Multi-Tasking Machine Controllers

Nov. 1, 2022
High-end machine performance is often delivered via a controller that also communicates with other machines in real-time & provides live production data for use by higher level systems to support OEE frameworks.

The requirement to multi-task while maintaining precise control over a machine (or multiple machines) means a modular PLC construction is more important than ever. The latest IoT (Internet of Things) Gateway available for Mitsubishi Electric’s advanced iQ-R Series PLC is a perfect example. It makes use of the OPC UA standard designed to provide a direct exchange from smart OT (operations technology) devices to cloud-based systems.

In combination with an Iconics SCADA suite, the IoT Gateway can be used to access real-time-data from multiple robot controllers (and other automation devices) and make them available for easy onscreen monitoring and management via on-premises or cloud-based systems. This allows companies to benefit from predictive maintenance functionality built-in to the robots which uses AI (artificial intelligence) to predict requirements ahead of time and make suggestions for servicing or parts replacements. The flexibility to see this information and act upon it from anywhere in the world empowers plant operations personnel to work remotely and take advantage of their smart factory capabilities.

A plant-wide automation system can also be driven by the machine controller and its communication modules. An IoT Gateway and iQ-R modular PLC can be used as a hub to drive a simplified IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things)-enabled control and management environment. It effectively makes the most of the controller’s capability while creating transparency within the IT systems.

From a manufacturing perspective, introducing a time-sensitive network such as CC-Link IE TSN can increase the speed and synchronicity of a production line significantly. Micro-delays and bottlenecks can be effectively eliminated by ensuring that everything from in-feed machinery to CNC machines tools, conveyors, assembly systems, testing, marking, robot loading systems, packing and palletizing is synchronized in real time.

But this ecosystem doesn’t work in isolation. It relies on OPC UA, MQTT, and the likes of Azure IoT Hub to link ERP and MES layers to the PLC at the heart of the system via the IoT gateway. This allows personnel—from production to senior management— to pull reports and plan factory output based on demand and availability.

The role of the machine controller in an IIoT environment also helps integrate with edge and cloud processing platforms to deliver data analytics benefits. Edge computing is increasingly used for data analytics because it offers a low-latency solution for interpretation of targeted trends data rather than mass storage. Meanwhile, cloud computing is increasingly being used for complex, but less time-sensitive, analysis on larger data sets required for deep learning models.

Mitsubishi Electric’s solution for edge computing, the MELIPC, captures data seamlessly from the PLC and can process, filter, and provide initial analysis locally. The most relevant results can be acted upon locally, while data needing more advanced analytics can be sent to the cloud.

The MELIPC addresses the need for processing as close as possible to the control system, while also using the same protocols as the IoT Gateway, such as OPC UA and MQTT. The MELIPC also uses machine learning to analyze collected data and generate a model of the machine’s operational state. This model can then be used to detect variations in the machine’s performance in real time to provide feedback to other IT-based systems to provide early warnings and advice that can impact quality, efficiency, and output volumes.

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