AI meets plastics: igus accelerates transformation to sustainable Industry 4.0 at the Hannover Exhibition

Smart maintenance, low-cost robotics, AI-based online tools: igus is exhibiting a vision of the future. The plastics specialist will showcase future-oriented solutions for the lubrication-free, carbon neutral industry and automation of tomorrow at the Hannover Show in April.

To help industrial companies with big challenges such as “net zero” manufacturing and digitalisation, motion plastics specialist igus is relying on a triple does of intelligence at global trade show Hannover Messe 2024: artificial intelligence, plastics intelligence and “igus intelligence”. Technologies such as smart sensor technology for intelligent maintenance, and AI-supported low-cost robotics that are super simple to operate, will be on display. igus will also be showcasing an AI-based app that shows designers the optimisation potential of their application with lubrication-free motion plastics in a matter of seconds.

Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, digital twins: these innovative technologies are revolutionizing the way industrial companies manufacture their products and optimize processes. AI is helping to simplify the work of designers, for example selecting the right components. igus is demonstrating this with “igusGO”, an AI-based app that reveals in a few seconds how an application can be technically optimized with igus’s lubrication-free components.

Now designers don’t have to pore over catalogues, make calls or send e-mails, but simply take a photo of their application. The app uses AI algorithms to recognize the object and makes suggestions for igus products that increase its reliability and cuts costs. In the case of a bucket wheel excavator, for example, this could be heavy-duty bearings made of high-performance plastic.

A new, joint study by scientists from RWTH Aachen University and igus has quantified for the first time the economic and ecological advantages of lubrication-free polymer bearings. Depending on the application, between £6000 and £12 million can be saved per year in the cost of lubricants. At the same time, switching to polymer bearings from igus offers the potential for CO2 savings. One study participant, Heineken Brasil, for example, saved the equivalent of 180 kg CO2 per year by using igus products. If all Heineken stores were to switch to polymer bearings, the company could save the equivalent of 28,814 kg CO2. “The optimisation potential through the use of our motion plastics can be realised much more easily and quickly with the help of igusGO,” says Rob Dumayne, drytech® director at igus UK. “We launch many innovations every year – 227 in 2023 alone. Our AI app, igusGO, now makes it possible to navigate through our ever-growing product cosmos with maximum efficiency and visibility.” The app’s database already has over 580 different applications, with more being added every day: from coffee machines to crane systems to aircraft.

Plastics intelligence helps SMEs on low budgets access predictive maintenance

Plastic products from igus are also intelligent, with igus smart plastics on display, including energy chain systems, cables, linear guides as well as plain, articulated and rotary table bearings equipped with intelligent sensors. They enable real-time condition monitoring, and they can also be connected to various networks and IoT systems, thus integrated into a predictive maintenance platform to avoid expensive production downtime due to unplanned plant downtimes.

With the help of sensors, evaluation modules and software, a dynamic service life calculation can be realized and optimal maintenance times for the products can be defined. This also offers an industrial sustainability benefit because products are not replaced unnecessarily early, but only when they have reached the end of their viable product life cycle.

But that’s not all: igus constantly develops its smart plastics services to respond to challenges such as the shortage of skilled workers. For example, thanks to an igus digital service called “superwise“, it is easier now ever to monitor all one’s applications via a central dashboard with less expenditure on personnel. This connection, by the intelligent linking of application, product and sensor data, as well as the optional use of the Internet of Things, results in comprehensive “plastic intelligence”. Customers automatically receive timely maintenance recommendations, quotes, warnings or suggestions for improvement.

If companies do not have time or resource to keep an eye on their applications full-time, igus assumes this responsibility. Employees then proactively report when something needs to be done. Justin Leonard, director of e-chain systems and cables at igus UK, says: “The superwise service combines the modern sensor technology of smart plastics with a digital all-round service. In times of multiple crises, it is digital innovations like these that determine the competitiveness of companies more than ever. It is important to us that even small and medium-sized companies, without deep know-how and with low budgets, can benefit from trends such as predictive maintenance.”

Operate low-cost robots easily with AI-based voice and gesture control

igus will also present innovations in low-cost automation at the exhibition. Above all, igus intelligence is involved here. These systems include the ReBeL cobot, which is available in the fully equipped plug-and-play version for only £5500.

For robot users looking for an even more compact solution, igus has developed the ReBeL KID. Visitors to the show preview will already be able to see an Education AGV, an open-source solution and autonomous learning platform consisting of an Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) that can be combined with cobots such as the ReBeL or the ReBeL KID. Customers can combine compatible low-cost accessories from over 100 manufacturers, such as grippers or vision systems, using igus’s online marketplace RBTX, based on the plug-and-play principle – supported by online tools and 3D models to guide you through a system design. RBTX is intended to provide companies of all sizes with a cost-effective entry into automation. Here, too, artificial intelligence is playing an increasing role, helping to develop an automation solution faster and easier, for example with AI-based simulations. The customer might save on the purchase cost of a robot as well as the integration needed and can test his/her application beforehand.

igus also offers products with AI-based voice and gesture control. For example, Amazon Alexa can be connected directly to the igus robots, or gesture control can be integrated via ROS 2, making it very easy to determine and instruct robot movements in the future. Such AI-supported, intuitive usability in combination with a low price paves the way for low-cost robotics to enter the mass market. Currently, igus is mainly using AI to monitor robots and integrate vision sensors quickly and easily. But the robotics team is also researching resilient programming using voice or gestures. A simple robot program for everyone, which is not limited to just the robot, but programs the entire application. “People are always surprised at what igus high-performance plastics can achieve – whether in terms of lubrication-free, carbon reduction or automation,” says Rob Dumayne. “By combining our innovative products with digital services and new technologies, we want to show that our lubrication-free motion plastics can improve a wide range of applications and make them more sustainable, intelligent and Industry 4.0-capable,” says Justin Leonard.