“Until now, machines have always had a single purpose. That’s about to change. “
We spoke to Joni Regalado, Somengil’s Head of Research and Development, about how innovation can help businesses at a time of unprecedented challenges.
IoT is breathing new lives into machines, data is steering engineering efforts and innovations with over 60 years continue to shape our world. The fast pace of technological developments is only accompanied by the rise in the price of energy, and uncertainty hangs over supply chains. We spoke to Joni Regalado, R&D Manager at Somengil, about the role that innovation can play in this challenging context.
In R&D, we’re used to tough choices: space vs. capacity, cost vs. performance, ease of use vs. diversity or efficiency vs. quality. These are hard decisions, but familiar to every innovation manager.
The point is not so much having to choose–which is inevitable–but how to decide. Who do you put first? What are their needs? What are the most practical solutions?
These questions are the starting point for everything we do: whether automating a process, creating a product or making production more sustainable. With so many moving pieces, it’s difficult to get it right, but this is the art of engineering: create new solutions to ancient problems, simplifying repetitive processes, increasing quality of life. It’s a cliché, but it is true – in fact, it is our mission. Valuing people’s time and energy means freeing them to perform tasks where they can use all their creativity and talent.
We share these priorities with our customers. In the food, retail or pharmaceutical sectors, washing is a crucial focus area, which consumes plenty of time and could have a huge impact if neglected. Hygiene is paramount. Ergonomics is critical. Washing speed, simplicity and safety, ditto. So is the best possible use of resources, minimizing waste, and protecting the environment.
How can this be achieved? At first, it could be easy to assume that most of the research work was already done. After all, the main washing variables were identified over 60 years ago by Herbert Sinner, a chemist, and are no secret: temperature, mechanical action, chemical action and time. And of course, it is the perfect combination of these variables that makes MultiWasher a high-performance washing machine.
But we also know that in order to achieve disruptive results, we need to go much further: equipment has to adapt to people and processes, not the other way around. The development is, in many cases, fully customized to each installation, and to the smallest details.
For example, when developing the MultiWasher, and once requirements are defined, there is a three-dimensional modeling phase where we draw each component. This enables us to simulate digitally how parts interact, and even simulation how washing jets impact the objects to be washed. As a result, we can optimize the solution before starting production, again reducing waste as much as possible.
There is also a fundamental cultural dimension, which involves operators. The goal is that everyone can adapt MultiWasher to their reality and actively participate in the continuous improvement of its activities.
Not everyone knows this, but innovation also extends to the testing phase. Washing is fundamental to the end quality of the product in various sectors – just think of the meat industry. As such, it is not enough to have efficient processes: quality must be assured. In the R&D department, we design a unique testing battery that proves the effectiveness of our equipment and its requirements.
Finally, our secret sauce. The involvement of all employees of our company, in suggesting new ideas, combined with the honest feedback of our customers and partners, are very important contributions to the development.
This mindset is key to truly innovative solutions, which has never been more important given both resource shortages and their price. In the foreseeable future, I believe this is where most innovation efforts will focus on.
There’s also a new current emerging in R&D, with the potential to transform the way we look at any machine – whether a car, a smartphone or an industrial washing equipment.
Until now, equipment has always been developed for a certain purpose, which it serves throughout its entire life cycle. But that could be about to change. A new generation of versatile washing machines, for instance, can wash a certain type of object over a certain period, and then be reassigned to another type of objects. This significant change is only possible through a technology that is talked about a lot, but whose potential is still far from exploited: the Internet of Things (IoT).
With IoT, industrial washing equipment becomes part of a network that informs engineering teams on its performance, consumption and potential failures. Such equipment can self-diagnose, through data analysis, what the focus of upcoming engineering developments should be: whether to shorten cycle times, reduce consumption or increase the reliability of a given component.
After any development and innovation, a remote upgrade can be made to the equipment, updating its firmware and then analyzing its data again, to test the effectiveness of the innovation. This will be the main tool of continuous improvement by engineering departments, while equipment can keep evolving, abandoning the concept of static equipment in time. So a washing machine today won’t be the same tomorrow.
After nearly two decades of industrial washing, it is reassuring to look back and see how far we’ve travelled. But it’s even more exciting to have a clear perception of all that’s to come.