Automatica is the leading exhibition for automation and robotics. Every two years, visitors have the opportunity to discover how intelligent assistants will be transforming companies’ production processes in the future.
By Felicitas Wilke (Messe München Magazine 01/2018)
Human-robot collaboration is already going well in Armin Wittmann’s office. On the windowsill, two Playmobil figures wearing hard hats stand among a selection of model robots and look across the room with smiles on their faces. Wittmann’s concern is what the factory of the future will look like. As project group leader, he is responsible for organizing the leading exhibition for automation and robotics, Automatica, which in 2016 alone attracted more than 43,000 visitors to the Messe München exhibition center.
Armin Wittmann is project group leader of Automatica.
We see ourselves as a technology exhibition for all the manufacturing sectors.Armin Wittmann
2018 was another Automatica year. The exhibition opened its doors from June 19 to 22. For Wittmann, the winding down of one fair is the run-up to the next. His responsibilities prior to each fair include inviting speakers to take part in the panel discussions, holding meetings with the media, planning evening events, and drawing up programs of accompanying activities for the delegations. As he puts it, he and his team are working “to fulfill our promise.” One of the challenges for the Automatica team is ensuring that the exhibition appeals to a wide range of industries. “We see ourselves as a technology exhibition for all the manufacturing sectors,” says Wittmann. This means that the exhibitors provide solutions for carmakers, for the packaging industry, and for food and drink producers. “Our goal is to enable visitors to learn from other industries’ solutions and to exploit synergies,” explains Wittmann.
Intelligent automation in a manufacturing environment includes image processing systems, such as smart cameras, that can distinguish between different objects, intelligent hardware for product assembly, and big data for connected factories. This is a world that Wittmann is familiar with. He has a degree in industrial engineering and at the start of his career he worked for a manufacturing company. Later, he spent some time at Inhorgenta, the jewelry and watch fair. The move to Automatica took him back full circle to his original profession. “My background helps me to understand how companies manufacture products and how they think,” he says.
Although Automatica is far from being a pure robotics exhibition, the assistants with the gripper arms are the secret stars of the event. Industrial and service robots can now do much more than they were capable of a few years ago, as a visit to a car plant or an automotive industry supplier’s factory will show. The robots no longer need to be shut in cages while they are working in case they give the people around them a fatal blow to the head, as Wittmann explains with a grin. “Because of their sensors, they can now work safely with people.”
This simplifies the human-robot collaboration of the kind that the project group leader envisages for the future. People will be responsible for programming and coming up with innovations, while the robots will be helping them and doing the hard labor. Looking at his windowsill, he says, “Some jobs for people in production will disappear, but new ones will be created.” Automatica without people is hard to imagine.