Key ingredients for designing smart machines and equipment

By: Dan Seger, Principal Application Engineer, Rockwell Automation

OEMs have always been expected to innovate and keep pace with end users’ requirements. Yet, today in the era of smart manufacturing, end users want to optimise their production and supply chain by bringing together islands of information – and they want OEMs to help. Delivering on the promise of smart manufacturing is paramount.

At the heart of a smart operation is The Connected Enterprise. It consists of converged information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems into a single network architecture. It also uses smart machines and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for seamless connectivity and information sharing across people, plants and supply chains.

As a result, end users need smart machines and equipment that are designed to thrive in The Connected Enterprise and provide nearly endless opportunities to improve their operations. It also can help them address their most pressing needs, such as:
• Remaining globally competitive by keeping business models relevant and moving from mass production to mass customisation.
• Addressing workforce issues, including retaining the skills of retiring workers, and ensuring IT and OT workers are prepared for the influx of new smart technologies.
• Addressing risks, including security threats and increasingly complex regulations.
• Making the most of Internet- and Ethernet-enabled technologies.

This all may be daunting for industrial OEMs. However, they can meet customers’ needs and simplify the design of smart systems by focusing on three key elements: processes, technology and people.

Processes: Meet End Users on Their Journey

An end user’s journey to The Connected Enterprise generally follows four stages (see sidebar). Still, every journey will be distinct. Factors, such as operational needs, available resources and workforce availability, will be unique to each organisation and influence their Connected Enterprise roadmap.

OEMs will encounter end users at different points in their journey. Some will be in the early planning stages. Others may be in the midst of IT/OT convergence. And others may be ready to integrate smart machines or equipment.

It’s important that OEMs communicate with end users to understand their needs and stage in the journey. Those conversations also can help OEMs identify opportunities to innovate with their customers, such as using remote monitoring to monitor assets and maximise uptime.

Ultimately, OEMs must always be ready to equip end users with smart machines or equipment, regardless of where they are in their journey.

Technology: Deliver Systems That Match Needs

OEMs that want to enable or support smart manufacturing and industrial operations should rethink traditional, machinery-design approaches. As they consider different design aspects to change and update, five key technology areas are paramount:
1. Integrated Safety: Combining standard and safety control into a single platform enables the use of intelligent, machine-safety-system designs. This can improve productivity while still achieving compliance. Safety-system data also can be collected to alert operators where safety-related issues are occurring for faster downtime resolutions and long-term improvements.
2. Accessible and Secure Information: End users develop goals for securely accessing and capitalizing on their operational, business and transactional data. OEMs can support and fulfill those goals by connecting control systems and using performance dashboards that make information available and actionable.
3. Simplified Integration: Replacing a multitiered networking strategy with a single, open EtherNet/IP™ network can simplify the network infrastructure and reduce integration risks. Likewise, a single, Logix-based control and information platform can ease the collection, transfer and analysis of real-time operations data.
4. Real-Time Diagnostics and Analysis: Embedded-intelligence devices can deliver real-time data for predictive maintenance to help end users more quickly troubleshoot and repair problems. Remote monitoring also can be used to monitor critical parameters and address issues before they reach a point of failure.
5. Operational Efficiency: Design tools and scalable automation technology help OEMs deliver equipment that is flexible for multiple purposes to improve operating efficiency. For example, modular programming and re-usable code can help reduce system complexity and support faster design, commissioning and installation times. Motion-sizing tools also can help make mechatronic designs faster and easier to analyze, as well as help optimize, simulate and select motion-control systems.

People: Secure the Right Skills

Today, engineers and programmers must understand the blend of IT/OT technologies used in connected plants and enterprises. They also must know how to configure, operate and sustain their customers’ networked industrial control systems.

Providing training for existing workers can be critical to achieving this, especially because skilled workers are increasingly hard to find. OEMs should strongly consider using training and certification courses that have been specifically developed to help bridge the IT/OT gap in smart operations.

At the same time, OEMs don’t need to go it alone. They should look to use vendors’ consultative, design, integration and support services to help fill areas of need.

This could include using a vendor’s network and security services to help design a more secure control system in a connected operation. Safety services also can help smart machines and equipment comply with the latest standards, while virtual support engineers can analyse trends and recommend actions to help prevent downtime.

Keeping Up With Expectations

End users still expect machines and equipment to help them optimize processes, achieve compliance, maximize quality and protect workers. But they also now expect those same systems to easily integrate into their operations, offer production intelligence and improve their responsiveness to changing market demands.

With the right mix of processes, technology and people, OEMs can develop smart machines and equipment that meet these higher expectations.

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