Already in 2015, when making the decision to build a new Samasz factory in Zabłudów, the concept of Industry 4.0 was taken into account. – Robots and automation of production processes not only increase efficiency, but above all increase the quality and repeatability of industrial products – says Leszek Szulc from Samasz. The producer from Podlasie invests and plans the next steps of development so that all systems can cooperate and ultimately create a “smart factory”. At the same time, he does not forget about people.
“Farmer”: The new factory of the Samasz company was launched in Zabłudów recently, because in 2018. At that time, when building a new plant, were you thinking about enabling it with direct production systems in the spirit of Industry 4.0?
Leszek Szulc, production director at Samasz: In a year and a half, Samasz will be celebrating its 40th anniversary. On the other hand, the decision to build a factory in Zabłudów was made in 2015. That’s when the plots were bought, the main contractor was chosen and the construction started . As of 2018, we are already in a new headquarters.
Answering the question: yes, already at the factory planning stage, we were thinking about the concept of Industry 4.0, which was not popular at that time, because it was almost 4 years after it was announced in Germany. However, we already thought about it. In fact we seriously considered implementing automation and combining it with IT systems. Already at that time, we had an MES system implemented for production, that is, the computers were already standing, and the production workers saw the production orders displayed from the upper system and then reported directly to the production hall.
When building a new plant and developing technology, of course, most of them were moved from the old plants located on Kombatantów and Trawiasta Streets in Białystok. A new investment – which could fit into the auto industry – was an auto painting shop opened with a new plant. The emergence of this line was motivated by two factors. The first was that the paint shop of that time did not have enough reprocessing capacity and we wanted to increase efficiency, and the second factor was the fact that we wanted to improve the quality of our products. We took a huge step forward, because we developed a fully automated painting line, where the chemical surface preparation process, and then the catalyst and powder painting, were managed by one system with one suspended Power & Free transport. This comes in 6 minute cycles.
We developed a line and reservoir according to the needs of the development. Already 2 years after the launch of the line, we bought an automatic abrasive blasting room and integrated it into the entire line, expanding the P & F transport. and one system, the same. Everything happens directly on the painting line. The role of personnel is actually limited to regulatory functions.
So the new painting line was at that time the main innovation initiated by the opening of the new plant. What conclusions can be drawn from its implementation?
In fact, we have jumped to a whole new level when it comes to the quality of our products. Previously, the corrosion resistance of our machines was 450 h in a salt chamber. Using the new painting line, we have reached the “automotive” level, that is, 1200 hours or even more, depending on the specification.
On the other hand, thanks to the new paint store, the painting process has become more efficient and repeatable. We are sure about the quality. In fact, painting automation has given us high quality, repeatability and stability of the process.
Did this also lead to savings, for example in the amount of varnishes used?
Indeed so. Before that, everything was drawn by hand. The operator may have used more of this color in some areas. Automation has also eliminated logistics work. It is said that materials do not add value as much as manufacturing time, but it is known that it must be done. Currently, the Power & Free transport takes about 1 km and in this section we do not need to remove anything and stop again, that is, the workers have less equipment work and thus savings are generated.
What other new needs have emerged in the field of automation and robotics?
For nearly 40 years of operation, we have invested heavily every year. Initially, they were manually operated machines, then numerically controlled. In 2013, we bought the first welding robot, and two more in 2014. And here we saw great potential in process automation. The welding process is heavy and – you might say – difficult. So, when the amount of the same product increased, we could afford more robots and we started this robot upgrade.
Today we have 7 welding robots, and in the next 3 months there will be 2 more, so by the end of the year we will have 9. As with paint shops, welding robots affected efficiency, quality and repeatability. gradually.
Are there any improvements in the possibilities or quality of their work between robots purchased almost 10 years ago and those installed today?
Of course it is. The robotic arms themselves are no different. It is more about the control systems and their programs; Of course, all this has certainly gone on. Planning is easier, faster and more intuitive.
There is also a big role in cobots, that is robots collaborating with people, and here the leap is big and you can see great potential in this sector. We don’t have any robots at the moment, but they are in our plans, although not in the near future.
There is a big leap in laser technology. Lasers have been in our factory since 2005 and we can see how this technique has evolved over the years. We are currently building a modern laser cutting installation. In 2021, we signed a contract for the supply of a system that includes a direct sheet metal warehouse (it will have the capacity to store 2.5 thousand tons of sheet metal in two sizes: 1.5×3 m and 2×4 m) and a loading and unloading system. which will feed the paper to the laser table. The system will also be equipped with automatic sorting equipment, that is, after the details are cut by laser, they will be picked up by automatic heads, which will put them on pallets. In addition, materials can be moved eg back to the warehouse or delivered to an external facility.
Two new lasers will be integrated into the automated warehouse. Finally, there will be three. Currently, the entire system is installed with two 10 kW lasers. It will be one of the most interesting installations in Poland and, I think, also in Europe.
In addition to the integration of the devices and machines that make up this system, the integration of the system is very important. We will have a combination of ERP software and “cam” software, WMS and MES. It’s a lot of work and a lot of it is automated. Finally, we want the whole system to work unattended on weekends, i.e. without operators.
If you look back 15-20 years, the technological progress is huge. For example: we currently have 4 lasers that meet 60 percent of our needs. We are now buying the two lasers mentioned above, which will satisfy 100 percent of our needs without these four. We want to sell these 4 laser cutters.
We are also trying to look at energy costs, which are increasing very quickly. We are worried about next year, when the price may increase 2-3 times. So, let’s look at energy saving technologies.
What other needs, when it comes to the latest technology, do you see in the case of the factory in Zabłudów?
In the aforementioned automatic warehouse, there will be a laser, but also press the brakes. The next step will be to robotize them. Next to them, we will place a robot that will collect shooting materials from the warehouse. Furthermore, in the cutting system, we have provided autonomous mobile robots, i.e. AMRs, with which the cut parts will be fed and then transferred to other workstations or warehouse for semi-finished products. Therefore, we are going very strongly in the digitalization of the plant.
Are investment requirements being met on an ongoing basis?
In the last two years, we have invested about PLN 50 million in the factory. We have expanded the production hall by 4,000 m2, where the automatic laser cutting system is being built, we have also expanded the prototyping room of the research and development center, we are in the implementation of robotic welding stations, we have new bending machines. . The purchase also includes 2 press brakes, so there is plenty of current investment.
We want to create a “smart factory” where we talk very clearly about IOT and Big Data. Following this is the new Digital Transformation program. We are in the process of analyzing and talking to suppliers and choosing two systems that will be connected. These are ERP systems, i.e. organizational management, and PLM systems for product life cycle management, i.e. better than R&D design office.
Do investments in robotics, automation, production management and product development systems have a significant impact on the high competitiveness of the final product? Do they make it easier to win the competition?
Our priority is to provide our customers with high quality products on time. We do this by continuously investing in the R&D department to expand our product portfolio. Another aspect is to maintain sales and customer service at a high level. These are our main advantages that affect our competitiveness. Of course, the automation and robotization of production processes affects the competitiveness of products, because we can produce efficiently and frequently. Investing in modern technologies means for us to focus on developing ourselves and looking further into the future. Our strategy is to follow the concept of Industry 4.0 to become a “Smart Factory”. Of course, we see what’s happening in the market, what’s new and where the world is going, what’s the trend.
The pandemic, the events of recent months outside our eastern borders – how do these factors affect the operation of the Samashu factory?
Clearly, disrupted supply chains affected production disruptions. Despite the fact that we had permanent contracts with proven suppliers, it was not possible to prevent a small time. This led to the introduction of change. Since 2015, we have used SPS (Samasz Production System), a system based on the Lean Manufactoring philosophy, and we know a lot about management. However, the “black swans” that appeared led to the fact that, on the one hand, we had to increase stock levels – in some ranges they increased by 2-3 times, and in others, our suppliers had problems with getting products. and so we had to find an alternative.
We increased the number of distributors, found new ones, and on the other hand, we had to start the replacement of some components of the assortment, for example in hydraulic cylinders or PTO shafts. It was also associated with a lot of preparatory work, because to take care of the quality of our products and think about the customers, we had to look in detail and test the replacement at the beginning, from different angles, for example, material compatibility, strength, anti-corrosion resistance. Only after that we can allow it to be produced. Not all delivered products met our quality standards, so we returned them to our suppliers.
What about just-in-time production? It certainly wasn’t easy here either.
Yes, it was obvious here. Lead times for our suppliers were extended and not only were smaller pages created, but also changes in production schedules and extended delivery dates for our customers. It often happened that unfinished machines left the line and we had to return them after some time. This, of course, is a common problem in many industries, for example in the automotive, electrical and home appliance industries.
Has it changed anything in communication and forms of cooperation with suppliers?
Communication between us and suppliers has definitely increased. Before that, orders were placed much later and deliveries were made on time. As the delivery time got longer, there was no “peace” anymore. Therefore, for our plan, we decided to join forces, make “meetings” with suppliers directly online and put together a supplier’s work schedule to combine with our needs. It was an ad hoc measure, but it ultimately brought great value as well.