer bearings for the first time. Depending on the application, this can lead to savings of between €7,000 and €14 million per year that would otherwise be spent on lubricants.

Eliminating lubricants can lead to potential reductions in CO2 emissions. For instance, Heineken Brasil, a participant in the study, saves 180kg of CO2 equivalents annually by using polymer bearings. If all Heineken branches adopted polymer bearings, the company could reduce CO2 emissions by 28,814kg. This small change can have a significant impact. “The potential for optimization using our motion plastics can be more easily and quickly realized with the igusGO platform.

We introduce numerous innovations each year – in 2023 alone, there were 227. Our AI app now enables users to navigate through our expanding product range with maximum efficiency and transparency,” says Tobias Vogel, CEO of Plain Bearings and Linear Technology at igus. The app already contains over 580 different applications and continues to grow daily, ranging from coffee machines and crane systems to airplanes.

Igus’ plastics are not just ordinary; they’re smart too. At Hannover Messe 2024, igus will unveil intelligent plastics, including energy chain systems, cables, linear guides, and bearings with built-in smart sensors. These sensors provide real-time condition monitoring and can be connected to various networks and IoT systems. This connectivity allows them to be part of a predictive maintenance strategy, preventing costly production downtimes due to unplanned shutdowns.

With sensors, evaluation modules, and software, dynamic service life calculations are possible, helping to determine the optimal maintenance times for these products. This approach not only benefits sustainability by avoiding unnecessary replacements but also ensures that products are only replaced when they have truly reached the end of their life cycle.

However, igus doesn’t stop there. They are continuously enhancing their smart plastics services to address current challenges, such as the shortage of skilled labor. One such digital service, called superwise, allows users to monitor their applications via a central dashboard with fewer personnel than ever before. By intelligently linking application, product, and sensor data, along with the optional use of the Internet of Things, igus offers comprehensive “plastics intelligence.”

Customers receive timely maintenance recommendations, offers, warnings, or improvement suggestions automatically. For companies unable to monitor their applications themselves, igus takes on this responsibility, with employees proactively reaching out when action is needed. According to Michael Blass, CEO of E-Chain Systems at igus, “The super wise service combines smart plastics’ modern sensor technology with comprehensive digital services.”

He added, “In times of crisis, digital innovations like these are more crucial than ever for companies’ competitiveness. We ensure that even small and medium-sized companies with limited expertise and budgets can benefit from trends like predictive maintenance.” At Hannover Messe 2024, igus is set to unveil new offerings in the realm of affordable automation. A key factor in this unveiling is Cologne intelligence, a testament to igus’ commitment to producing all its robots in Cologne.

From the manufacturing of components like injection moulds to the assembly of circuit boards and programming, igus ensures that every aspect of their robots is “made in Cologne”. One standout product is the ReBeL cobot, available in a fully equipped plug-and-play version for a modest €4,970. For those seeking an even more compact solution, igus has introduced the ReBeL KID. Moreover, attendees will have the chance to preview an Education AGV, an open-source autonomous learning platform that includes an automated guided vehicle system (AGV) compatible with cobots like the ReBeL or ReBeL KID.

Through igus’ RBTX online marketplace, customers can easily combine compatible low-cost accessories from a selection of over 100 manufacturers, such as grippers or vision systems, using plug-and-play technology. This platform is supported by online tools and 3D models, making automation accessible to companies of all sizes. Artificial intelligence (AI) is increasingly vital in this field, aiding in the rapid and straightforward development of automation solutions, including AI-based simulations.

This approach allows customers to test their applications beforehand without the need to purchase a robot or go through the hassle of integration. Furthermore, igus offers a range of products featuring AI-powered voice and gesture control. Users can directly connect Amazon Alexa to igus robots or integrate gesture control via ROS 2. This simplifies the process of defining robot movements, making it more intuitive. This AI-driven, user-friendly operability, coupled with its affordability, opens up the mass market to low-cost robotics.

Tobias Vogel highlights, “Interested parties are consistently amazed by the capabilities of igus high-performance plastics, whether in terms of lubrication-free operation, CO2 reduction, or automation.” Michael Blass concludes, “By combining our innovative products with digital services and new technologies, we aim to demonstrate the wide-ranging applications and sustainability benefits of our lubrication-free motion plastics in the context of Industry 4.0.”


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