Tech Provides ‘Eyes’ To Machine Functions
Jane Alexander | August 17, 2018
It’s a tall order. You count on remote access and data collection to keep your plant’s machines “visible” 24/7/365. Just how do equipment OEMs and industrial-control-system designers help ensure that real-time visibility?
In a recent blog post, Bill Dehner of AutomationDirect, Cumming, GA (automationdirect.com), pointed to several factors.
Ethernet is everywhere, and industrial Ethernet, i.e., Ethernet reinforced with rugged connectors, cables, and better determinism, has facilitated several recent advances. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and big-data evolutions are a reality because industrial Ethernet technology paved the way for factory-floor data to be shared and accessed globally. Without the speed and interoperability it provides, real-time remote monitoring and any IT/OT convergence wouldn’t be possible.
RIGHT SENSORS AND METRICS
Machines built on an industrial-Ethernet foundation can supply a mountain of data. But where does it originate, and what types are important? It depends on your particular KPIs (key performance indicators). Are you focusing on safety-related issues, wanting to ensure strict adherence to specifications, i.e., identify deviations, or looking for hidden inefficiencies to help reduce costs? The metrics you deem important will determine the amount of data and sensors your application requires. With the right data, you can answer almost any question about your machines. Example questions and answers from tracking output with just a couple of object-detection sensors include:
• Has the redesign on Machine 2 improved performance? Yes, throughput has increased by 20% with the new modification.
• Are the machine loads balanced properly? No, output of Machine 3 is half of Machine 2 and twice that of Machine 1.
• Do the machines have the capacity to handle the added demand? Yes, recorded maximum throughput is well above what’s required.
An operation can take several avenues to stay connected with its installed machines. Smart sensors and actuators can provide a window into individual device data.
For access to a wider range of system variables, using the data-collection capabilities of PLCs is a good choice. Many PLCs offer built-in webserver functionality that allows monitoring of numerous system variables from any browser. Some controllers offer mobile apps for connection on the go.
Email is another option, and many controllers have this functionality built in. Monitoring remote machines can also be done through an embedded HMI (human-machine interface).
For a more-secure connection option, VPN routers offer remote data access using the latest encryption techniques. Many provide a secure cloud-based solution that allows access to data anytime, from anywhere. EP