Every day, we enter further into the age of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), in which data is king and connectivity is key. At this point, it’s well understood that, to increase efficiency in any process, one must first obtain accurate data from within the process to ensure it is functioning as well as it can.
Even so, one question remains: How can plants with both legacy machines and modern machines begin implementing best practices for IIoT?
To solve this problem, both hardware and software solutions are needed. There are budding solutions on the market, but many end up being programming-intensive, constraining and expensive. One part of a solution that eliminates these issues is called MTConnect: an open-source, royalty-free standard that leverages proven Internet protocols to transform data from manufacturing equipment into a standardized format. Essentially, it bridges the data harvested from machines to an application that then translates that data into actionable information regarding the machine’s status and performance.
The MTConnect standard describes three components: an adapter, an agent and an application. The adapter collects machine data and sends it to the agent. The agent follows a prescribed XML schema that normalizes and organizes the data in a standard format, regardless of what type of machine it is monitoring. The agent buffers the data and serves it to the application when requested. The application stores the data in a database and, using graphs or charts, the machine’s performance is then displayed in easy-to-interpret formats for all operational roles within the organization.
MTConnect cannot stand alone, however; it operates within a device that is ideally open and able to support its protocols without reprogramming. Since the advent of the Wago-I/O-System in the 1990s—the first decentralized automation control device—the goal has been to create modules and programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that work for end users in whatever way they needed. Flexibility and accommodation are two foundational aspects to this system. These attributes make Wago PLCs an inherent fit for languages like MTConnect. Wago’s PFC Series, embedded with the MTConnect agent, is known as the Wago DigitalTAP—a device designed to not only tap into legacy machines but also augment modern machines with additional sensors to extract data with no programming necessary.
While the DigitalTAP is the boots on the ground, 5ME’s Freedom software can be seen as the center of intelligence—where the data is collected, stored and observed. 5ME is a company dedicated to increasing efficiency in manufacturers’ processes. As we’ve entered the digital age, they’ve understood the need for IoT solutions for both legacy and modern machines, as well as the demand for software that can track the performance of any machine and present the information in a meaningful way. In response, Freedom IoT software was developed. The goal was to create software that is “machine-agnostic and could analyze data in a way that it could be used to take action to improve efficiency,” said John Singer, marketing and channel sales manager of Freedom software. The software has the capability to take an aggregate view of the data collected from multiple locations and display plant-to-plant comparisons.
When 5ME first understood the solution to many machine operators’ problems, there was nothing on the market to connect to legacy machines or to deploy additional sensors to modern machines, “so we created our own—the Freedom Digital Interface,” said Jeff Price, executive vice president of 5ME. “But, long story short, Wago came along and did the same thing, only better. They created a pre-assembled interface at a better price point that was configured and ready to go. It cut down on our lead times and, on top of that, it had the MTConnect agent on board.”
The complete solution
The combination of Wago hardware with MTConnect and Freedom IoT software is an all-in-one solution for manufacturers looking to digitize their plant. The partnership is also advantageous. “Typically, the hardware will go inside an existing cabinet where the real estate is very tight,” Singer explained. “The footprint of the Wago hardware is probably about half or less, maybe even a third of the original solution.”
Additionally, since all of the components involved are flexible and independent, they free up tons of programming time and save headaches during the implementation stage. Currently, the DigitalTAP and Freedom IoT software have prototypes in a major construction machinery and equipment company, as well as a major aerospace company.
With this complete solution, “Industrial IoT is not a science experiment anymore,” Price said. “With this technology, the barrier to entry has been eliminated. Companies can get started quickly today with a manufacturing IoT strategy and gain insights they didn’t have before.”
For more information, visit Wago at www.wago.us.