Smart machines and plant networks aren’t new – they’ve been around for decades. What is new is how these machines, devices and networks are communicating.
Smart machines can now share the data they collect and generate. From logging measurements to providing specific instructions, machines send data through the cloud to a manufacturing execution system (MES) where it is collected, categorized and analyzed through management applications. Machines are able to use the data in the MES to direct and coordinate other machines based on status and measurements, passing instruction and specifications to the controllers. The result is a more streamlined and agile shop floor, eliminating the opportunity for errors and decreasing costs.
Let’s look at an example of this.
For more than 100 years the torque wrench has been a valuable tool for manufacturers. To ensure product quality and performance, it is critically important to apply a specific amount of force (torque) to a bolt or nut to ensure proper function – tight enough to hold the bolt in place but not so tight that the threads are damaged. But even though a torque wrench is a precision tool, it is still only as good as its most recent calibration and settings.
By connecting that torque wrench to the cloud, its capabilities grow exponentially. As an item comes across the production line, data from the cloud identifies the specifications for the part, and instructs the wrench to automatically apply the correct level of torque. Mistakes – especially operator error – are eliminated, even on a dynamic production line. The cloud also tracks which particular tool was used and when it was most recently calibrated. This both ensures optimal real-time quality and allows the operator to track things like long-term tool performance and maintenance. That same data becomes part of a quality and traceability program, as well as productivity analysis.
A cloud ERP provider for manufacturers, Plex Systems, reports that more than 50 percent of the data collected in the Plex Manufacturing Cloud comes from machines. That data can inform manufacturing process improvement, quality management and maintenance planning, along with dozens of other applications. As more smart machines and connected devices are brought onto the shop floor, machine-to-machine (M2M) communications will continue to increase at rapid rates, changing the dynamic of manufacturing and improving efficiencies.