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Karakuri experience day at the CETPM – creative minds share their knowledge

In Herrieden, in the German region of Franconia, a whole day was dedicated to flexible and efficient automation. 

Industry is currently facing many different challenges, ranging from the growing staff and skills shortage to high energy prices. The answer to many of these challenges is automation. However, technically complex full automation is associated with high costs, among other things. So how would it be if you could automate your operations efficiently, but without any drives, sensors, electricity or compressed air – while cutting costs, remaining flexible and reducing your carbon footprint at the same time? With Karakuri/LCA (= low cost automation), you can do exactly that. As a general rule, this method relies solely on mechanical and physical principles, such as gravity, spring force and the force of inertia. With hybrid Karakuri/LCA, traditional drives are also used for specific tasks. On 12 October 2023, experienced users and newbies came together at the Herrieden campus for the Karakuri experience day (in German only). This event, which was held at the CETPM Institute premises at Ansbach University of Applied Sciences, was all about sharing experiences, passing on knowledge and relaxed networking. Many structures based on item products also featured at the event – and our “Karakuri team” was on hand to share its expertise, too.

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Complete immersion in the world of Karakuri/LCA at the CETPM

Prof. Constantin May – who has been professor of production management and logistics at Ansbach University of Applied Sciences since 1999 – established the CETPM in 2005. The CETPM offers a wide range of German-speaking seminars, university certificate courses, workshops and networking events that enable skilled staff and managers to boost their skills and personal development. Stefan Armbruster, product manager and Karakuri/LCA expert and trainer at item, is also happy to share his knowledge at the CETPM. He holds regular seminars on the subject of simple automation with Karakuri/LCA, while an application engineer from item takes charge of the practical element. Moreover, item components are used at various events. This cooperation has been ongoing for ten years now. “We have been working in trusting collaboration with item for a very long time now. Together, we have raised awareness of Karakuri/LCA in Germany – and more and more companies are showing an interest in it,” explains Professor May. Experience days are another of the training formats on offer at the CETPM. This was the second experience day centred around Karakuri/LCA, the first having been held in 2022. They are based on the model of large-scale Japanese Karakuri/LCA exhibitions, so pioneering work is being performed in this area, too.

Besides the components, knowledge and skills lie at the very heart of a Karakuri/LCA solution. It’s all about finding creative minds and giving them the freedom they need.

The speakers at this year’s experience day included staff from Schaeffler Technologies AG & Co. KG. The host launched the event by introducing the new “Karakuri manifesto”, which sets out aspects that are crucial for Karakuri/LCA to succeed. The creativity and practical intelligence of staff play a key role here. “A Karakuri/LCA solution is created by the people working on the ground – it is not drawn up by the design department. This means the staff who are involved develop new skills and are continuously engaged in a self-improvement process,” says Professor May. Armbruster fully agrees. “Besides the components, knowledge and skills lie at the very heart of a Karakuri/LCA solution. It’s all about finding creative minds and giving them the freedom they need. They simply get going with the materials, without any drawings. This saves both time and money.” Thanks to this level of flexibility and agility, it is possible to create a solution that would otherwise take weeks or months within a single week.

Karakuri experience day at the CETPM – Professor Constantin May, Stefan Armbruster
Professor Constantin May and item expert Stefan Armbruster presented the special features of Karakuri/LCA to participants.

Wealth of practical experience with Karakuri/LCA

Armbruster followed on seamlessly from Prof. May and dealt with typical misconceptions about Karakuri/LCA in his presentation. There are, for instance, solutions that would work mechanically, but would ultimately involve too much outlay. When significant height and heavy weights are involved, hybrid Karakuri/LCA also comes into play. “If the manual force isn’t sufficient or if the manual approach would take too long (because of Muda), then you need to add in a drive,” Armbruster explains. Hybrid Karakuri/LCA is used, for example, when components need to be lifted over intralogistics routes to reach the work bench. You can find an example here that shows how Toyota Motor Manufacturing Czech Republic (TMMCZ) and item experts worked together to implement a solution of this kind. Another important point to note is that, even though a “hands-on” approach is used to create Karakuri/LCA solutions, it is important that corporations then document these. This way, colleagues at other branches who are tasked with Karakuri/LCA projects can also benefit from the concept. Armbruster was particularly impressed by the Schaeffler presentation. “We cooperate closely with Schaeffler and trained the relevant people in Karakuri/LCA a few years ago. The work they are doing is truly outstanding – and they have completely validated the manifesto. I’m really impressed.”

Perfect selection of components for Karakuri/LCA

In addition to the presentations and a group discussion, there was also an opportunity to examine many high-end exhibits. The participants were divided into five groups for this, and members of our “Karakuri team” were also on hand at the various frames to answer questions. The complex structures illustrated perfectly what Karakuri/LCA can do. They were used, for example, to demonstrate how empty small load carriers can be stacked or a crate can be turned. “Thanks to Karakuri, I can automate really flexibly and cost-effectively – and all with relatively few resources. This offers a genuine competitive advantage, especially in the current times. There are many interesting new technologies – but everything needs to be profitable,” emphasises Professor May. One particular highlight were the permanent structures in the CETPM future-oriented workshop, where Karakuri/LCA is combined with both cobots and AGVs. This combination means, for example, that the kinetic energy of an autonomous mobile robot can be used to lift, lower or unload small load carriers.

item has a comprehensive product portfolio for Karakuri/LCA that is unparalleled in Europe.

Another important factor is the appropriate components. All the Karakuri/LCA solutions exhibited were built using our Lean Production Building Kit System. Armbruster explains the benefits. “We have a comprehensive product portfolio for Karakuri/LCA that is unparalleled in Europe. For example, if you are moving lightweight objects, you need low-friction components. This is why, among other products, item offers a chain as an alternative to a cable, a shooter lever with ball bearings and needle bearings, return pulleys and ball bearings.” Both Karakuri/LCA enthusiasts are entirely satisfied with this year’s Karakuri experience day. Professor May sums it up: “It was a very successful event. Our enthusiastic participants returned home full of inspiration and new ideas.” Would you like to attend the next Karakuri experience day? Then put the date in your diary now – the next event is being held on 27 September 2024. What’s more, the next in-person seminar “Simple automation with Karakuri” at the CETPM is taking place from 20 to 22 February 2024.

Karakuri experience day at the CETPM – various item structures
People were keen to see all the details – the various Karakuri/LCA structures attracted a lot of interest.

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