Retrofitting Industry 4.0

30 April 2019

Find out how medical technology company, Ypsomed, was able to retrofit Industry 4.0 digital control systems onto its legacy plastic injection moulding machines.

Ypsomed Group, a medical technology company specialising in the development and manufacture of injection and infusion systems for the self-injection of liquid medicines, selected HARTING to be a collaborative partner in a development project to retrofit legacy protocol plastic injection moulding machines with an integrated Industry 4.0 digital control system that is also linked with its factory-wide MES/ERP system. This approach offers the company simple and minimal physical integration with an existing production line for a low level of investment, with long-term benefits including improved productivity, cost savings and extended machine lifetimes.

An important element of Industry 4.0 is the ability to apply digitisation to the production environment by adding more intelligence to existing processes. Taking a digital retrofit approach makes it possible to ‘smarten’ up existing processes for minimal cost over a short period of time, resulting in a fast return on investment and immediate productivity gains. 
Digital retrofit provides four different ways to improve production processes, increase cost savings and extend the lifetime of different types of machinery: 
• Legacy machine protocol conversion
• Condition monitoring (including energy measurement) 
• Asset management
• Predictive maintenance.

Central machine monitoring and process optimisation offers a good way to ensure that production lines and their associated constituent parts operate effectively and economically. Many machines in established production lines, which can be up to 30 years old, but are still performing their main functional tasks successfully. However, they probably do so much less efficiently than their modern-day counterparts. For example, they do not have the same level of computing power, enough memory capacity to record and store relevant data, or the ability to communicate with their modern equivalents. In many cases, these machines also use data formats and communications protocols from the 1980s and 1990s, which are no longer used by today’s controllers.

Legacy protocols
One example of a production environment that accommodates mixed protocol legacy machines is a plastics injection moulding machine (PIMM) line. Such machines, when well maintained, can attain as much as a 30-year operational life. However, some of the older software protocol operating languages (such as EUROMAP 15) cannot be directly connected to a modern factory Manufacturing Execution System (MES) without expensive annual custom software licensing charges. In many factories these machines still require individual programming by an operator, which can be very time-consuming in larger installations – potentially requiring input from multiple personnel.

An interesting solution to these challenges from by HARTING’s comes in the form of MICA (Modular Industrial Computing Architecture): a rugged edge computing device in the form of a digitally retrofittable IP67 package with Linux-based open-source software. This modular software and hardware architectural design platform permits the user to choose the programming language and development environment they are most familiar with. 

For the plastic moulding manufacturing environment, HARTING has developed the MICA EUROMAP 15 and MICA EUROMAP 63 Gateway variants, which convert the legacy EUROMAP 15/63 TCP/IP machine operating communications protocol into OPC UA, for example, via an intermediate JSON software format. This approach also offers the potential to provide IIoT web enablement and access to Cloud services for Big Data analysis or virtualisation, via an optional downloadable MQTT container. All operational software is housed in separate sandbox containers, ensuring that the MICA EUROMAP 15/63 Gateway provides a secure, fully configurable interface to the plant MES/ERP, eliminating expensive custom MES access software licencing charges that may have previously applied.

Ypsomed saw the immediate potential benefits of applying this Industry 4.0 digital  retrofit approach in its manufacturing operation. Due to the high proportion of individual plastic components in its products, the company possesses a large number of plastic injection moulding machines in its production plants. 

In order to improve existing levels of plant productivity, Ypsomed has chosen to implement Industry 4.0 process improvements through digitisation at an early stage. To achieve this strategy, Ypsomed selected HARTING as a collaborative partner for its development project to connect legacy protocol machines to its factory-wide MES/ERP system through a digital retrofit approach. 

In 2017, one of the first tasks was to make data from a legacy injection moulding machine available for analysis. The machine in question only offered the old EUROMAP 15 protocol, and HARTING suggested the use of MICA, which was installed and programmed within two days as the protocol translator. Selected production data could then be collected and written to a database for offline analysis.

The next goal is to connect several different types of machines to the IT system at Ypsomed’s internal testing and validation centre and present critical operational data remotely at a centralised factory control station. The machines are connected to the MES system via the MICA, which handles the protocol translation between the MES system and the shop floor. Here, the configuration data record belonging to a production order from the ERP system is retrieved from a database and automatically transferred directly to the machine via the MICA, without requiring intervention by a machine operator. Machine process parameters can now be modified more quickly, reducing downtime and enabling manpower to be more effectively employed. During manufacturing, production and process data are temporarily stored on the MICA and fed back to a database or ERP system for ongoing quality improvement or record storage purposes. Machine operators can even monitor and affect the process of the production line from off-site, via a smartphone or suitable tablet device.

The new production plant in Schwerin is planned to start operations this summer, with automated control of production orders being implemented by 2020.

Condition monitoring
Additional real-time condition monitoring of key operating processes can help to reduce downtime and extend lifetime, achieving manufacturing productivity improvements. This can be accomplished by digitally retrofitting additional stand-alone MICA devices to store, analyse and process data from existing or extra retrofitted sensors. As a result, tasks such as monitoring pressure, temperature and flow rates becomes easy, whilst allowing remote centralised process control adjustment via the MES network. Communication with the machine fitted sensors is achieved via a simple Ethernet switch and interlinked active I/O blocks. 

Asset management
For asset management, A MICA RFID variant converts the MICA device into a specific RFID reader, which, when used in conjunction with passive UHF read/write transponders that are fitted to key replaceable mould tools, allows maintenance records to be written and stored onto that particular tool. This can ensure the optimum refurbishment scheduling of high-value mould tools.
Predictive maintenance 
Critical operating parts of a plastic injection moulding machine which are subject to continuous wear and tear include the plasticising screw pump and associated check valves. As wear increases, this can result in a significant number of rejected parts and expensive financial losses. This situation can be resolved by monitoring the changes in the operating power curve characteristics of the screw pump and the pressure loading at the check valves.

Integration of a MICA Energy variant provides RS485 Modbus TCP/IP compatible I/O interfaces for linking to the appropriate functional I/O blocks on a machine that access this specific operating data. By pre-setting critical safe operational limits, the MICA Energy can set up alarm conditions for when these limits are breached, allowing machine operators to carry out corrective maintenance as part of the important predictive maintenance process. 

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