Fortress Interlocks is focused on machine safety and, while the product range still includes locks and keys, it now extends to complex electrical and electronic systems. The advent of Industry 4.0 presents another challenge, as we race towards 50 billion devices connected to the internet by 2020. We expect many of our products will be in that number. It is a huge step from our original interlocks, which have been protecting the workforce since the 1950s.
The first Fortress products were robust mechanical interlocks expected to carry out one function – prevention of access to working machinery. In the future, our products will still be expected to be robust and protect people but they will also be required to have additional functionality as customers look for feedback and data, not just about safety, but about their manufacturing processes.
We are already moving in that direction with recent customer installations utilising our network-enabled gate switches designed to operate on safety networks. These products are easy to configure and install, providing customers with additional operational feedback as well as carrying out their safety-critical operations.
Electronics and software
Having relied on our mechanical engineering expertise to design product we found ourselves adding additional electrical and electronic expertise four years ago, but more recently we have added software engineering expertise. It is clear that our future product developments will be software driven as the world become ever more connected.
In the past our major product development concerns were related to mechanical strength and reliability; now we are considering internet security. A device connected to the internet has the potential to be a door to our customers' networks, so security will be a critical part of our networked products offering. Involvement in international standards development in this area is an important part of our business strategy.
Understanding future requirements is essential to our new product development process. Throughout Fortress' long history we have embraced change, our move into electrical gate switches was driven by collaboration with our global customers and it is our customers today who are leading us through new technological changes.
Factory automation and the development of the 'smart factory' present both challenges and opportunities. The introduction of collaborative robots (cobots) and automation of tasks previously carried out by people is reducing the need for more traditional machine guarding products, but are also increasing the need for 'smarter' interlocks.
At Fortress our goal is to maintain the strength and durability of our product range - Fortress products are designed to be the strongest in the market - but also build-in additional functionality to help our customers with their processes. As the importance of data increases we know that our products will be required to feedback through extensive, potentially global, data networks.
Perhaps the biggest problem Industry 4.0 presents to Fortress is keeping up with the pace of change. Some estimates suggest we are less than 1 per cent down the road of the digital revolution. The digital disruption that may impact our business is almost impossible to predict. Businesses like Fortress have to be agile and prepared to use modern technology to improve our own efficiencies as well as incorporate it into our products.
While today it seems like a far-off dream, we genuinely believe that one day our customers may well place an order, download a data file and print a product on a 3D printer. How this process could be managed effectively is yet another challenge industry faces. Two years ago we launched an online configurator enabling our customers to create complex safety products from our wide range of modules and components. There are more than 4.9 billion potential configurations that could be created. Since its introduction over 10,000 unique configurations have been created. Five years ago the use of such a configurator was unimaginable and multiple sales people and engineers would have been involved in the process.
As our business continues to grow our view remains unchanged - we need to protect people and productivity and it remains our massive transformative purpose in this digital age. In 100 years' time we want Fortress to be at the heart of the next industrial revolution, protecting people and productivity.
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