Industry 4.0 will soon be mandatory for every machine
Mahlo GmbH is a manufacturer of measuring, control and automation systems for the textiles and finishing industry as well as the coating, film and paper sector. Developer of the first automatic weft straightener, Mahlo today operates in more than 100 countries. Sales Manager (India), Stephan Kehry converses about the growing market for quality control equipment and integrating Industry 4.0.
What is the global market size for quality control, monitoring and inspection equipment?
The market for quality control equipment is constantly growing. Not only in textiles, also in nonwovens, plastic and coating. These days, nobody can afford poor quality, because this leads to reprocess cost and claims. Investing in quality, on the other side, allows optimising processes. "You can only manage what you are able to measure" was the baseline also of our late Dr Mahlo. Today, this is still the formula of success in every production unit. By consequently supporting this idea, we achieved a quality control systems growth rate in the region of roughly 40 per cent last year.
What is your global market share in the area of weft straightening?
Even with a steadily increasing competition we manage to hold more than 60 per cent of the accessible market. Many customers don't consider any other brand to secure their added value at the very end of the production process. And almost every customer who once decided for a Mahlo weft straightener will continue the partnership over decades.
Which are your major markets for your systems in textiles and nonwovens?
Asia is still very strong. Particularly in India and China, we do a lot of business. Bangladesh, Turkey, Vietnam and Thailand show some positive tendencies. It has become much harder to sell commodities only for the sake of low prices. Quality is becoming a crucial factor for success. It determines the reputation in the market, and also cuts down the cost of the production process.
What are the latest innovations trending in the measurement and quality control domain?
For the textiles industry, specially denim and knitted goods, we've developed a pick counter which not only controls the density of the fabric by the stenter or sanforizer overfeed, it also provides an indication of the weight at the exit of the process. Unlike other systems, we use different sensor technologies for different tasks. For the control of the density we use the same light / dark modulation with an optical sensor as we use in our weft straightener, knowing that for this step only the best sensor principle is good enough. At the exit, we use a camera-based system which gives us information about the weight of the fabric. This way, our customers can show the result directly to their own customers.
How have you integrated Industry 4.0 into your systems?
Industry 4.0 for us is an essential tool which comes in our software options on the basis of an OPC- UA interface. Our machines last for decades. We're absolutely sure that Industry 4.0 will be mandatory in every machine within the next five years. Purchasing a new machine today without this feature is like racing the Formula One with a 10-year-old car. You simply cannot win.
What kind of measurement and controls can be expected by the systems of the future?
Based on Industry 4.0 standards, the interaction between machines and processes will be enhanced. Thus, we cannot talk about new measurements and controls. It will be a total revolution in measuring, linking the different results together through a network in order to always make the right decision towards a production that has zero defects.
What is the budget allocated towards R&D at Mahlo?
As innovation is the key factor for sustainable success at Mahlo, we invest approximately 15 per cent of our turnover in R&D, knowing very well that this amount pays back in many ways.
How is the market for your equipment in India? What are the challenges?
India is a very demanding market. This is very challenging on the one hand, yet it is also very rewarding. Once a customer realises the savings he can make by a good quality machine he'll always come back. On the other hand, we see a paradigm shift inside the textiles industry: while production of commodities due to increasing competition from China, Vietnam and other Asian low wage countries has reached a critical point, the demand for technical textiles is on an all-time high. Geotextiles, textiles for houses and cars (to mention only a few) offer a far better margin. This is a great opportunity for many textile producers. To find a niche in the field of technical textiles will help many people survive and grow even stronger with more advanced products. In any case, Mahlo will be a strong supporting partner, offering decades of experience in both fields: commodities as well as high-tech products.
Which is your most popular equipment in India?
Our weft straightener is the best-seller in India. I've recently seen a machine, which was more than 50 years old, still in operation. But as the customers need to have more transparency in every way, the process control equipment is also gaining a bigger market share year by year.
What innovative solutions do you offer for technical textiles?
In technical textiles, it is of utmost importance to meet quality requirements in thickness and weight. Here, we offer a wide range of non-contact sensors based on ß- and X-rays as well as all kind of light (Infrared, LED, Laser) in order to provide very precise information and closed loop control systems to our customers. Documentation as well as quality is very important. Consequently, we also provide our systems with all the necessary interfaces to forward the required data wherever it is needed.
Please share details of the last two fiscal years and your expectations from the next two.
During the last two years, we were not just meeting our very ambitious forecast, we even exceeded it. This resulted in the construction of an additional production facility next to our existing one in the south of Germany. We're very optimistic as far as the future is concerned. With the shift towards quality and sustainability we're exactly the right partner to work with when it comes to optimised processes or right first-time production. There's no better choice to secure any production than Mahlo.
What milestones has the company achieved in the last five years?
Our latest weft straightener software for sure is such a milestone. Not only is it ready for Industry 4.0, it also contains a lot of smart algorithms. One of those for example is adapting the movements of the bow and skew correction according to the fabric speed. If the machine is operated with 80 m/min instead of 8 m/min, the software helps to anticipate the movements, making the overall correction smoother, more precise and also more economic in terms of the movements.
What are the future plans at Mahlo? Any major launches planned this year?
We're very proud that we could nearly double our production capacity with the new manufacturing facilities. Now we need to make sure that they are as busy as the old one. But we are sure that with the current set-up this won't be hard to achieve. (HO)