Starting the smart factory journey

03 July 2017

Every journey starts with a single step. Suzanne Gill finds out what organisations need to do start the journey to becoming a smart factory.

There is agreement that data is the key to achieving the goals of a smart factory – a reliable and secure data connection and acquisition infrastructure is a prerequisite to increasing production efficiencies and reducing system downtimes. This means that sensors, and other plant floor devices are a very important element in the success of a smart factory. 

A smart factory will need to have the ability to connect to all of these plant floor devices, including those that did not form part of the traditional factory architecture. Protocol interoperability among different devices, maximum protection against cyber attacks, and an architecture that can maximise overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) are other requirements.

“The evolution of industry 4.0 is about much more than communication between machines and the cloud. It enables the manufacturing world to change the traditional business models. More than two decades ago, automotive manufacturing leaders had the vision to lease complete parts of their manufacturing process and pay the owner by delivering the output of that part of the line in a good quality, said Thomas Heuwinkel, head of business development for Moxa Europe. 

“Today, with industry 4.0, the required process data can easily be made available for all involved stakeholders. The data needed to judge whether the machine´s output meets the customer´s specification can be made available in a neutral place to document the evidence.” 

Based on the technological evolution that guides us towards industry 4.0, Heuwinkel believes that entire markets will be able to start to focus on their core competencies, outsourcing their production stepwise. “A few decades ago, we were impressed by the idea of an automotive manufacturer being able to produce different types of cars on one production line. Looking forward, I believe we will be seeing different car brands produced on one production line! This will give us a very different on plant effectiveness or the term OEE,” he said. 

Utilising cloud-based monitoring will enable process engineers to achieve smarter operation and receive real-time performance data to increase the productivity and useful life of existing machines. “Live dashboards will support engineers with alerts based on historical and target performance metrics, and they don´t even require the investment or expertise in specialised IT infrastructure, servers, or software. Process engineers will be the masters of OEE – yet they will remain heavily dependent on accurate data,” concludes Heuwinkel. 

Positioned to compete
According to Nicholas Temple, marketing & global accounts manager, UK & Ireland, for B&R Automation, Industry 4.0 is happening right now. He says it is vital that organisations start to consider how they are positioned to compete and how the role of the control engineer may change as a result. “Industry 4.0 will not occur overnight, but it is important that control engineers become more IT literate and they must be prepared to work across the traditionally separate lines of IT/OT,” said Temple. “They also need to start to develop new skills in data management and security.”

B&R positions the automation and control engineer’s influence into a group of potential use cases. These include  human-robot collaboration; predictive maintenance; data collection and storage; visualisation and presentation of manufacturing information in real-time; and simulation (digital twins, for example).

“These use cases require the skills and creativity of control engineers in order to be recognised,” said Temple. For example, with data collection and storage, plant managers are focused on bringing existing machines and factories up to speed for Industry 4.0. In the majority of production environments, paper documentation is still the preferred method of data storage as there are so many existing assets on the shop floor that have not been digitised. However, there are now solutions available to achieve this – for example B&R’s Orange Box, which enables machine operators to collect and analyse data from previously isolated machines and lines with minimal effort. It consists of a controller and preconfigured software blocks. The controller collects operating data from any machine via its I/O channels or a fieldbus connection. From this data, the software is able to generate and display OEE ratings and other KPIs, and can share this information with higher-level systems via OPC UA.

An ongoing process
“While the exact future of the IIoT is not yet certain, it is clear that change is an ongoing process and the factory of the future will be the result of evolution,” says Mark Maas, industrial digital factory & innovation lead for TE Connectivity.  

Industry is facing a number of key challenges as it strives to achieve more flexible manufacturing alongside the need for greater efficiencies. Data collection, aggregation, visualisation and analytics that enable immediate data-driven decisions can help overcome these challenges. Data driven decisions can lead to greater efficiencies in energy and raw materials use, people and money, higher product quality and thus greater flexibility. TE created its own digital factory platform to provide it with an environment that allows it to share increasingly more information, both within the plant as well as within the entire value chain. 

“One thing we have learned as our own factories enter the digital era is that older equipment can be expensive to upgrade or replace. We needed to find a flexible solution to connect a machine to a network, enabling pieces of equipment to communicate with each other and with users. When we looked at our older machines, for example, we identified a need for a machine independent, plug-and-play connectivity device. To achieve this, we implemented an internal project to deliver such a device. The result was the IoT OmniGate, a module which connects the OT with the IT. 

“In my opinion the smart factory need to be able to address a number of key industrial trends including greater customisation/differentiation of products – even in high volume production runs; improved energy efficiency; and increasingly more interactivity. As a consequence we will see a move from ‘make to stock’ to ‘make to order’. Factories need to become more flexible and more environmentally sustainable. The ability to share information with customers – even across a range of production facilities – will lead to a better balance between offer and demand. I believe that in the factory of the future, the IIoT will connect all processes, integrating all things – from machines, controllers and drives to workpieces – into networks and IT systems. This will facilitate a leap in productivity and efficiency. It will not happen overnight, however, but instead will be the result of ongoing studies and developments,” said Maas. 

Staying relevant
Industry 4.0, combined with IIoT, big data, and machine learning all rely on the digitalisation of the industrial environment through the utilisation of IT technologies. “This is an issue that will affect all industries – machine builders, OEMs, and manufacturers – both large and small – should be looking at new business models and services to ensure they stay relevant in a possibly game-changing future,” said  Paul Smith, business development manager Industrial IoT for Beckhoff.

“Cloud-based platform services can include a variety of system-relevant data about an automation platform – machine details, or even plant line details including product-related information – which can be used to improve product and production,” continued Smith. “Each market stage relies on data and services from its supplier stages and – enriched with own expertise – offers a base for subsequent customers. In this way, each player can start to concentrate on its own core competencies.”

Technological challenges
The technical challenges to achieve this relate to transparency and connectivity. Transparency describes the information coming from a sensor, for example, in the context of controller cycle times, communicated via fieldbus, controller, and multi-master bus to a cloud system for processing and analysis. Hundreds and thousands of sensors and actuators scanned in milliseconds form a massive data source. When this is connected to a cloud-based system it allows various vendor platform services to be utilised for data storage, aggregation and analysis. 

“Breaking down the technological challenges of the smart factory into industrial standards, control system concepts form the tool base for smart factory engineering in conjunction with fieldbus technology and remote IO; and scientific engineering including automation, motion and analytics, said Dr Josef Papenfort, product manager TwinCAT, at Beckhoff Automation. “Combined with connectivity protocols utilising open industrial standards such as OPC UA in conjunction with IT standards, a whole cyber-physical system scenario allowing direct cloud computing down to the detail of sensor data, can be made available.” 

Providing choice
Jackie Chang, president and general manager for Delta EMEA, believes that Delta is able to provide the necessary solutions for its customers looking to create a smart factory. “The most important thing for smart factory success is the ability to generate data, to collect it, collate it and analyse it to turn it into actionable information,” he said. “To achieve this there is a need for open and compatible solutions. Delta can offer smart sensors, networking solutions, HMIs, PLCs, controllers, drives, etc which are all compatible with each other. We also collaborate with partners to ensure that the language, software and devices are able to integrate with all existing protocols and communication languages. Delta is a young company, in comparison with some of the other industrial automation vendors. This means that we do not have the problem of needing to communicate with outdated legacy equipment when we introduce new solution.” 

Delta’s own manufacturing own facilities have acted as a testbed for its smart solutions. At this year’s Hannover Messe the company showed its smart manufacturing capabilities with a live demonstration of an integrated IIoT and robot workstation which employs its six-axis articulated robot, IIoT and machine vision technology as well as a new Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to enable time and resource-efficient customised ordering and production. At the exhibition this demonstrator was put to work producing personalised business card holders for visitors. 

The MES system, linked to a cloud platform, allowed visitors to place orders for personalised business card holder via a laptop PC. This provides immediate confirmation via SMS including a weblink to monitor production scheduling and progress in real-time. The robot then executes pick-and-place and laser carving according to the orders. Order adjustment and production rescheduling for urgent orders can be realised through the MES system for flexible and interchangeable production. Upon production process completion, customers receive confirmation via SMS.

As we have learned, data is key. It is vital that more information from the plant floor be used to help improve production flexibility and efficiency and to help create smarter factories. Even information from isolated legacy systems needs to be utilised and variety of tools to enable this are now coming to market. It is important that we all consider the role we have to play in helping your organisation to become ‘smarter’ and making sure that it doesn’t get left behind.

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