Smart industrial devices in The Connected Enterprise

Driving down costs and improving business productivity are two key focal points for organizational leadership in today’s day and age, as they ride the wave of digital transformation.  Although hyper-aware of the potential for better commercial insights unlocked by the use of software, business leaders don’t always consider that digital technology can also be utilized to bridge the gap between production hardware systems.

The devices that are part of the production process are a case in point. Plant, machinery and industrial systems are seen as permanent fixtures in terms of their overheads and necessary resource allocations. However, in the age of The Connected , this isn’t the case. Devices that are appropriately enabled, and managed form the building blocks for an Internet of Things (IoT) strategy that can create massive positive change right across the production, logistics and operations functions – and as we shall see, other areas too.

Smart devices that are built into new generations of plant and machinery, or devices added after installation, present a whole new avenue of opportunity for organizations to optimize their processes. They can present control functions and by monitoring operations, deliver data that wasn’t being generated previously, or information that was either isolated or communicated via non-standard protocols.

So how can manufacturers and producers leverage devices from the very latest in the IoT technologies as part of an overall digital transformation strategy?Smart devices are the first step any production facility should take in capturing valuable and insightful data that is used to make better decisions. Whether that knowledge is sourced in-house or sent for off-site processing in real time (for instance by powerful machine learning algorithms hosted in the cloud), devices create real visibility into operations.

The effects? Reduction of issues that cause downtime, a lessening of the risk of accidents at work and boosts to productivity right across the automation life cycle, from goods inwards to factory gates.

Tackling the issue of downtime

A prime example can be found in the  smart motor control device. Because motor failures can cost thousands of dollars per hour in lost production (as a single device failure can have knock-on consequences), being aware of motor health and real-time performance is valuable knowledge. Such insights are only available from the very latest in IoT technology. The Rockwell Automation PowerFlex 755T drive, for example, includes predictive maintenance firmware “baked ins”. That means that combining vendor data with up-to-the-second operating data to intelligently predict when drive components will need replacing.

The result is that maintenance routines can be moved from a wasteful regularity, where machines are taken offline regardless of performance, to one where downtimes can be scheduled for least impact when the machine needs the work. In some cases, repetitive maintenance routines can have adverse effects, as moving parts are subject to increased friction that results in higher resource consumption (such as drawing more current). With smart sensor arrays, not only is this problem mitigated, but operators can be alerted the minute there is a problem, helping to ensure issues don’t go unnoticed.

Smart devices that are tasked with monitoring and controlling machines individually can feed data into a homogenized data network that provides an aggregated bank of information. By using this information intelligently, machines’ performance and settings can be attenuated automatically or from the point of centralized oversight. Any changes in a mechanical system can be automatically compensated for, with powerful adaptive tuning routines either in the internal control mechanism or elsewhere in the facility.

Improving safety

Safety systems in industrial settings are often connected in series, so when a circuit or system is tripped, finding the fault can be difficult and time-consuming; lost production time can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars until the problem is located and rectified. However, GuardLink technology from Rockwell Automation, feeding into a Connected Enterprise system of integrated IoT, provides valuable safety and diagnostic information that helps to confirm better worker safety and decreased costs in much less downtime.

There are also some surprising places where positive results derived from the careful application of IoT technologies from Rockwell Automation can be felt. By connecting work sites, equipment and people throughout a facility, both worker and environmental safety can be improved, through increased operations visibility, or down to minutiae like being able to locate every worker’s exact position across large installations.

Workplace safety can be improved, and potentially expensive litigation is avoided by using IoT and Connected Enterprise systems to determine the differences between expected and actual worker behavior. Often under pressure to hit targets, safety is often the first consideration to go, even in dangerous areas of the facility. By using IoT, discrepancies between defined policy and actual behaviors can be determined, and the situation made safe once more.

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