The Ecosystem of Factory Automation

Feb. 1, 2016
The e-F@ctory Alliance combines automation hardware and connectivity tools with best-in-class ancillary offerings to help asset owners maximize performance and reduce cost of ownership.

We live in a collaborative world. Tens of thousands of programmers combine efforts in open-source initiatives such as Linux. Crowdfunding enables ordinary people to convert prototypes to market-ready products. Scientists leverage big data techniques to share resources and tackle the biggest computational challenges of our time.

When Mitsubishi Electric wanted to deliver more options to customers improving manufacturing, it launched a collaborative effort of its own—the e-F@ctory Alliance.

Factory visibility allows companies to optimize operations by monitoring equipment across the entire organization. This level of transparency provides insights that can be used to identify failing components before they cause downtime, improve product quality and boost productivity. The framework starts with smart components capable of delivering or acquiring condition and operational data. Those components are networked together so that they can exchange data with the management layer. Next, that data is converted into actionable information using visualization and analysis software tools. When this happens in real time, it creates the opportunity to optimize resource use and identify and address problems as soon as they arise.

It’s a straightforward concept but it can get complicated in a hurry, especially for global manufacturing organizations. Mitsubishi Electric is one of those organizations. The difference is that as both developer and user of automation, the company is uniquely positioned to address the challenge. It started by developing a holistic approach to manufacturing called e-F@ctory. The e-F@ctory concept describes an architecture for achieving factory visibility, optimizing performance and reducing cost of ownership. To make this concept a reality, Mitsubishi Electric created highly functional building blocks such as intelligent PLCs, connectivity devices, data appliances and analytic software. Finally, to provide additional options, it established the e-F@ctory Alliance. The result is a transparent framework of interoperable devices designed to be highly functional, cost efficient and easy to implement.

It Takes an Ecosystem

The number of industrial applications is virtually unlimited and each requires slightly different ancillary solutions. Customers who leverage Mitsubishi Electric offerings to put together a transparent factory might still find themselves bogged down integrating complementary technologies like machine vision and wireless sensors. With the e-F@ctory Alliance, they no longer have to spend time and money on hardware interfaces and custom programming. The hard work has been done for them.

Made up of market leaders with best-in-class technology, the e-F@ctory Alliance is a rich, vibrant ecosystem that delivers tools pre-certified to work with Mitsubishi Electric products. Customers can leverage these offerings to optimize their operations without incurring delays or additional engineering costs. The e-F@ctory Alliance approval ensures compatibility, streamlines implementation and pulls risk out of the equation.

Products from Alliance partners run the gamut from design and connectivity software to hardware like sensors and cabling. In some cases, the Alliance products include preinstalled data on Mitsubishi Electric products. In others, the Mitsubishi Electric design teams have written code to work with the partner components. Integrated systems have been pretested and where applicable, prewritten software routines are available for download.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Engineering: The electrical design program from ePLAN includes mechanical and electrical specifications for more than 3000 Mitsubishi products. OEMs building their electrical cabinets can drag in the components and the program not only displays the electrical connections but checks voltages, etc. When they finalize the configuration, they can generate a bill of materials with the press of a button the press of a button, the program generates a bill of materials. Similarly, the software available online from Tolomatic allows users to enter a Mitsubishi Electric motor ID and view a list of compatible actuators.

HMI connectivity: Mitsubishi’s GOT2000 HMI offers remote viewing and operation over the web. It’s a useful option for managers, who may want to monitor operations while off-site. Maintenance staff, OEMs and system integrators require more sophisticated functionality. Thats why Alliance partner eWON provides a cloud-based connectivity solution that enables engineering staff to troubleshoot a machine machine and even program the hardware from a remote device. For more security-sensitive applications, Secomea offers a connectivity solution that links users to their equipment through hardware located at the client and a Secomea facility. It gives users the ability to get peak performance from their equipment while remaining safe from unauthorized incursion.

Hardware: Sensor manufacturer Balluff produces devices that do the essential job of gathering information from plant-floor devices to support factory visibility. The Mitsubishi Electric engineering team is currently developing function blocks for their proprietary devices designed to enhance data collection and transfer.

These are just a few examples. The e-F@ctory Alliance enables Mitsubishi Electric to offer customers an ever growing selection of products while it focuses its efforts on crafting best-in-class automation hardware and software. The result is a collection of proven product and technology solutions that are easier to implement and use than ever before. "With the e-F@ctory Alliance Program, we're helping our customers increase productivity to gain an edge in their fiercely competitive markets," says Robert Miller, senior manager, strategic collaborations and partnerships, Mitsubishi Electric. "We see the e-F@ctory Alliance Program as a win-win for both our customers and the Alliance vendors."

Put your organization on the road to more efficient, profitable future. Discover how easy factory visibility can be, courtesy of e-F@ctory and the e-F@ctory Alliance.

Meet the Tools: In-Sight machine vision system

A joint development of Mitsubishi Electric and vision-systems specialist Cognex, the In-Sight machine vision system features integrated networking capabilities to speed implementation. The unit has been preconfigured for the capability to connect directly with Mitsubishi Electric controllers /HMIs over CC-Link or Ethernet. To simplify integration, for example, software library for the the System Q PLC includes function blocks customized for the Cognex system, eliminating the need for special programming. Meanwhile, the GOT2000 HMI can present images captured by the camera and display the Cognex settings menus for editing. The entire offering is designed to minimize cost, size and engineering effort, allowing end-users to get their system up and running quickly.

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