Secure communication is the key

17 May 2016

Anja Moldehn believes that the basis for success of Industry 4.0 is the creation of plant-wide secure and consistent digitisation.

The manufacturing industry is facing a new challenge to optimally plan and implement complex manufacturing processes. Production needs to proceed without interruption or rejects. When combined with high flexibility, this helps ensure competitiveness. To meet these challenges intelligent and secure communications structures are vital.

Industry 4.0 points to solutions for fulfilling these demands through the use of digital, networked system solutions and Phoenix Contact has been applying some of the abstract Industry 4.0 ideas to meet practical requirements of production. The company has defined six fields of action that focus on high flexibility, performance, quality, and economy. These include consistent digitisation, secure communication, autonomous adjustment to changed framework conditions, simple installation and operation, as well as the efficient use of resources.

Secure and consistent digitisation form the foundation of the initiative. Only when all relevant information is available in digital format and all participants of the value chain are networked can the Industry 4.0 approach be systematically implemented. Digital data is taken to maximise added value at any given time. The connection of people, objects, and systems leads to dynamic, self-organising added-value networks. These can then be improved according to various criteria, such as cost, availability, or resource consumption. Intelligent mechatronic systems exchange their data across locations and companies through public or private network infrastructures. This communication, based on Ethernet and the Internet, ensures high production availability. At the same time, it forms the foundation of flexible, self-optimising manufacturing processes. For this reason data transmission needs to be reliably protected from electrical interference and unauthorised access.

Phoenix Contact has employed Industry 4.0 ideas in its own production systems, which has led to a new production line at the Bad Pyrmont location that manufactures 6mm wide isolation amplifiers for interference-free signal transmission.

The manufacturing process has been improved in terms of how the product, worker, and machine communicate with each other. A continuous material flow in the process chain and short production retooling times for all of the 98 product variants contribute to efficient methods of operation. When ordering isolation amplifiers, customers can use an internet-based configurator to select the input or output signal type. More than 1,000 different module versions are available and, in order to allow such a wide variety of products to be manufactured in small lots of 5 to 480 at mass-production costs, personnel and machines need to work quickly and economically.

Flexible processing
After soldering paste has been applied and SMDs have been mounted, sets of four PCBs are checked for the correct arrangement of the individual components. Up to 154 small components, such as resistors, capacitors, and diodes, can be installed on a single PCB. After soldering, a stamping machine cuts out the PCB. It is then placed on a workpiece carrier and fed into the Industrie 4.0 system cycle. Around 20 workpiece carriers circulate around the production line at the same time, allowing employees to work at capacity and the system to function economically.

First, the workpiece carrier is conveyed through a short cycle. After a laser has completed labeling and the recesses have been milled, the housing is completed. In the next step, the PCB is inserted and coupled with the housing. Then in a soldering portal, the housing is soldered to the PCB. The module is now completely functional. During downstream programming of the respective firmware, a cylinder lifts the workpiece carrier to the test head. This is followed by high-voltage and final electrical testing.

When an order is loaded to the production line, the work plan is generated. As soon as the product is in the workpiece carrier, an RFID tag creates a connection to the information that the higher-level system provides. That includes the indication of which tests are to be performed on the article and whether and what firmware must be implemented. The workstation machine operator comes into contact with each module three times. Each contact involves a different task. One is to read out the RFID chip to compare the finished article’s image area with the specifications displayed on the screen. Another is to insert the PCB and package the finished module. The processing status of the individual products is communicated to the higher-level system via the RFID tag. That is why the screen only shows the information or options that need to be performed on the current task. In this way the communication between the article and the facility control system makes the high complexity resulting from the wide range of variants manageable for personnel. They receive assistance, allowing them to complete work quickly and without errors.

This application demonstrates that systems can already be developed to offer flexible production. However, order to gain all the advantages of future industrial manufacturing, it is important that the actual article communicate with the processes that are based on digital data. This will require the products involved to be just as thoroughly digitised as the individual workstations through which they pass during their manufacture. This will allow the human actor to operate the production system economically with support from assisting systems. In addition, both data exchange and the design of the communicated content must be adequate for the production systems. If operators want to ensure that their production locations will continue to be successful, they must organise standards and guidelines that are sufficiently open to allow them to adapt to changing conditions and business models.

Anja Moldehn is a marketing specialist Industrie 4.0 at Phoenix Contact Electronics GmbH

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