Robot vision systems

Challenge

A wish to grow in the market for meters combined with a recognition of the demand for customized products, short deliverable deadlines, zero errors and for high quality at a low price, which put pressure on the traditional manual assembly production model. 

Solutions 

Fully-automatic production making it possible for to have the market’s shortest deliverable time, and to customize products for customers at a competitive price.

Costs

The two current production halls have costed several millions of Euros. The new fully-automatic production hall will cost close to €15 million .

Result

The company has gone from being a small player in the Danish intelligent metering solutions market, to being a clear number one in the global district heating market and one of the market leaders in Europe.

 

Introduction

Kamstrup A/S is one of Europe’s largest manufacturers of intelligent metering solutions for energy and water consumption. The company’s main offering is metering solutions for water, electricity and district heating utilities. Kamstrup A/S was founded in 1946 in Stilling, Denmark.  

The intelligent metering solutions market for water, electricity and heating is a highly competitive global market.  

Creating growth in tough market conditions

In the early 2000s, Kamstrup A/S had strong ambitions to grow in the intelligent metering solutions market, but faced large competitors including the multinational companies Siemens and Landis & Gyr.

In order to grow in the market, Kamstrup A/s decided to reinvent themselves by establishing a fully-automated production line, which would make it easier for the company to produce metres quickly and customize it for individual utilities. Until then, the industry was dominated by mass-manufacturing and manual assemblies, this however, led to long delivery times and required substantial storage space.

Furthermore, fully automating production would ensure that production could stay close to the R&D department in Stilling, Denmark and therefore, secure the synergies of having R&D and production under the same roof. Kamstrup A/S believed this was crucial in order to stay innovative.

Kamstrup A/S’ assumption was that the company’s new fully-automated production would use automation in both large and small volume orders with the help of robots. Full-automation would make it possible for Kamstrup A/S to produce orders within a couple of days, after the order had been placed. Furthermore, the full-automation process made it possible to produce a 80 piece order as cost effective as a 80.000 piece order. The short time to delivery would effectively reduce large stocks, which at the time, was a big expense for both manufactures as well as customers.

An automated production would also make it possible to keep prices competitive due to lower costs spent on manual labour, the reduced need for storage space, and the possibility for customization, providing Kamstrup A/S with extra sales arguments when approaching their customers. According to Kamstrup, the most important benefit of automation is the consistently high level of quality, with this providing the biggest benefit for the utilities that depend on accurate and reliable metering for the invoicing of their consumers. 

“In relation to customizing, it is important to remember that every utility is unique - in Europe they want flow in Litres and in USA they measure in gallons. With our automated set-up, we ask the customers what they want and then we set the robots to produce exactly what the customers need”

- Jesper Daugaard,
Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, Kamstrup A/S

Automatic production lines

Kamstrup A/S has two production halls with five production lines in each. The production lines contain robots in montage and produce only one kind of product or one modification of an existing product at a time.  

In the heat, cooling, water production hall, the preferred robots are ABB robots and Kawasaki robots. In the electric metre production hall, the preferred robots are the more flexible Universal robots. According to Kamstrup A/S, these are the best kinds of robots to have working close together with employees because they are programmed to stop immediately in contact with humans. The flexible Universal robots opens up for much closer collaboration between robots and humans than the traditional industrial robots that needs to be shielded from humans for security reasons, which puts pressure on space utilization in the production halls.

Besides the use of robots, Kamstrup A/S also uses high quality vision systems in production, which help the robots in locating products on the production line.

Robot vision systems

A robot vision system provides the robot with the ability to “see” the product on the production line. The robot vision system is a combination of calibration, algorithms, temperature software and a camera.

Full-automation has been a success for Kamstrup A/S and in the near future, they will open up a new production hall, making it possible for the company to make production even more fully-automatic with robots handing internal logistics as well. Furthermore, the production lines in the new production hall will be able to produce different products at the same time, which will make it even easier to customize products for clients even in very small numbers.

The new production hall will have state-of-the-art robots that are easy to programme and will make it easier for Kamstrup A/S to avoid having external experts programming their robots, which has, until now, been a big expense for companies working with automation and robots. Today, robots have a high level of usability and can be programmed in-house.

“Previously, robots meant heavy industrial robots with a high price level that were quite difficult to program, which gave a lot of expenses for external programmers. Today, it is much easier to program robots, which are now very user friendly and have a high level of usability. Software has moved the most in relation to robots.”

- Peter Suhr,
Production Manager, Metres - heat/ Cooling - Water, Kamstrup A/S

Result: Growth

Fully automated production has been a huge success for Kamstrup A/S and has helped the company grow steadily in the market since the 2000s. And the results,  Jesper Daugaard, Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, at Kamstrup, states, seams to point towards that Kamstrup A/S was right in their assumption that the market needed customization and short deliverable times. The company went from being the third largest manufacturer of metres in Denmark to become number one in the home market and being a large player on the European market as well, reaching an export share of 75 % on the international market.

“The results of Kamstrup A/S’ restructured and automated production to include customized products for customers have been overwhelming. For instance Kamstrup A/S went from being the third largest player in the district heating market to being a clear number one - larger then number two and three combined.”

- Jesper Daugaard,
Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, Kamstrup A/S

The future is data driven

Today, Kamstrup A/S is preparing for the next step in the company’s development. The fully-automated production lines and the obtained knowledge about the customers’ needs and consumption from data they have collected from their products and production, provides the company with potential to expand even further.

“In the future, the Kamstrup A/S product will be much more of a mixture between the core product, the metres, and the other services that we provide to the customers based on data than we see it today. Kamstrup A/S is already today, offering portal based solutions to customers”

- Malene Kærgaard,
Service Delivery Manager, Kamstrup A/S

Today, the Kamstrup A/S intelligent meters communicate the customers’ consumption between once a day up to once every 16 seconds, which provides the company with useful data about the individual customer’s consumption.  Data is already a part of the Kamstrup A/S business and will increase in the future.  Today, about half of the company’s turnover comes from sales of hardware and half from services connected to the metres.

“The customers are increasingly requesting data. Kamstrup A/S has gone from being a manufacturer of metres to being a system house and further on to become a data service provider. In 2015, about 75% of new projects were Kamstrup hosted solutions, where Kamstrup takes responsibility for data reading and data management”.

- Jesper Daugaard,
Senior Vice President, Global Marketing, Kamstrup A/S

According to Kamstrup A/S, data will have an even higher impact on Kamstrup A/S’ business in the future. Whether the company will be a supplier of services or as a B2B supplier of data is hard to know yet, but data will for sure play a very central part in the ‘future Kamstrup A/S’.