Picking your own box of chocolates – no longer a pipe dream

By Siemens

It’s not available commercially but to demonstrate what the future might hold, a chocolate manufacturer in Switzerland (where else) has experimented by offering a bespoke box of chocolates that Forrest Gump would be happy with.

The production line’s robot enables consumers to order its chocolates any time from any where via Twitter. You can order, for example, three mini bars of dark chocolate and several with nuts and fill the rest of the package with milk chocolate. No white chocolate to be seen. The container is labelled, provided with the necessary product declaration, sealed and shipped to the consumer.

The flexible pick system is an “innovation kit” for Chocolat Frey in Germany and part of experimenting with the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 as it is being dubbed. The company has collaborated with a leading university, the University for Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW), packaging specialist Pacvois, automation partner Autexis Holding AG and Siemens using its MindSphere open cloud ecosystem.

“As a university, it’s our job to identify new possibilities and point out where the journey could take us,” says Markus Krack, Head of Technology Transfer FITT at the School of Engineering at the university.

“The system is intended to provide an experience,” Krack explains. “We therefore chose a product and a problem that everyone knows: chocolate!”

The process is currently very expensive because Chocolat Frey is orientated to mass production and individual orders are packaged by hand.

The flexible pick system was financed by the university. “Producing the system was quite a feat,” Krack said. “Everyone pulled together. Even our professors did some of the programming, which doesn’t happen very often.” The partners relied primarily on products and solutions from Siemens. “We used MindSphere, the open cloud ecosystem from Siemens, on which our proprietary Autexis apps can run,” says Philippe Ramseier, the owner of Autexis.

The MindConnect hardware component collects the data from sensors and actuators and transmits it to the MindSphere cloud. A Simatic S7-1500 controller controls the Kuka robot using the TIA Portal library. This significantly simplifies the robot engineering, since the engineer only has to be familiar with the TIA Portal.

Siemens provides an extensive sample application for this purpose, which contains the robot program and the HMI images. The robot path points can thus be taught from a Simatic mobile panel (KTP900F), which gives a common look and feel to the way the machine and robot operate.

Autexis has been working with products from Siemens almost exclusively for 35 years. “This strategy has proven to be successful,” says Ramseier. Thanks to this long-lasting partnership, and by sharing ideas openly with Siemens on a basis of mutual trust, Autexis can apply itself to the development of new products and services.

This is also a good choice for Krack and the university. “Siemens is cutting-edge in the industrial environment. Our students must be able to deal with that.”

The Autexis project team also implemented new services for the Hannover Messe. Inventories or operating data from the robot can be made visible directly on the flexible pick system. “A personalised label gives customers with augmented reality additional information on the product, like the origin of the chocolate and the calories in each item in the assortment,” Ramseier says.

“The system can be expanded almost infinitely,” he adds. “For example, we can integrate the warehouse. If the inventory of mini bars falls below a minimum level, an order is automatically triggered.”

The customer’s preferences and ordering habits can be analysed using the data collected by the flexible pick system. Who likes what chocolate? Who orders chocolate and when? Does customer behaviour depend on the weather? “A customer who orders an especially large amount of chocolate could be sent a fitness studio brochure,” Krack says with a chuckle. And then adds, “Data protection is important to us.”

The flexible pick system is an “innovation kit” for Chocolat Frey, so it can be used to test processes. The results obtained can flow into the operational process later on. Krack also has a lot of praise for the project. “Of course, the research is also aimed at expanding the flexible pick system and developing more processes. As a university, it’s our job to identify new possibilities and point out where the journey could take us.”

Learn how Siemens is helping the Food & Beverage industry adapt to technological change at Digitalize 2018, Siemens’ annual digitalization conference, which will be held in Melbourne on Wednesday, 8 August 2018. For more details and to register, visit www.siemensdigitalize2018.com