On the surface, Industry 4.0 can seem a somewhat nebulous concept. Dario Dallefrate, global product manager at Control Techniques, aims to shed some light.
In our business we hear a lot about Industry 4.0 and how it will revolutionize, if it hasn’t already, our working practices. We see examples daily of how connected machines are allowing factory owners to produce more, using less energy, much quicker than they could before.
To answer that, it’s important to understand that, at its heart, Industry 4.0 is data. The real value comes from taking this data and aggregating, analysing, sharing and using it to enhance and automate decision making processes on a large scale.
Clearly we can look at sensors and other devices which collect feedback from a process, but crucial to all of this is the subsequent effect this data has on drives, motors and controllers.
Modern variable speed drives can harness vast amounts of information by acting as a hub for data gathering. This allows predictive maintenance and machine optimisation, while also providing data which can be analysed to improve the design of future machines. Drives with integrated intelligence are in a unique position within a control system.
We know, for example, that electric motors consume an estimated 70% of all electricity used in industry. It would clearly be useful, therefore, if we were able to measure accurately the motor’s consumption in real-time using data provided by the drive. That same data can then be used to boost or enhance machine performance as well as increasing throughput.
Of course, in order to communicate effectively, there needs to be certain standardized control protocols. Ideally, this would mean one protocol.
It offers seamless integration with other equipment to share process data anytime, anywhere. Not only that; using standard Ethernet ensures other machine control protocols like Profinet, Ethernet/IP or Modbus TCP/IP can communicate properly.
Indeed, standard Ethernet is pivotal to collect and share data seamlessly within the whole distributed factory. It makes sense then that drives with integrated Ethernet are the preferred option for Industry 4.0 applications.
It’s no secret that production systems are becoming more and more heterogeneous. End-users have always used different products from different vendors to meet their needs, making standardised communication vital to ensure efficient operation.
Any smart devices within a factory need to be able to share data with operators and planners via Ethernet, but they also need to keep exchanging data with existing products. Therefore they need to support popular legacy fieldbuses, as well as fieldbuses based on standard Ethernet.
The importance of data visualisation is also crucial. Big data – i.e. the wealth of information collected from devices within a network – means there is an increased need to visualise information in a user-friendly way.
Smartphones, tablets, even smart TVs are becoming more and more popular in industrial applications as HMI (human machine interface) devices. Web-based technologies are vital to ensure the quick accessing of data, therefore smart automation devices with integrated web HMI capability should be preferred for Industry 4.0 applications.
It’s important to note too that different users will have different requirements and will experience different benefits. Take, for example, the automotive component manufacturer. A typical application could be a test rig, monitoring prototype brake pads at the R&D stage. In this example, Industry 4.0 enabled equipment provides the capability to collect and analyse data for quality and certification testing, endurance, and production methods. This data can then be shared with any department, at any stage of the process, to drive quality improvements.
In more depth, smart devices, like electric drives, collect the data provided by the test rig in real time and share it with other systems. Standard Ethernet allows the data to be saved in company cloud systems where it can be used later by other departments during the product lifecycle. The system’s intuitive HMIs allow any user, from any department, to tailor the types and amount of data which they receive.
You can see from this example that Industry 4.0 is the keys to the kingdom, so to speak. Where previously specific data will only have been accessible to the operator directly involved in its collection, now it can be shared anywhere in real time. The possibilities here, and the potential to drive improvements, are immense.