Dave Randall, Business Development Manager at Lenze UK, explains why machine builders and end users need to start thinking about the future by making sure the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0, networking and big data are built into machines and components from the outset for the best results.
Manufacturers' ability to harness the power of big data to maximise operations was highlighted as the single biggest Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) trend to watch out for in 2017 by research carried out at the beginning of the year. Meanwhile, another recent survey found that more than 80 per cent of executives believe that adopting IoT technologies is critical for success in the future.
However, a staggering two-thirds of automation firms admitted that their customers are not currently realising the full benefits of data gathering, networking and connectivity. As a result, many are missing out on the opportunity to drive up efficiency, cut costs and downtime, and improve business performance.
Given the radical shift in culture that operating in today's data-driven world demands, it is perhaps not all that surprising further change is still needed. Price has been the main driver for most machine builders for many years, often to meet the requirements of their customers, but with data becoming increasingly important as the manufacturing sector moves forward, it is vital that OEMs begin to consider how this fits in with their technologies and the capabilities they offer.
Enabling machine operators to access overall equipment effectiveness data at the plant level has the power to transform an operation positively. At its most basic level, drives are connected to a cloud-based system and information is transmitted, enabling users to identify how a device is performing, whether it stops at any point and why, and how much energy it is using, for example.
Beyond this, the gathering of intelligence makes it possible for data analysts and engineers to enjoy a level of control like never before. In particular, users can determine where significant efficiency gains can be achieved by optimising the way in which machines run to reduce energy consumption - something that is increasingly vital as the price of utilities continues to rise rapidly. It is also possible to cut operating costs considerably, improve productivity through enhanced machine availability and extend service life by determining exactly when and how a device needs to be used.
Increasingly data is being used to implement planned and predictive maintenance programmes for machines within a plant. Through monitoring performance it is possible to identify fluctuations and patterns in operating statistics, such as how much current a motor is drawing, to foresee if a part is wearing and possibly close to failure. This enables engineers to make an informed decision about when to change it before it stops, and they can carry out the necessary work during scheduled maintenance slots rather than cause a stoppage. This proactive and strategic approach to servicing ensures that productivity is never lost and it has the potential to save vast sums of money in comparison with reactive maintenance.
Essentially, advanced communication and analytics technologies are facilitating diagnostics and smart decision-making based on real-time analysis and this is imperative if end users are to remain successful in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Equally, as more customers demand this level of sophistication, it is important for machine builders to get on board and offer data sharing capabilities as part of their products, making the most of the business opportunities that come with providing these innovative solutions.
Currently manufacturers frequently have to retrofit technology that harnesses the power of the IIoT into their machines, particularly where drives are concerned. While the bolting-on of networking capabilities creates a perfectly workable solution, this approach does have its complexities and drawbacks. For instance, it is crucial that the tools that create the cloud connectivity are the same shape and size as the previous device being replaced and they offer a good volume-to-kW ratio.
Retrofitting can also lead to avoidable yet potentially high costs because it involves replacing a drive that has already been purchased with one that enables data communication. Not building this in from the outset can make a machine marginally cheaper to produce than one that is connected, but it ends up being a false economy with more money being spent further down the line. Perhaps more worrying is the fact that the machine will have to be a taken offline to install the new components and this will result in stoppage time that can be extremely detrimental in terms of lost productivity.
Instead, it is far better to incorporate data capture and sharing capabilities during the machine design and construction stage for maximum effectiveness by selecting the right automation technologies. Sophisticated drives are available that gather data and link seamlessly and securely to the cloud to deliver extremely accurate performance information, including power usage and running times.
Intelligent devices, such as those in the i500 inverter series from Lenze, measure the data directly from the motor and communicate this to a remote network through a range of interfaces, including EtherNET/IP, Profibus and Profinet, for outstanding machine control and diagnostics. These operator-friendly inverters are aimed at making drive systems flexible, fast and efficient for optimal operation, while an integrated energy-saving function - VFC Eco - further helps to reduce losses and cuts energy consumption by as much as 30 per cent.
As manufacturers begin to ask more of their machine builders and systems integrators, only the OEMs that have the foresight to build in capabilities for performance monitoring and data sharing at the design stage will be able to offer the connected solutions that deliver the most effective use throughout their lifetime in the factory of the future. There is one simple choice: either lead and successfully exploit IIoT technologies or risk lagging behind competitors.
Follow the link to find out more about the latest generation of drive and control systems from Lenze.