What should manufacturers consider first when exploring digital transformation in automation?
No matter the industry or company philosophy, all manufacturers benefit from increased interoperability from the plant floor to the cloud. Machines in production environments use numerous components from multiple vendors, but they must communicate effectively to maximize efficiencies and data acquisition capabilities. System openness boosts manufacturers’ abilities to gather data from all sources and ensure complete track and trace of product quality, lot numbers, made-on and sell-by dates, as well as supply side information necessary for safe production of food, pharmaceuticals, medical devices and more. As a result, those who are actively exploring digital transformation in automation should consider the interoperability of software, controllers, networking and motion control components. It is also important to evaluate products that support standard communication protocols, such as MQTT, AMQP and OPC UA, and are certified by Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
How do Industrie 4.0 concepts impact automated changeovers in manufacturing environments?
Industrie 4.0 is defined by the ability to perform highly flexible mass production down to lot size one. This means that instead of having scheduled changeovers at intervals, changeovers are automated and occur on the fly. Based on the production order, lot and part numbers of each item coming down the line, machines can reconfigure themselves to some degree without operator intervention. This could mean, for example, rapidly changing recipe varieties for niche food and beverage products, selecting many different fabrics, graphics and colors in clothing production or switching to different colors and material types in package printing applications. Of course, merging data from rapidly changing market preferences with data insights gathered from cloud-connected systems influences when and how to do this. The data acquisition and analysis capabilities of new PC-based automation software solutions also allow machines to identify inefficiencies and make adjustments in real-time to ensure peak performance.
What are the impacts for customers who start using the cloud in their manufacturing?
In addition to faster changeovers and lower production losses, manufacturers can respond rapidly to industry demands using cloud-connected strategies. This could mean increasing or decreasing the output of seasonal products, customized orders or items that are trending online with the bare minimum downtime. In the past, increasing insights and efficiencies required the implementation of advanced algorithms written in languages that might be unfamiliar to controls engineers in the field.
Now advanced capabilities, such as machine learning and analytics tools, provide better analysis in more intuitive software from the controls vendor and/or the cloud service provider. This allows manufacturers to live up to the Industry 4.0 concept of flexible mass production on a local scale, while leveraging IoT strategies to successfully respond to customer demands via the cloud – and do it all in a manner that is more timely, efficient and profitable.
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