Matt Prellwitz, Drive Technology Application Specialist Â Beckhoff Automation
Literally and figuratively, data is all around us all the time. A never ending flow of information is continuously sent in all directions via wired and wireless connections, from e-mails, to notifications and text messages, streaming music, online videos and more. This vast collection of data moves, via the cloud, to computers, mobile devices and an increasing number of Internet of Things (IoT) devices nearly instantaneously. Similarly, connected devices found in industrial operations create data at an increasingly exorbitant rate, and motion control systems and devices certainly create a large amount of this data. This information can include production data and throughput figures, temperature and energy measurements, operating efficiency and more. Major manufacturers and machine builders hope to better integrate cloud connectivity and IoT solutions into their operations in order to make best use of resources, while working toward continuous improvement initiatives at their company.
With data volumes going nowhere but up, the management of this information through analytics and the resulting data insight has become the basis of practical Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industrie 4.0 implementations. PC-based control provides the clearest migration path to IoT and Industrie 4.0, which represents the full convergence of automation technology and information technology (AT + IT). PC-based control architectures help create robust, flexible, full-featured solutions for nearly any application area, but especially in motion control applications.
Given the increased proliferation of robotics and other advanced motion technologies in manufacturing, drive systems are becoming much more enmeshed in operations and higher-level systems through improved data acquisition at the field level. As a result, many are seeking additional means to channel data including motion system information, from the Smart Factory shop floor to cloud services. This article highlights how high-value motion data such as speed, torque, power consumption, current and more, are best handled through implementation of a PC-based control system. PC Control can simply and reliably establish IoT connectivity for motion systems today through standard automation software and I/O hardware that perfectly fits within existing system architectures.
PC-Based Control: A Long History of Connectivity
This may all sound like a lot of functionality to be bundled into one Industrial PC, but advanced connectivity is nothing new in PC-based control systems. Long before industry had easy access to the Internet of which ÂthingsÂ could be a part, Industrial PC systems connected to each other and to many kinds of networks, both internal and external.Â This facilitated the dissemination of data and critical information throughout the enterprise. As an example, Beckhoff has delivered PC-based connectivity to industrial operations for three decades. As use of the Internet proliferated and cloud-based systems and databases developed, a whole new world of global connectivity for industrial applications was ushered in, with PC-based systems well suited to provide the most efficient link from the sensor (or motor) to the cloud.
This is seen in many circles as the fourth industrial revolution, or Industrie 4.0, which is a movement to establish real-world Smart Factory solutions through the combination of cyber-physical systems, cloud computing and the Internet of Things. Motion control plays an important role in the development of these cyber-physical systems with the further introduction of robotics, complex servo technologies used in additive manufacturing applications, and numerous other automated systems that can supply actionable data to cloud-based systems.
Big Data Requires a Big Game Plan
Increased consumer demand for more highly customized products challenges plant operations to continue doing more and more with less. That means optimizing operations to maximize production throughput, uptime and variability while minimizing materials waste, so the streamlining of all manufacturing technologies also becomes paramount. Achieving this level of optimization is no easy task, however, and it requires an honest review of your operation and an openness to study solutions that offer the needed results. Integration of more connected, more highly automated motion systems is one method to improve efficiency, but a determination of where automation is feasible, and how to go about adding the technology into your operation, must first start with a thorough review of your process and a substantial amount of useful data to create a clear picture of the application.
Gathering the right kinds of data, and most likely a huge amount of data (or Big Data), is a necessary first step. However, just tracking everything associated with your operation without an action plan can be costly and will ultimately result in a huge cache of data with no clear purpose. Setting data-driven goals for what you want to achieve as a Smart Factory will go a long way to gather the correct data, get it into the hands of the necessary staff, and truly put analytics to work in order to boost data insight.
Once concrete goals have been outlined, the logical next step is to begin gathering data to find problem areas and make enhancements for process optimization. Operational data enables a wealth of possible optimization tools, such as analytics dashboards, condition monitoring procedures, OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) and predictive maintenance, among others. For example, production throughput can be monitored down to the millisecond in order to create a complete history of manufacturing that can be used as a point of comparison to further the life of the machine and determine any aberrations or deviations from normal, which can then be addressed early to minimize lost production and increase uptime. This same monitoring can also be leveraged for complete product traceability databases, keeping track of the entire life of a product, from the shop floor to the shelves and beyond.
AT and IT Convergence in the IoT Era
After your production goals are set and youÂre ready to start gathering high-value data to kick off your process optimization efforts, then what? Wading through the myriad of options to capture the right data can be a daunting task, so let me provide a recommendation. PC-based control provides the simplest, most flexible option to bring connected technologies together with your operation. WeÂve already established the long history of connectivity, but that just scratches the surface of the benefits found with PC Control.
First, PC-based control systems offer superior scalability, both in hardware and software. This offers engineers a clear and efficient migration path as machine and plant designs change over time. For example, Beckhoff offers a range of controller options from an entry level ARM processor, to a range of multi-core controllers in multiple hardware formats, all the way up to an industrial server family that can be equipped with a 36-core Intel Xeon processor for many-core control. These all run PC-based control software for a range of functions including PLC, motion control, safety, HMI, measurement, condition monitoring and more, typically all on one device in the case of multi-core controllers and up. This is perhaps the clearest example available today of the on-going convergence of AT + IT.
Control systems are becoming more and more centralized, from robotic integration to simple motion and PLC tasks, all functions must be better integrated to more easily make required changes as the needs of the company grow. As your computational needs rise, existing PC-based controllers can be easily swapped for a more powerful model that uses the same software platform. Using automation software to handle the controls-specific tasks, and running it on multipurpose, PC-based hardware, has become a game-changer for companies that seek a robust, flexible, easy-to-use development environment and control platform for entire machines. For example, Beckhoff offers a complete control software suite and matches specific packages to PC-based hardware with different performance levels in order to meet the individual needs of each application, whether special features are called for in CNC functionality and robotic kinematics, or if simple PLC projects will suffice.
The biggest benefit, focused specifically on data capture and connectivity, comes with the ability of a PC-based system to simply and reliably create secure connections to cloud databases via widely accepted standards such as MQTT, AMQP or OPC-UA for global access across the enterprise. System-integrated hardware and software in PC-based control systems can efficiently establish IoT connectivity through standard automation software and I/O hardware that perfectly fits within existing system architectures, no standalone third-party devices or additional software platforms required. With a conventional PLC or other closed hardware, adding IoT communication becomes a much more difficult proposition and typically requires the addition of third party hardware and software from major IT companies to make everything work.
Industrial Ethernet Keeps Motion Systems Connected
Though the discussion about IoT and cloud connectivity is just starting for many, forward-thinking companies are already leveraging these powerful technologies to optimize all areas of production to be better, faster and more efficient. Application in medical device manufacturing, for example, is becoming increasingly important, particularly for part traceability. When a medical device must adhere to a specific, very precise specification, comprehensive measurement of the changing current and torque helps assure the changing forces applied by motors are consistent and help validate the production process.
Repeatability of the motor and the flexibility to adjust on the fly assures that tension systems have the ability to be flexible with regard to repeated changes. When a motion system needs to sync with external devices, such as digital events and high-speed analog events, a real-time fieldbus is crucial to avoid motion interrupts and to maintain system synchronization. BeckhoffÂs implementation of the EtherCAT industrial Ethernet systems sets a synchronized task for motion and PLC commands. Customers spend less time verifying events outside of the motion tasks because they quickly see the events are held to the same measurements as the motion tasks. With DC clock determination of 62.5 Âµs, you know these independent devices are synchronized. For simple verification, it can be brought back to the controller to keep a record of the synchronization. With connectivity to access data records being a non-real-time task, IPCs with large memory arrays can buffer data and bring it to databases for archiving, which helps implement traceability.
Verification is a large part of this process, and there are multiple channels to collect the data for further utilization. With the integration of industrial Ethernet being the most popular method in use today, users have a quick and easy way to pass data back and forth. However, just passing data across the wires is only the first part of the task at hand. If we reflect on how far Ethernet technology has come in manufacturing, we formerly transmitted data through TCP/IP or other Ethernet protocols, which are certainly not real-time. Now, information moves in a real-time and streamlined manner with communications speeds well into the low microsecond range for I/O and drive devices. Additionally, safety data and all kinds of data from legacy fieldbuses can be gathered by gateway terminals and transmitted on the same cable in the case of EtherCAT. A communication standard implemented by many of the worldÂs largest industrial robot manufacturers, EtherCAT is also important for complete integration of many independent robots to maximize production cycles.
Cloud Connectivity, the Key to Future Production Success
Demand for greater motion system integration, as well as advanced data acquisition and analytics, continues to rise in line with technological advancements and growing production requirements. Tapping into and understanding these vast stores of data, increasingly from the motion devices at the field level, has never been more important. Through increased implementation of PC-based platforms, and by leveraging the speed and precision of an industrial Ethernet system such as EtherCAT, streamlined cloud connectivity and superior data analytics is infinitely more achievable. Though IIoT and Industrie 4.0 are new terms for leading-edge concepts, the enabling technology has been available for years in PC-based control platforms. Total flexibility and scalability are defining factors found within PC Control systems because they offer streamlined, easy-to-implement solutions that successfully move your operation into the cloud age.