How Vanilla Factories Become Smart Factories

Nov. 1, 2015
Using Advantech’s Industry 4.0 solutions, factories are becoming more capable of changing what they produce in a short period of time to keep pace with market demands.

Traditional vanilla factories are quite simple—they churn out whatever goods they typically make based on the parameters they have always worked within. Their inflexibility makes it difficult to change what they’re producing and creates a large amount of waste. To reprogram a factory like this requires stopping the entire production line and retooling, changing the ingredients, and a host of other complications. For vanilla factories, however, such problems don’t exist only at the factory reprogramming level; it’s also impossible to determine when there will be a problem with a part of the factory’s machinery.

Today it is clear that industry is changing and factories are becoming smarter, thanks to Industry 4.0—a collective term for the technologies and concepts surrounding value chain organization. Because of a host of new technologies and improvements in existing technologies that are being ushered in by Industry 4.0, factories are becoming capable of changing what they produce in a short period of time. Furthermore, with machine downtime being a costly issue, there is demand for devices to continuously poll connected hardware to determine the levels of wear and tear and, therefore, recognize potential faults before they happen.

Throughout 2015, Advantech has been developing and promoting its three-layer architecture— enabling intelligent machines and robots, connected iFactory solutions, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)—as part of our Industry 4.0 blueprint. These layers, combined with the integration of information, quick response and flexible manufacturing, are expected to drastically improve the overall effectiveness and efficiency of machine automation.

iFactory solutions

The idea behind connected iFactory solutions is that these products will make factories more intelligent by using tools that work in an advanced Industry 4.0 environment. In this new environment, all machines and equipment will be networked and contain a plethora of sensors to continuously provide status details and production information to the process control system, facilitating immediate analysis and rapid initiation of any necessary actions. By continuously producing status reports of plant equipment and production information, Big Data analysis allows system engineers to plan for future maintenance and adjust configurations at the most appropriate time, thereby reducing system downtime.

Furthermore, the information relayed between machines and devices can be integrated into manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. To help with this, Advantech’s WebAccess+ Integrated IoT Software Suite and Solution Platform, together with industrial network gateways, can connect machines, robots and equipment to the factory network and enable integration with systems such as MES and ERP systems.

Traditional SCADA software has long been employed to monitor devices from a central location using complicated programming algorithms and languages, and Advantech’s customers aren’t ready to move away from it. However, though the function of SCADA will remain core to production operations for a long time to come, its form is already changing with the ability to mobilize control and monitoring and put it into the hands of users wherever they are. For example, by using HTML5, Advantech’s WebAccess software can be configured without software programming experience. The software’s widget library, widget builder and drag-and-drop dashboard editor allow users to customize their own dashboard screens according to their specific needs. Users can also browse and monitor WebAccess tags and statistical data using the Dashboard Viewer on any HTML5-compatible browser such as Internet Explorer, Safari, Chrome and Firefox. With the ability to view information in real time from anywhere, engineers can more easily respond to emergencies and, because the sensors are polled regularly, a history of their responsiveness can be collated using Microsoft Excel-compatible spreadsheets to allow data analysis for identification and response to trends as appropriate.

Industry 4.0 partnerships and enterprise connections

Our business partners are in constant contact with factory owners, product manufacturers and energy suppliers to understand their needs better than anyone. Therefore, to promote the sea changes associated with Industry 4.0, Advantech has developed the WebAccess+ IoT Solution Alliance program. This software platform supports system integrator partners by integrating the various applications and hardware they develop. The Solution Platform combines smart HMI/SCADA software, remote device management software and intelligent video software, and uses an open platform to connect with third-party devices and industrial cloud platforms. As well as analyzing and managing large amounts of statistical, video and voice data, the Solution Platform provides critical information anytime and anywhere for management by industrial customers, effectively realizing the vision of Industry 4.0.

Looking toward the future, Advantech will continue to develop IoT platform-as-a-service (PaaS) software, which uses Microsoft Azure to develop interfaces that can read the data of any MQTT-supported device and send that data to SAP. In an environment that currently lacks any kind of synergistic cooperation between vertical industries and IoT application services, Advantech developed the WISE-PaaS to target IoT talent training, service platform integration, partner cooperation, and joint academia/industry innovation. As an integrated IoT software services and cloud platform, WISE-PaaS provides the infrastructure for building, deploying and managing applications and services. By adopting Advantech’s WISE-PaaS, IoT solution developers can rapidly build and deploy applications, or expand cloud applications into software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications, ensuring a faster time to market. As Miller Chang, vice president of Advantech Embedded Core Group says, “The maturation of the IoT industry requires the comprehensive development of a business ecosystem.”

Data acquisition and processing

Advantech believes that edge computing is the future and is emphasizing the development of edge devices. These hardware devices use Ethernet or GPRS to send data back to a centralized server where it’s received, read and analyzed by engineers. Advances in Ethernet technology, with gigabit speeds no longer uncommon, are facilitating the use of low-power devices over RJ45 cable via Power-over-Ethernet (PoE) technology. In addition, more widespread cellular data networks enable remotely located hardware to send data to smartphones, which now have the same computing power as many computers.

One of the most important technologies in this area is the wireless sensor network (WSN)—a next-generation wireless data acquisition solution. WSN combines the wireless I/O and sensor interface to collect and transmit analog and/or digital signals to the Internet. This wireless technology is based on IEEE 802.15.4 combined with many protocols, such as ZigBee, 6LoWPAN and WirelessHART. With different types of I/Os and sensors, signals can be measured in every situation.

By listening to customers’ concerns, and working in partnership with them, Advantech continues to develop new products and solutions aimed at the next generation of factories and other industries as Industry 4.0 and the IIoT become more commonplace.

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