The human factor is sometimes just too cumbersome in manufacturing. Take the German chipmaker Infineon: By using an autonomous robot called Scout from MetraLabs for the last several years, the automotive supplier shrank to 10 from 300 the number of minutes it takes to collect the clean-room data needed to measure the presence of rare gases in the air.
When it used a human resource to collect the data, Infineon sometimes had to discard daily production because environmental parameters were not met—a discovery made after hours of gathering air-quality samples.
Besides Scout, for clean-room applications, MetraLabs makes the robot Scitos X3, which it adapts for the goods a manufacturer wants to transport.
But Johannes Trabert, cofounder of MetraLabs, is anything but an enemy to humans in manufacturing. On the contrary, he is helping manufacturers adjusting to Industry 4.0 find the happy medium that will keep them in business 20 years from now.
The future will be focused on “the clever share of work” between humans and robots, Trabert said, as he showed me around his factory in Ilmenau, Germany, in October.
That will leave the humans more satisfied by the work they do do, he added. “The places where our robots are installed create more attractive jobs or enhance the jobs that are there for humans—because the more human-related capabilities are used in a better way than before: the monotonous, stupid part of the work is then done by the robots.”
Then there’s the workforce skills gap to contend with.
In places where human workers are not as plentiful as they used to be, “you need to make best use of them,” Trabert said. “And this is not carrying goods through the production facility; it is to involve them in production itself and the creation of value, checking quality and keeping everything running.”
Infineon is a prime example of MetraLabs’ influence. But MetraLabs’ contribution to the modernization of manufacturing—so far—extends to the Czech Republic, France, Great Britain, Singapore and the U.S.
The latest Fraunhofer institute will share its mobile robots innovation lab with MetraLabs.