Sacmi Innovation Lab, Industry 4.0 enabling technology


Developing innovative know-how and enabling technologies with an eye to Industry 4.0. This, in short, is the mission of Sacmi Innovation Lab, the facility established in 2017 and already selected by the Emilia-Romagna Region as a candidate in the first phase of a tender to attract investment in advanced sectors of the region's industry. Currently staffed by 15 people (rising to at least 30 in the next 2 years), the Sacmi Innovation Lab is a team dedicated exclusively to research, which involves distinctly multi-disciplinary skills that range from IT, mechanical engineering, physics, and chemistry to mathematics (i.e. data scientists), automation and plant management expertise.

“Enabling technologies are those ingredients which, if mixed and configured appropriately, create a competitive advantage for the customer", explains Gildo Bosi, Sacmi's Automation R&D manager. Following successfully completed projects on the Italian market in 2017, two further examples now come from Spain where Sacmi is looking to replicate the positive Innovation Lab experience.

"Our first project in Spain concerns the development of innovative process control systems", explains Bosi, "the aim being to improve product quality control by measuring every parameter during the process cycle". From body preparation to firing, ceramic manufacturing involves several stages, each of which makes a crucial contribution to optimal finished product quality (and any potential defects). "On the basis of parameter readings and the long term defects database" says Bosi, "it's possible to create models that correlate defects with their upstream causes. This constitutes a valuable tool for operators as it allows them to enhance their understanding of the ceramic process".

What's happened, and why are the two apparently simple questions which the models need to answer: a goal based on so-called “data analytics” (i.e. algorithms based on statistical correlations). "This is the first step", observes Bosi, "towards transforming a traditional ceramic plant into a more evolved smart ceramic plant. Of course, the next step consists of anticipating the causes of any defects by implementing predictive diagnostics models". The aim is to arrive at a point where it is no longer the operator who identifies and corrects the process inefficiency but the plant itself that 'self-corrects' via the models.

The second major project that Sacmi Innovation Lab is moving ahead with in Spain at Sacmi Iberica, concerns the efficiency enhancement of machine lines. "When we talk about 4.0", explains Bosi, "the focus isn't merely technological. For example, one of the systems used to transform a traditional ceramic factory into a smart factory involves designing flows and plants innovatively so they reflect the new market logic and provide greater efficiency and economy". That innovation aims to overhaul the way inventories and flows are managed and reorganise order management systems to cope with the increasing fragmentation of the orders themselves (a consequence of increasing product personalisation, shorter life cycles and smaller volumes). "The sum of these two logics, that is, the implementation of new enabling technology and managerial innovation, creates the 4.0 of the future". observes Bosi.

Operating in close collaboration with Academy 4.0 – the Sacmi facility that oversees 4.0 learning at every level, from internal training to relations with customers, suppliers, schools and universities – Sacmi Innovation Lab aims to become an Emilia-Romagna High Tech Network node by merging the numerous already-completed projects and existing partnerships with the regional research facility and university system. In 2017 the lab hosted 5 dissertation students in Imola, while in 2018 the goal is to have at least 6-8 dissertation students assigned to the main facility research areas.