OEM size doesn’t matter when it comes to Industry 4.0

18 September 2017

Many smaller machine builders may feel that smart factory technology is not relevant for them. However this could not be further from the truth, particularly when it comes to choosing a PLC, says Rami Hanan, VP of sales and marketing at Unitronics.

Large-scale complex industries, such as the automotive industry, are already implementing smart factory solutions, in line with the vision of the Industry 4.0, so the ability of your machine’s PLC to support these technologies is vital.

To understand the relevance of Industry 4.0/Smart Factory and ‘Cloud’ technology, we begin with the traditional pyramid. Figure 1 shows the communication layers in the traditional factory. Each layer has a specific set of functions and functionality. Each layer communicates with the one above and/or below it through different communication networks and protocols. 

The bottom layer of this pyramid is the factory floor, where manufacturing machines live. The manufacturing process incorporates various technologies, communication networks, and protocols that connect peripheral devices to the manufacturing machines.

At the top of the pyramid is the factory management system - the Manufacturing Execution System (MES). This includes servers, software, and services that communicate with the factory floor to:

• Inform the manufacturing staff/system what needs to be manufactured, based on customer orders. 
• Coordinate the front-end and back-end factory logistics to fill those orders, based on available data, including manufacturing times and raw material inventory management. 
• Enable monitoring. Therefore, this is where you will typically find HMI that allows access to machine/process status, as well as SCADA systems which show an overall picture of the manufacturing facility, generally allowing a drill down per device. 

The middle of the pyramid is traditionally called the control layer. Here are the devices that control the machines that perform the manufacturing - the PLC.  

A traditional PLC is generally limited to communicating directly with the machines executing the process and the peripheral devices via fieldbus protocols, and can modify processes based on real-time application data. 

Where does Industry 4.0 fit in?
A PLC that supports Industry 4.0 technology can modify the manufacturing process based on data from the application and act on instructions received from the top layer. Such a PLC:

• Can receive instructions from the layers above it: what to manufacture and how to manufacture it.
• Start the process on the machines, execute the instructions, and monitor the running condition of the process. 
• Report data –process data, production data, and of course errors, up through the layers.
Industry 4.0 technology support brings other benefits, such as the ability to:
• Communicate directly with the facilities’ backend systems. Existing Ethernet infrastructure allows communication protocol support for SQL interfaces to factory ERP/MRP servers. 
• Use remote control applications like VNC so that you can control your PLC from a remote location. Ethernet interfaces and TCP/IP support also provide access to the PLC for file transfers (FTP) and email support, so that the PLC can send messages directly to personnel. 
• A built in webserver provides another form of HMI access.
• Employ SNMP to integrate a PLC into the IT infrastructure, and manage it as an IT asset.

In small to mid-size machines, a PLC + HMI integrated controller can provide an advantage in terms of space, and wiring. The controller’s HMI Panel and the HMI application enable users on the production floor to view and track machine processes, input data and view the status of peripheral devices, as well as edit data and issue commands. 

Your ideal controller should include options such as CANbus, serial, and Ethernet ports, plug-and-play support for a range of fieldbus protocols such as CANopen, MODBUS, and Ethernet/IP. To support Industry 4.0, look for SQL, email, FTP, SMS texting, and integrated webserver to enable your clients to view run-time data as trend graphs, bar graphs, and gauge on both HMI panel and remotely.

Selecting a manufacturer that stands behind a brand of controllers is as important as your CPU and I/O requirements. The selected brand must have a complete product range that can meet the requirements of your customers, and meet the standards applicable to their sector. A high level of customer care is also important. When you purchase a PLC you are also selecting the company that stands behind that PLC—and this decision could have a major impact on your success in industrial automation.

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