Problems solved: Scalable production using IoT technology

Upscaling a manufacturing facility doesn’t always require investments in new, or more advanced machinery. There is much more to consider, including software. Here, Martyn Williams, managing director of industrial software expert Copa-Data UK, explains how Internet of Things (IoT) technology is helping manufacturers to upscale effectively.

Increasing production can involve investing huge sums of money in factory equipment, particularly when the objective is to enable increased production on the factory floor. However, taking the first step towards high-volume production doesn’t necessarily require a complete equipment overhaul.

Instead, successful upscaling can be achieved by leveraging IoT-enabled technology. In fact, any effective production boost in modern manufacturing relies on an IoT infrastructure that has been designed to grow with the success of the business. But, how does this work in practice?

Almost every manufacturer will seek out ways to improve its profit margins. However, space is often the biggest challenge in achieving production growth. As opposed to expanding the facility, new technologies, such as sensors and software, are allowing these manufacturers to produce more with what they already have.

Doing more with less

For industrial machinery, smart sensors are used to measure operating parameters and gather information. Data such as temperature, speed, productivity and energy efficiency can be collected from process level and sent to a remote controller.

From there, intelligent control software, like Copa-Data’s zenon, can allow industrial machinery on the shop floor to automatically adapt and adjust to ensure optimum production levels are maintained.

By connecting sensors, devices and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and visualising this on a top tier human machine interface (HMI), operators can see exactly what is happening in their facility in relation to resources, energy consumption, performance and output. This helps manufacturers identify opportunities to improve their production by first reducing waste.

If businesses are hoping to increase output with the equipment they already have, they need to look closely at opportunities to reduce wastages from their current processes and reclaim those resources as valuable output.

Martyn Williams

Consider the seven manufacturing wastes as an example. Copa-Data’s zenon can help manufacturers to identify these wastages in manufacturing; overproduction, waiting, transporting, inappropriate processing, unnecessary inventory, excess motion and defects.

For example, the software may analyse data from a conveyor, and detect that it regularly runs without products due to a bottle neck in previous processes. The software could then show the optimal solution to reduce this waiting and excess motion waste. As a result, the operator can make an informed decision on how to make the most of this existing equipment and potentially identify areas for production growth.

Intelligent synchronisation with IoT

Upscaling is driven by increased demand. However, one of the risks of investing in new equipment is that this demand will not continue on an upward trajectory, and manufacturers will be left with unnecessary and expensive equipment that is unused.

For example, what if demand takes a temporary dip? Or, what if a new machine encounters a fault and as a result, it can only output half the normal volume? This is where IoT software really comes into its own as a tool for upscaling.

Industrial automation software, such as zenon, can visualise the coordination and synchroniation of all field devices, using data from PLCs and smart sensors to ensure every part of the production line is working to the correct output level. For example, in a fluid handling application in a beverage factory, data from flow meters and level meters can be cross analysed to ensure the water flow generated by a pump, is appropriate for the fill level of a water tank.

As the number of IoT devices increases with upscaling, so does the need for a streamlined way to maintain and troubleshoot them. Using an IoT-based model, the status of machine performance can be visible on the HMI, meaning even the slightest change to a machine can be detected and actions can be taken, ahead of disastrous consequences.

IoT will enable upscaling in factories worldwide, particularly because of its ‘do more with less’ concept. It will be interesting to see the rapid adoption of this approach, with a huge focus on waste reduction as a means of resource reclamation. IoT demonstrates that high-volume production doesn’t always mean complete equipment overhaul, but rather taking advantage of new technology that is available.

This author of this blog is Martyn Williams, managing director of industrial software expert Copa-Data UK

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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