OEM Hacks for Mitigating Labor Shortages, Lowering Costs, and Accelerating Time to Market

March 28, 2023
It's common knowledge that lifecycle management for machines can save time, effort, and resources. It can also increase reliability, decrease unplanned downtime, and extend the life of machines.

Today, it's not enough to have high-quality automation components. Advanced engineering software is now an essential ingredient for remaining competitive. When selecting engineering software, look for these essential attributes.

• A single programming environment for every phase of development—from design, to programming, debugging, and maintenance;

• Advanced diagnostics for quickly identifying, communicating, and resolving issues even before team members arrive at the machine; and

• Advanced simulators that not only let you simulate the PLC logic, but also the HMI and 3D digital twins.

Design stage

This stage is all about reducing time-to-market. For the design stage, look for these time-savers:

• Intuitive drag & drop functionality makes configuration and programming much easier;

• Custom function blocks & libraries make it easy to standardize and reuse code across different machines;

• Advanced simulation makes it possible to program while the mechanical system is in design; and

• Modern HMI makes it possible to create advanced screens that intuitively communicate changes in status, which expedites testing.

Startup stage

Startup is all about reducing time-to-commission. A key way to reduce commissioning time is to create easy access to the data needed to fine tune your machine to the needs of the application. Web pages and other user interface tools give you access to the information needed to make adjustments. They can also tell you how those adjustments have affected your process.

For the startup stage, look for:

• System recorder module that simplifies troubleshooting by capturing and recording all program state changes based on a trigger;

• HMI VFD/servo templates, so operators have access to key VFD (variable frequency drive) and servo data for quicker install and troubleshooting;

• PLC and HMI web server visualization, so you can accelerate troubleshooting with pre-built system webpages;

• Custom web pages and interfaces that enable more efficient staff training by allowing staff to dial in a machine's unique needs at a unique site; and

• Support for multiple languages, so startup tools can be used around the world.

Operate stage

During the operate stage, reducing downtime is key. All machines will go down at some point. Your software should have advanced diagnostic tools that help you quickly identify, communicate, and offer resolutions to team members before they even arrive at the machine. All of this is now possible and will only get better in the years to come.

One important capability at the operate stage are event recorder modules. These modules record and sync up the program state changes (electrical) and a camera (mechanical) for a set amount of time before and after an event takes place. This will give you a full digital and electrical record of what took place before and after an event and is key in identifying root causes for even the most elusive errors.

Other key capabilities to look for include:

• Predictive maintenance for monitoring critical sensor data and providing feedback when anomalies occur. Look for techniques such as high/low process control and guard band as well as advanced capabilities like MT or MLR. You should also be able to visualize feedback on the HMIs or the software should be able to send alarms via text or email via an IoT gateway.

• HMI backup and restore so that when lightning strikes, you can quickly download your VFD parameters from the HMI.

• Enterprise system integration for issuing service tickets and informing maintenance staff the way they want to be informed.

• HMI mobile and reporting capabilities for remote/offsite monitoring via tablet or PC and reporting events or operational anomalies.

Optimize stage

The final stage is all about having actionable data to drive intelligent business decisions. For the optimize stage, look for:

• Advanced data collection, which requires high-bandwidth connectivity for sharing vast amounts of data;

• Advanced data reporting that can produce the reports in real-time, so you have them when you need them;

• Advanced data analysis enabled by artificial intelligence; and

• Advanced process optimization for communicating data analysis back to the components to enable continuous improvement cycles.

Trouble-free engineering is possible with component-level lifecycle management. It can improve every phase of development and help you deliver high-quality, low-maintenance machines at scale. It can also help you mitigate risk in the technology lifecycle, extend your machine's period of profitability, lower service costs with predictive maintenance, and increase customer loyalty.

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