It pays to be smart: making machines lean

Posted on 28 Jun 2012

Reducing anything that incurs costs is an essential part of lean manufacturing. Turning two into one can often mean less energy and more space, Christopher Zei, vice president, Global Accounts, OEM, and Industry at Rockwell Automation discusses how to make machines more efficient.

Manufacturers need efficient machines that help it to achieve sustainability objectives while lowering the total cost of ownership.

However, delivering all the features that a manufacturer requires can increase the total cost of ownership unless the OEM applies the right automation technology.

A Single Control Platform at the Heart

Traditionally, OEMs have been forced into using dedicated control and visualisation environments for each application (such as motion, safety, I/O and information), a design strategy that requires more hardware as well as engineering time and costs. This strategy also complicates information gathering when trying to solve problems.

With a new era of smart machines manufacturers can run a single, convergence-ready control platform using common control engine, networking technology, configuration environment and communication services.

Smart machines can gather, transfer and analyse data easily by leveraging a single control and information platform. By replacing a multitiered control and networking strategy with one standard architecture, machine builders can reduce their engineering time, integration risks and total cost to design, develop and deliver machines.

This can lower the overall price tag for the end user, the manufacturer, and address production issues with real-time, plantwide intelligence. Smart machines share the following five key attributes…

1. Integrated safety

Spurred by advancing technology and changes in industry standards, safety and standard control now can be integrated, particularly in discrete applications.

When standard and safety control systems share assets, the costs for hardware, software, development and support are minimised. In addition, the automation system’s operational intelligence and diagnostics help improve equipment productivity and lifespan, and reduce downtime.

Seamless communication was nearly impossible in the past because no single network was able to integrate safety and standard control systems while also enabling the seamless transport of data across multiple plant-floor physical networks. That has now changed with application protocol for industrial networking that is independent of the physical network.

In the past, a safety event in one section of equipment or a plant could cause the equipment or plant to shut down because the standard system had limited knowledge of the safety event. CIP Safety allows the control and safety systems to coexist on the same network, and to share data between the safety and standard applications.

This lets engineers, for example, perform “zone control” where one zone of the equipment or plant is brought to a safe state while other zones continue to operate.

2. Information-Enabled Equipment for Delivery of Real-Time Performance and Operating Data

With increased pressure to improve plant efficiency, manufacturers rely on machine builders to deliver equipment that can collect a range of performance and operating data.

With performance dashboards providing access to equipment information and metrics such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), plant managers can identify problems and establish proactive strategies for reducing equipment, production line or plant inefficiencies, and drive improvements across the entire manufacturing process.

3. Simplified Integration into the Plant Floor and Enterprise

As manufacturers try to connect the plant floor with the enterprise, machines that seamlessly bridge the gap between the two are quickly becoming an OEM’s leading competitive advantage. Many are accomplishing this goal by simplifying the network infrastructure with EtherNet/IP.

The simplicity of EtherNet/IP rests on its ability to deliver the real-time performance, resiliency and security of a standard fieldbus solution, along with the bandwidth, open connectivity and global acceptance of standard Ethernet. By replacing a multitiered networking strategy with one standard network, you can reduce engineering time and integration risks.

Owens Design, which manufactures equipment for semiconductor, solar, data storage and other emerging technology industries, adopted EtherNet/IP and the Rockwell Automation Integrated Architecture system as the foundation for its automated process assembly tool for a photovoltaic cell manufacturing operation.

“The use of an EtherNet/IP network to connect third-party components helps us streamline assembly, reduce wiring costs and simplify integration of our tool into the customer’s manufacturing operation,” explains Doug Putman-Pite, director of software development at Owens Design.

You also rely on OEMs to deliver equipment for ease of start-up, commissioning and production changes. Using modular programming, machine builders can easily develop reusable code modules. With predefined modules that meet requirements for various equipment configurations, you can change production functionality on equipment without having to rewrite code.

4. Real-Time Diagnostics for Ease of Maintenance and Simplification of Troubleshooting

After a machine is up and running, operators and shop need to reduce unplanned downtime and perform predictive maintenance to help ensure optimum performance, mean time to repair and mean time between failures.

Plant personnel can increase machine life cycles and decrease downtime by taking advantage of devices with embedded intelligence. Setting up parameters and leveraging built-in functions such as vibration monitoring, condition monitoring and torque signatures for preventive maintenance provides operators with the necessary real-time data to troubleshoot and repair problems quickly and help reduce downtime.

5. Sustainable Production via Scalable Control

Machines that improve safety, minimise waste, consume less energy and deliver maximum return on investment (ROI) are critical to the success of any sustainable production program.

Through innovative design and scalable automation technology, OEMs can deliver machines that are flexible for multiple purposes to:

• Improve operating efficiency.

• Meet electrical, mechanical and environmental requirements.

• Reduce energy costs.

• Enhance worker safety and machine protection.

To deliver flexible machines, OEMs need a scalable control platform that effortlessly scales from small to large, and from single to multidisciplined applications to mirror each manufacturer’s needs at any given time. Standardising on a single control architecture allows OEMs to leverage a common application programming and configuration environment — regardless of the machine’s complexity.