With the launch of a new building block for automation, the Digital Hub Industry, Lenze CTO Frank Maier explores the possibilities of digitalisation for industrial applications.
More flexible, more powerful machines and installations not only require more elaborate control programs, the development process is also becoming increasingly complex. Digital technology offers a solution to this complexity, and Lenze offers integrated tools and services for the entire life cycle to simplify processes, reduce costs and minimise time and resources in engineering development.
Digitalisation is an extremely complex topic that evolves so rapidly under the influence of technology that companies – regardless of their size – cannot implement it alone. Rather, they have to cooperate with the relevant know-how providers in a network. That is why it is Lenze has created an infrastructure for knowledge and technology transfer between companies and research departments to bring different digital competences together.
This is embodied at the Technology Park on the campus of the University of Bremen, already home to Lenze subsidiary Encoway, and subsidiaries Logicline and the digital laboratory Dock.One to follow. Important competences such as industrial mathematics, AI or the theme of 5G are located at the university too, as well as several IT start-ups, whose proximity is of great for cooperation in development projects.
All these bundles of competences will form an attractive melting pot for innovation and collaboration around digital transformation. To this end, Lenze will also invite its customers to participate in this innovation ecosystem with their development projects – be it IIoT or artificial intelligence.
Knowledge from data
Such collaborations are gaining importance in automation, with the premise being that data alone has relatively little value. The value comes only by condensing the data through a specific application into information or, even better, knowledge. Converting data into application knowledge via data-driven models and algorithms offers the customer added value.
Lenze’s ML4Pro2 (Machine Learning for the Production and their Products) project puts this into practice, providing application solutions such as drive-level condition monitoring or predictive maintenance using artificial intelligence.
A practical example was seen as the SPS trade fair where Lenze showed how a drive could drive the condition of a belt drive from measurements such as speed, acceleration, torque, position or current consumption.
Traditional preventive maintenance is usually based on a model-based analysis. But what the demonstration showed, on the one hand, was measured actual values being compared with those resulting from the assumed mathematical description of the machine. And on the other hand, algorithms and neural networks were used to highlight signs of wear via anomaly detection. With this data-based analytics approach, Lenze showed the potential of predictive maintenance.
Indeed, it demonstrated not only Lenze’s domain knowledge to the visitors to the company’s exhibition stand, but also its expertise in the interpretation of data. In addition, such applications highlight that digitalisation project sin industry cannot be managed by a data scientist alone; automation experts at the machine and plant level are also absolutely necessary.
Such developments also showcase the role of artificial intelligence (AI) in automation, and Lenze is finding that more and more customers from a mechanical engineering background want to discuss or even experiment with how AI could improve machine or system performance.
While right now this is still largely about joint research or targeted services, standard products are coming, as methodologies are field tested. Indeed, Lenze is current conducting a very exciting AI project with a major car manufacturer.
A common thread, though, is data, and focusing on what data is important and what is not. Machine malfunctions and resulting downtime can cause enormous headaches for users, irrespective of the large amounts of data available. Getting to the heart of the problem can sometimes mean looking at data that might not have previously been considered, or taking new measurements to collect additional data. Industry is at the beginning of a new journey into cause-and-effect data permeability where we are currently only tapping a small part of a huge solution potential.
Part of this solution potential comes from the cloud, particularly as machine and plant operators demand more and more intelligent and flexible machines. And because efficiency must also increase at the same time, simply adding more sensors, more interfaces and more computing power will never achieve the goal. The need is for more performance, but not more complexity. That comes from better services through more intelligence and a consistent focus on future-proof technologies, such as the IIoT.
For example, Lenze can often handle data processing for condition monitoring and predictive maintenance directly in powerful i950 inverters, or even in a slim peripheral. However, IIoT also means networks that extend beyond the individual machine, for example to monitor different installations together, to centrally maintain or benchmark different locations. Such more complex tasks are usually handled through cloud services that enable the use of comprehensive machine learning and AI.
An easy way to transfer data from the powertrain to the IIoT is therefore essential. With the Gateway x500, combined with the X4 Remote platform, Lenze offers machine builders a turnkey cloud solution that enables continuous condition monitoring, remote machine maintenance and user-friendly asset management. OEMs and end users are free to choose the cloud provider to build their IIoT platform on.
At the same time, what nobody wants to see is a massive inflation of sensor technology, which adds both complexity and a hardware cost burden. Lenze is already addressing this on the drive side by making intelligent use of data already available through its smart servo axis – a combination of the i950 variable speed drive, the g700 planetary gearbox and the m850 synchronous motor. With this motion control concept, the drive itself becomes a sensor and provides intelligent functions for the IIoT and ultimately lays the foundation for service models such as condition monitoring.
As for the previously extensive wiring of the sensors, Lenze offers the standardised ‘one-cable’ technology with its smart axis, which further simplifies machine setup. Instead of separate supply and data lines, only a single cable is required. And the motor data is sent digitally via the open motor feedback protocol. Less wiring not only reduces the amount of material required, but also the space required in the control cabinet. In addition, the potential sources of errors are also reduced as cable-related failures become rarer and the search for the cause is easier as there are not so many options to test.
Another vital tool for OEMs and end users through the lifecycle of the machine is the digital twin. Lenze sees this as the basis for the use of cloud services, which contribute to the optimisation of production processes, to the intelligent evaluation of operating data of the drives, which again makes additional sensors superfluous. Further, it increases the flexibility of systems where entire production modules can be replaced by simply ‘plug and produce’.
Within its EASY System Designer, Lenze has created the ‘Asset Administration Shel’ (AAS) for creating a digital image of a machine. In this way, drive designs can be developed in the EASY System Designer throughout their lifecycle and their tested functional units can be stored in the AAS for reuse and further development of new specific designs.
In order to bring together the engineering of all disciplines required for the development of a machine, Lenze has integrated the AAS into the concept of the user organisation IDTA (Industrial Digital Twin Association). The IDTA was founded by VDMA, ZVEI and Bitcom to promote the standardisation of digital twin technology. In addition to Lenze, the IDTA now has 20 other companies as members, including both OEMs and automation companies, all of which are involved in intensive exchange.