These days, plant floor managers and operators alike must be manufacturing multitaskers in order to keep up with the ever-changing requirements of new product designs, shifting supply chains, and a move toward digital transformation. For that, first and foremost, they need visibility into operations. Manufacturing executives, too, are demanding more real-time insight across the organization in order to make time-sensitive decisions that will impact the business.
If you can’t see it, you can’t act on it.
The good news is, innovations surrounding the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and connectivity technologies—in the form of OPC Unified Architecture (OPC UA), a machine-to-machine communication protocol, and MQ Telemetry Transport (MQTT), a lightweight publish/subscribe messaging protocol for sensors and small devices—are setting the foundation for new kinds of industrial applications that provide data visibility, thus enabling users to extract more value out of assets and operations.
One such offering comes from GE Digital, which, earlier this month, announced the Proficy Operations Hub 1.5, a centralized portal that includes data analysis and root cause detection across all levels of an organization. Additional GE Digital applications, like Proficy Historian 8.0, which adds context to data, and Proficy Plant Applications 8.0, an operations management platform that tracks OEE data, quality and production management, and does batch analysis, can be integrated into the Proficy Operations Hub 1.5. Plus, an out-of-the-box trend analysis application with KPI dashboards enables root cause detection and collaborative analysis.
The real power of the hub, however, is its support for rapid application development using code-free development tools. This important aspect of the product came up during a conversation with Ranbir Saini, GE Digital’s senior director of digital product management, at the ARC Industry Forum in Orlando. He emphasized that the user does not need to be a developer to define data sources for connected devices or create queries to access data. A user-friendly WYSIWYG app builder includes widgets and a drag-and-drop design that allows for placement and configuration of visualization components on the display. Simply dragging the query or data source onto the component quickly enables the data connections.
“Anyone on the plant floor can use this tool to create, test, and quickly turnaround [applications] in a day, not months,” Saini said. The applications created emphasize data connectivity, data aggregation, and visualization. “And the outcome is the use of digital technology to solve problems.”
The key here is connectivity, which is why Operations Hub uses OPC UA and MQTT for discovery and connectivity, and representational state transfer (REST) APIs to expose the information of the web-based plant applications through queries. Rapid development of web-based displays can be created in responsive layouts, which allows for visibility from a mobile device to a desktop. That means, even the manufacturing executives can see what the operator sees, from anywhere they may be, making it easy to act upon information independent of the user’s location.
But the fact that the user does not need to have programming skills to build and manage applications is a huge step forward for the people on the plant floor who are being asked to be more flexible and to extract more value from the operations. “The focus is on how to make the interface easy to digest to lower errors and make it more accessible,” Saini said. “Operators have new expectations of software usability, and our goal is to help guide developers.”
This, of course, translates to lower cost, higher efficiency—and provides the visibility that everyone in the organization longs for, because all of this industrial data from multiple sources is accessible via a centralized dashboard to provide a bird’s eye view of operations. Moreover, it does not require a rip-and-replace of existing industrial applications, as it is more of an incremental approach while providing the flexibility to grow as part of an organization’s digital transformation. “Manufacturers want to start with something and customize based on their needs,” Saini said.
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