Boosting responsiveness, productivity and flexibility on the factory floor is the key to enhanced competitiveness.
Efficient data management using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is therefore increasingly important in extending communication beyond the production cell and ensuring the successful deployment of new and updated automation systems.
Jeremy Shinton, Product Manager for Edge computing Technologies at Mitsubishi Electric, looks at how the latest controllers designed to manage this convergence of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) can be used to ensure optimal data management and connectivity.
Key to bridging the gap between automation systems processing large volumes of data and turning this into intelligence that is shared with higher level enterprise systems is a new class of controller. The latest PLCs, machine controllers and industrial PCs built for IIoT applications can be used for Edge computing while also supporting high-speed data logging to the Cloud.
Reaching out beyond the factory floor
At the core of highly effective, futureproof production facilities is the Industrial Internet of Things. This is a network of connected devices and systems, from the factory floor all the way up to higher enterprise levels, that generates and shares large volumes of data. The goal is to create unique, actionable manufacturing intelligence to improve production and plant activities resulting in increased productivity, uptime, and flexibility. Businesses that leverage the power of data can therefore considerably enhance their competitive edge in a fast-changing market.
The creation of a successful IIoT application requires automation systems built on controllers with cutting-edge processing power and capacity, allowing data to be analysed closer to where it is generated. State-of-the-art PLCs, such as Mitsubishi Electric’s MELSEC iQ-R series, address these needs by featuring powerful processors and large data handling capabilities.
IIoT-ready controllers like these support advanced connectivity options, playing their part in continuously delivering data-driven information. The ability to connect to the cloud using common protocols directly on the PLC is a growing trend. The ‘connect everything’ idea means that controllers can be anywhere in the world and act as a ‘data pump’ to higher level cloud platforms. Commonly used operating systems, such as Linux, can now be hosted on PLC modules. This enables the platform to utilise an open source and secure functionality that can easily be installed into these environments. It puts the already highly connected plant level PLC into areas using new language terminology phrases, such as JSON, REST API, MQTT, Python and the rest of the buzz words and acronyms that fill this space. These new PLC capabilities open the door to IIoT applications in all industries.
Whilst these elements are crucial to producing information technology (IT) driven actionable insight to improve production operations, businesses will need solutions to continuously bridge the divide between the IT world and operational technology (OT). This represents the next step in ensuring highly productive, flexible, and responsive plants.
Automation that works at the Edge
To achieve this, solutions need to be implemented that can support data analysis for time-critical operational tasks and production-based analytics as well as for non-urgent but more processing-intensive data mining. These help to build an in-depth understanding of plant operations and develop actions on how to improve them.
Mitsubishi Electric’s latest MELIPC Edge computing solution offers an ideal IT/OT merger that supports both on- and off-site data analytics functions. It features advanced analytical and artificial intelligence functionality to process data locally in real-time, utilising shop floor know-how with diagnostics and predictive maintenance feedback. As a result, the device can drive a production system’s decisions based on key data. MELIPC also pre-processes and aggregates data for higher-level insights. Thanks to OPC UA standard connectivity, the information is then shared to different platforms to improve plant operations.
A clear benefit of this hybrid solution over conventional Cloud-based systems is a particularly secure as well as reliable connection and ecosystem. Highly regulated industries, such as the pharmaceutical sector, can therefore be included in the benefit of innovative data mining capabilities while still meeting regulatory compliance.
Case study: Automation in advanced process environment
Lotte, a leading producer of confectionery, wanted to optimise the production of its Yukimi Daifuku product line. The manufacturing processes involved are complex and can be influenced by a number of factors. With this in mind, Mitsubishi Electric developed a data-driven solution to help deliver consistent product quality.
“When wrapping, the hardness of the product used to vary depending on the temperature and water content. Some operations were dependent on people, and losses arose out of the need to finely adjust the machine parameters,” explains Hiroshi Sugimoto, Manager of the Facilities Department, Urawa Plant, LOTTE Co.
“The e-F@ctory IIoT system allows us to conduct improvement activities such as enhancing the operating rate, stabilising quality, and optimising staffing for production activities. The extendibility of the system, depending on what we want to do, was also appealing,” Hiroshi Sugimoto added.
PLCs installed in the production lines collect data on product and machine status in each process. This ranges from hopper vibration data to data from the conveying inverters. All the information can be visualised in real-time through the overall SCADA monitoring system, which is installed in the control room and also through on-site computer displays.
By centralising the gathered data, Mitsubishi Electric’s MELIPC could be used to analyse and conduct data diagnostics in real-time. The results of this help to improve product quality and provide the opportunity to optimise production activities in the plant.
“In the course of daily production, machines do not operate in the same condition every day. Previously experienced staff members checked and adjusted the settings of the machines,” said Takayuki Manako, Executive Director & Plant Manager of Urawa Plant, Lotte. “But with e-F@ctory we can visualise the condition of machines and the machines themselves can issue instructions to make adjustments.”
Takayuki Manako added: “We aim to horizontally deploy this system and construct a smart plant in which ´symptom management´ and ´operating rate improvement´ are implemented on numerous lines. Stable plant operation and manpower savings will eventually make a major contribution in terms of costs and so on. If we consider Lotte as a whole, our goal is to further evolve this technology and extend it to other plants.”
On-board with IIoT controllers
The future of manufacturing is here, and it is based on an interconnected IIoT framework. Key technology solutions to realise this are already at hand. By setting up an IIoT system that leverages advanced controllers and industrial PCs with high-speed, powerful processing capabilities and connectivity features, companies can truly enhance manufacturing operations. This will lead to data-driven applications that can generate and share a comprehensive understanding of plant and production activities, supporting their continuous improvement.
Note: The full story is available to read here: https://www.mitsubishielectric.com/fa/cssty/13_lotte/index.html
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