25 Years of Intravis — A Success Story from 3D to 2D. Inspection, Monitoring, Control: the Evolution of Image Processing

With this comPETence interview by Prof. Dr.-Ing. Otto Appel congratulates Intravis on 25 years of excellence. As the Aachen company Intravis celebrates 25 years in business, it’s the perfect occasion to reflect. What are the roots of this company? How did it all start? What did the technological environment look like back then? How has it changed? We take a look back and ahead with Dr. Gerd Fuhrmann.

Anyone who knows Gerd Fuhrmann knows that he is a family man. And so it’s no surprise that we begin by talking about our families. About our children, who are growing up far too fast, and about the rich and fascinating experience of growing up. The actual purpose of our meeting is to discuss the history of Intravis, and we move onto this topic quite naturally as Gerd Fuhrmann describes his company as “one of his children” that has now come of age. This leads me to ask how he feels about the company’s growth and whether he worries that the closeknit nature of the Intravis family, which has always been very important to him, could be lost.

In other words, from the simple to the complex.

G.F.: In fact, at the beginning we focused solely on detecting flash and separating out defective items. We do still do this today. But today the data collected is also sent to a central data and operations centre, from production sites which are in some cases located all over the world. Discrepancies and problems on the lines can then be detected from the centre, and measures and solutions can be put in place. If necessary, servicing instructions can also be given to the relevant staff on-site. Our aim is to use the data situation to identify how the process is unfolding. That’s the future, that’s where we see ourselves, and it’s what our slogan describes: “We solve problems. Before they occur.” At Drinktec 2017, we presented this approach for cap manufacture together with Netstal. To sum it up, the systems no longer just define “go” or “no go”, good or bad — they deliver highly accurate readings at an unbelievable speed. As I mentioned, 70 caps per second are measured with an accuracy of 0.01 mm. This precision isn’t necessarily crucial for the plastic cap as a matter of course, not in every area, but it’s needed for early detection of any abnormalities in the process.


Are a lot of manufacturers upgrading to this technology? Or is there still some way to go until it’s used as standard?

G.F.: It’s still early days. I think things will develop in this direction over the next decade. But I want to warn people against believing that artifi cial intelligence will make the user obsolete. That’s a fallacy that spread for the first time in the 1990s, along the lines of “tomorrow we’ll have a self-confi guring injection moulding machine”. It will still be many years before all of that can be fed into the artifi cial intelligence system to enable unstaffed facilities. Every major development also has societal implications. What will trade unions have to say about production sites with no staff, what will hosts of QA employees have to say if a machine takes their job? We have to include these people, and manage the transition and everything afterwards to ensure that enough consideration is given to the societal aspects. Not everything can be replaced by hardware and software. There needs to be an understanding of that, and of the limitations, at every level of business. When it comes to introducing innovations on a large scale, we already know from our experience in major companies that if you don’t include people in the change, it will fail. The technology is one thing, but establishing a technology on the market is in part a political challenge, as we can see from the debate around Industry 4.0. So it will still be a while before we see fully automated, unstaffed factories.


How do you picture the transition taking place?

G.F.: I think the first step will be lightening the burden on machine operators so that they are able to supervise more lines without increasing their workload. And I think we’ll also see production sites with a reduced staff, as well as new business models involving, for example, absolute specialists monitoring multiple facilities from a central location. These specialists will then help the people on-site to effi ciently maintain high production standards. A lot of things are going to be possible, but at the same time a lot of questions are going to arise, in terms of hardware and software as well as sensor technology. We’re seeing so many new ideas — it’s going to be an extremely exciting journey, but a long one, for sure.


Thank you.

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