There are a lot of blogs, webinars and white papers urging manufacturers to connect their factory’s machines to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). If you haven’t yet taken those first steps, you might be wondering how the whole process works.
How would you collect, aggregate and utilize data in a modern smart factory? Does this require all-new machines, or are there practical solutions that adapt legacy machines to the digital production environment?
First, we will begin with a deeper look at today’s data acquisition capabilities. After that, we’ll talk briefly about how they work and explain how everything would fit together on your manufacturing floor.
Adapters pull data from diverse sources.
Most manufacturers — especially small and mid-sized shops — are dependent to a significant degree on legacy machines considering very few have the capital to completely re-equip their production floors with state-of-the-art units.
Here’s the great news: you can connect practically any production machine or sensor to the IIoT, and there are plenty of solutions for doing so.
“In a typical manufacturing environment, you’re going to find a wide range of machines and factory equipment to connect,” observed TechSolve’s IIoT Solutions Manager Rob Longfellow. “Each one of these devices is going to have a different connection requirement.”
“Some devices are going to have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs), some are going to have Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), some are going to be sensor devices. That forces the need for you to be able to handle different data collection methods,” he said.
One of our core competencies is helping manufacturers to map out the current state of digital readiness on their production floors.
Data collection methods vary.
Once we know the lay of the land, as it were, we work with shops to identify practical, off-the-shelf solutions they could use to gain access to the data their machines could generate for them.
“Newer CNCs, PLCs and robots usually have application interfaces that you can connect with directly. For some of your legacy equipment, you might have to go with a data acquisition solution or a sensor that allows you to interpret what the machine is doing based on temperature, power or current,” Longfellow explained.
Already-connected manufacturers could look at additional optimization, as well. Cloud-based and edge computing, for example, now allow systems (to a degree) to self-analyze and self-correct.
“So, let’s say a specific machine has a vibration signal that you want to start capturing,” Longfellow said.” You can put some edge computing there, so you can interpret the broad data as it comes off the machine.”
Even your human workforce can digitize information for you if you give them the right tools.
“You can use barcode readers, QR scanners, or other means that allow your operators to put information into the system,” Longfellow advised. “You can link those devices directly to OPC servers, log files, or webpages — there are a number of ways that people can get data from their machines.”
Here’s what connectivity architecture looks like.
Once the hardware is in place for your machines to talk to one another you’ll need software solutions to give them a virtual voice.
“You’re going to have two components to any solution: an adapter that’s talking to a machine, sensor, or HMI, and an agent that’s basically taking all the information and presenting it so that somebody can consume it,” said Longfellow.
It’s ideal for all your machines to speak the same, standardized language, too. That, he observed, is where solutions like MTConnect become so helpful.
“One of the advantages of MTConnect is that you can have multiple adapters connected through the same agent.”
Applications are needed that can intelligibly interpret this common language the machines are using for your human workforce.
Some applications present and report data back to you in charts or graphs. Some give production staff the ability to monitor data in real-time on dashboard displays with alerts allowing for immediate intervention.
Cloud-based data storage and analysis solutions now allow manufacturers to begin automating their process improvement, Longfellow said.
“You can feed your data lake so that you can start to do machine learning through data processing.”
Is your floor connected and ready to compete in Industry 4.0?
TechSolve’s mission is to help companies like yours to leverage emerging technologies to stay competitive as the industry digitally transforms.
Whether you’re well on your way to bringing your smart factory online or just starting out, we can assist in figuring out for you where and how to begin.
Click here and tell us where you are in your connectivity journey. Let’s find you the solutions you need to understand — and in turn be understood by — your machines.