Product Portfolio for Vacuum Automation: Interview with Dr. Kurt Schmalz

Dr. Kurt Schmalz, Managing Director of J. Schmalz GmbH, offers a glimpse of the vacuum specialists' product portfolio strategy. From now on, in the field auf vacuum automation the company will differentiate between standard components and intelligent devices for the digital factory.

Dr. Kurt Schmalz, Managing Director of J. Schmalz GmbH
In the Connect series Schmalz is grouping intelligent vacuum components like the compact ejector SXPi.
Intelligent vacuum components are fast to integrate into application environments and make it easy to maintain efficiency and transparency of processes. Gradual changes can be recognized early, failures can be minimized.
Vacuum components in the series Schmalz Select, for example suction cups for a packaging line cover about 80 percent of all standard applications.

Schmalz is well known and firmly established as a provider of vacuum components and gripping systems. What is the motivation to restructure its product portfolio?

We've been supplying our customers with modern vacuum solutions for nearly 35 years. Over that period, we've continued to expand our portfolio of products for manual handling and for automation. In the meantime, we have the broadest range on the market. That's a good thing, but it also represents an obligation to our customers: Nowadays, they rightly expect standard components of consistent, premium quality to be available on demand. At the same time, having made an important contribution to networking processes in the digital factory with our intelligent vacuum components, we consider ourselves to be a driver of new technological developments. We've decided to address these two poles – standard components for a wide variety of tasks and smart field devices for the digital factory – by distinguishing between two product series, namely Schmalz Select and Schmalz Connect.

Especially in the area of standard components, the available selection is large. You provide more than 6,000 components, from suction cups to spring plungers. Do your customers ever get lost in the variety?

The wide selection of components is something our customers appreciate very much. Nevertheless, it's our job to guide our customers so that they can quickly find the right product for their application. That's why we've taken to heart the feedback from our customers who weren't able to find the right solution quickly enough. We already provide many useful tools for finding and procuring the right item on our web platform at www.schmalz.com. Additionally, we make available comprehensive selection aids, filters, and other tools (such as a configurator for end effectors) to help customers find a gripping system to suit their needs. In grouping our standard components in the series Schmalz Select, we've instituted a measure to further facilitate finding and selecting products. The components of this series cover about 80 percent of all standard applications, and from now on they'll be available at the press of a button.

How does the customer benefit from choosing Select products?

Products from our Select series can be ordered from our online shop with just a few clicks of the mouse. They're kept in stock, so if they're ordered before noon, then the shipment leaves our factory in Germany on the very same day. Customers can also rely on our components being available worldwide and in the long term, whether they're suction cups, vacuum generators or vacuum switches used in smartphone production in Asia, in the press shop of an auto manufacturer in Germany, or on a packaging line in the USA.    

Will you be able to keep sight of the issue of innovation while focusing on the standard product range? 

Our objective is to shape the market for vacuum technology with our products. That hasn't changed in 35 years. Much that was revolutionary ten or fifteen years ago is now standard technology, in many cases thanks to Schmalz. Our vacuum generators have been equipped with features for process monitoring since 2006. Schmalz also played a pivotal role in establishing the practice of transferring data to the controller via an IO-Link interface. Today we're developing solutions in digitization and collaborative robotics that are being used more and more often in modern, networked factories. We've now collected these solutions in the Connect product range. This range includes compact ejectors, grippers, and vacuum switches with NFC interfaces or Schmalz's ControlRoom app for reading out data and parameterizing the device.

What added value does this series provide?

With the intelligent devices of the Connect series, start of operations can be performed up to 75 percent faster. The user can integrate the components into their application environment and monitor them using interfaces such as IO-Link, Ethernet, and NFC. Our smart field devices create transparency in operations by allowing users to monitor the data and optimize the operation of machines from anywhere and in real time. Intelligent devices also make it easier to plan maintenance of systems, allowing gradual changes to be recognized early and failures minimized. The system can be maintained preventively rather than only after an unplanned stoppage has occurred. As with the products of the Select series, with this significant increase in the efficiency and transparency of processes, we provide a tangible benefit to customers.

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