Ruari McCallion highlights some of the companies successfully adapting to the possibilities offered by the Internet of Things.
The operational excellence journey begins with the improvement of the control and visibility of operations.
Businesses that implement more effective systems at the machine level can connect their machines together and achieve what they were looking for: improved, automated integration.
The first step to delivering this is by using the latest generation of programmable controllers. Supervisory control and process visualisation is provided through an HMI/SCADA system.
HMI is the Human-Machine Interface – the control panel or PC, at its simplest. SCADA is supervisory control and data acquisition, which is the industrial control system.
Improved automation generates an increase in data, so the next step in the journey is the sourcing; retrieval; collection; selection; filtering, and presentation of the right information, for the right decisions to be made at the right time.
Information is a double-edged sword: more is generally good, so long as it doesn’t become overwhelming. Implementing a ‘data historian’ will enable businesses to both collect and make sense of large volumes of product information.
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A data historian enables the gathering of operational information in real time. This, in turn, allows improved supervisory control, which will be based on analytical information gained through improved visualisation.
Businesses can access and respond to essential reports; trends; alerts, and alarms through a range of devices, beyond standard workstations and PCs: tablets and smartphones, for example.
This enables the maximisation of production capability and workforce flexibility as the systems deliver information to employees through easy-to-use and understand interfaces.
Businesses that don’t address the availability and visualisation of plant-wide data are unable to access the information that is essential to the decisions that will drive operational improvements.
Reasonably simple system enhancements can provide the quality of data needed to analyse and solve process application problems.
A data historian management solution enables the business to put into meaningful context the large amounts of raw data that can be gathered from across operations. This first phase can be achieved within the first six months.
Acknowledgement to Astec Solutions
A lot of the equipment that manufacturers have invested in over the years has no internet connectivity, so they are looking for ways to connect their equipment in order to achieve the efficiency gains and new business models that IoT promises, according to Gordon Muehl VP Industrial Internet, Infosys.
“Take a modern airplane’s landing gear as an example – it is the one of the critical systems of the airplane,” he said.
“You can therefore equip it with several sensors and connect it via an IoT platform to be analysed by engineers. This gives them absolute transparency about the condition of the landing gear, or ‘asset’, and enables them to ensure that the asset is operating with maximum efficiency.
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“When connected to the internet, the asset’s data can be easily shared to gain insight across operations without being limited by where the plane is or an engineer’s ability to physically access it.
“The data collected also makes it possible to predict failures or calculate the remaining life-time before the next maintenance, instead of just doing time-based scheduled maintenance.”
No matter how many connected devices there are in 2020, we can be sure that any device built in 2020 will have connectivity built in, he believes.
“Most likely, we will stop using the term ‘IoT’ in 2020 or shortly after that, since connected devices will have become a given.
“Maybe we will start talking devices with limited connectivity as ‘dumb devices,’ just like we talk about dumb phones today.”
Maximum warehouse performance
EU Automation, an ‘obsolete components’ supplier, uses connected machinery and advanced data management to improve efficiency and performance in its inventory management.
It stocks and sells new; used; refurbished, and obsolete industrial automation spares across the world and provides worldwide express delivery on all products, which means it can supply any part, to any destination, at very short notice.
“For EU Automation, the IoT could have an extremely beneficial impact,” said Jonathan Wilkins, marketing director of EU Automation.
“Firstly, it would make our warehouse facilities even leaner. Tagging, tracking and counting automation parts would be easy as pie. Or better yet, pie could be eaten while performing these jobs!”
An IoT regulated warehouse would significantly reduce waste, loss and cost, he maintained. An inventory of available parts could be created automatically. It would also be able to constantly update itself without staff involvement.
Evaluating and purchasing parts would also be easier; because the parts themselves could communicate the state they’re in.
“If the IoT becomes a fully-fledged reality, system compatibility would no longer be an issue,” he continued. Automation parts would be able to recognise whether they are reconcilable with equipment or overall systems without being shipped to the customer.
They would also be able to communicate their incompatibility or even suggest appropriate alternatives. “Tracking automation parts in an IoT universe would be a breeze. Each one would be equipped with a GPS or RFID sensor which allows it to provide constant updates of its whereabouts.”
Tracking the world with IoT
Ubisense, based in Cambridge, UK, offers a suite of Enterprise Location Intelligence products and solutions that accurately capture and interpret data from mobile tags via a network of base stations, arming its customers with high levels of operational visibility.
Automotive manufacturers, for example, are able to implement a tag-automated system that tracks vehicles the production line.
“This information allows the manufacturer to adjust processes that improve cost efficiency, potentially saving millions of pounds over the course of the year,” said Paul Webster, VP of Hardware at Ubisense.
Factories employing this technology have been dubbed ‘smart factories’; Webster estimates that already 4% of the world’s cars are now built with the assistance of an Ubisense solution.
Ubisense uses the same technology in its logistics partnership with FedEx.
Ubisense first approached FedEx Express in 2004 and the relationship has grown to the point where together they move thousands of packages all across the globe, ranging from large palletised shipments containing everything required to deploy a system across a complete manufacturing facility, down to small, urgent packages essential to support ongoing production.