If you are reading this, then you probably already know that centralized machine monitoring and automation of processes are two of today’s leading methods of optimization and thereby, ways of improving efficiency.
However, machines in well-established production lines may be between 15 and 30 years old—although these machines can still perform their main functional tasks to a satisfactory level, they were not “born in the Cloud”. What can be done if they are not connected in the same way new devices, from the box tend to be these days?
This is a problem that many manufacturers currently face. The issue, then, for these manufacturers is how to improve the productivity of existing production lines for feasible financial investment. Let’s look into the options available and how “digital” can be retrofitted in a cost-effective way.
Integrating additional intelligent devices and sensor technology into a well-established production line of plastics injection molding machines (PIMMs), for example, can help to achieve these objectives. However, there are still challenges. For example, the machines and systems may not have the level of computing power, or memory capacity to record and store data satisfactorily, or the ability to communicate with their modern equivalents. In many cases, these machines use data formats and operating communication language protocols that are no longer used by today’s PLCs and industrial PCs. The production environment may also have mixed protocol legacy machines. In a lot of factories these machines still require individual programming by an operator, which can be very time consuming and potentially require input from multiple staff.
An important route to Industry 4.0 is the ability to apply digitalization to the production environment by adding more intelligence into existing processes. Through a digital retrofit approach, it is possible to “smarten up” existing processes and deliver the tools for central machine monitoring and process optimization for minimal cost, on a short timeline, resulting in a fast return on investment and immediate productivity gains. Digital retrofit and thus keeping track of all manufacturing information in real time, and receiving up-to-the-minute data from robots, machine monitors and employees, consists of four different ways to improve production processes, increase cost savings and extend the lifetime of different types of machinery: Legacy machine protocol conversion; Condition monitoring / Energy measurement; Asset management; and Predictive maintenance.
Although manufacturing execution systems used to operate as self-contained systems, they are increasingly being integrated with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software. Additional real-time condition monitoring of legacy machine key operating processes can help to reduce downtime and extend lifetime, thus achieving manufacturing productivity improvements. This can be accomplished by digitally retrofitting additional stand-alone MICA devices to store, analyze and process data from existing or extra retrofitted sensors. As a result, tasks such as status monitoring becomes easy, while, at the same time, allowing remote, centralized process control adjustment via the MES network.
Going back to the PIMMs example, critical operating parts of such machines are subject to continuous wear. As wear increases, this can result in an increased number of rejected parts and expensive financial losses. This situation can be resolved, in this case, by monitoring the changes in the operating power curve characteristics of the screw pump and the pressure loading at the check valves.
With retrofitting, a return-on-investment period of 6-12 months can be achieved. Machine process parameters can be remotely monitored and modified via centralized factory control stations, reducing downtime and enabling factory staff to be more effectively deployed. Machine operators can even monitor and affect the processes in the production line from off-site, via a smartphone or other suitable smart device, such as a tablet.
By following a step-by-step digital retrofit approach, manufacturers can often implement their Industry 4.0 ambitions and improve OEE with a manageable, phased approach to making production machines cloud enabled, according to their available budget and labor resources.