Speed Implementation to Get To Value Faster

May 9, 2016
With the right strategy, connectivity, and development approach, you can be reaping the benefits of factory visualization faster than you’d ever imagine.

You've read about factory visibility¾tracking key performance indicators to manage energy consumption, catch faults before they happen, propagate best practices throughout your operation, and more. You’re sold on the value and are ready to get started. The question is how best to do it. In the early days of enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, more than a few companies spent enormous sums of money on applications and hardware, only to find themselves still struggling to get it to run six months or even a year later. Bad enough to have those issues when items in question involve transaction processing and business analytics. When it comes to the assets that produce the goods and services around which your company is built, you can’t afford to wait six months for value. Fortunately, there are tools and techniques that will streamline the process so that your team can concentrate on what you’re good at and not on being dedicated software developers.

The first step is to identify a problem you want to solve. “Convert our manufacturing operation into an intelligent factory” does not count. It’s a worthy goal but the most efficient way to reach it is to take a single project from concept to finish. Look for a pain point – do you want to reduce downtime by 20%? Compare the throughput of your manufacturing lines on a shift-by-shift basis? Now you know what equipment you need to monitor and what analytic and visualization tools you’ll require.

Next up, you need data. The system should be capable of harvesting data from various sources, including external databases and data loggers. These days, nearly all PLCs and selected other components like HMIs have data-logging capabilities. That said, if you have extensive data-capture needs, you may be better off choosing a dedicated data acquisition system that can connect to dozens of components and operate at higher speeds. In all cases, keep in mind that you need some sort of local buffer so that you don’t lose data in the event of communications failure.

Fast Connections

Once you have the data, you need to deliver it to your analytic and visualization software. In the context of the intelligent factory, we will focus on two different systems: supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) applications and manufacturing execution systems (MES). SCADA systems focus on the granular level, providing analytic and visualization tools for manufacturing and process equipment, as well as facilities infrastructure. They process the data and represent it in some graphical format, perhaps to show alarms on the production equipment or the fluid levels in tanks. MES applications operate at an enterprise level, facilitating tasks like production scheduling, maintenance, quality assurance, and inventory management. Although SCADA applications can, and do, support these departments with data and visualization tools, MES applications tend to be more broadly integrated in nature.

SCADA systems typically use data from PLCs, although they can also leverage input from sensors or even dedicated data loggers. They’re helpful at a machine level but they really shine when they consolidate and visualize information across the factory floor, the plant, and even the global organization. A gateway PC provides the interface point between the SCADA system and the manufacturing assets. Although a variety of communications protocols exist, by far the most efficient choice is the Open Platform Communications (OPC). The use of the standard simplifies implementation and reduces the time required to get the system up and running. Because it is vendor agnostic, it also results in a more robust product and one interoperable with products from a variety of vendors.

OPC servers do a good job of supporting SCADA, but they were never built to send data to the enterprise level. When it comes to communicating with the MES, there is a faster and easier way to go – a purpose-built interface appliance. Interface appliances are designed specifically to transfer data from automated assets on the production floor to MES applications. They perform preliminary processing, a task known as edge processing, before transferring it to a database for use by the MES. Unlike gateway PCs, they require no custom programming. They’re essentially transparent to the user – manufacturing configures their side of the appliance and the IT department configures theirs. Hardware and software changes on either side of the appliance can be addressed with the click of a mouse rather than writing new code.

Putting data to work

All of this is just a prelude to the real function of the visible factory, which is to support rapid decision-making by presenting role-specific information to stakeholders up and down the food chain. Floor personnel might need to see metrics for line speed, throughput, and reject ratio. Maintenance will benefit from quick access to fault information, downtime trends, and spares inventory. Of course, you can’t begin accruing benefits until your system is deployed. Modern visualization software suites provide developers with the tools and templates to rapidly create rich, immersive 3-D renderings of assets and data. They can stop building applications and start using them.

It starts with structure. Asset-management tools based on standard reference models like ISA-S95 simplify building the structure of the operation within the virtual environment. 3-D graphics packages offer libraries of industrial templates, minimizing the need to build from scratch. Other enhancements include tools for adding satellite mapping, and analytic modules for generating trends data, Tools for rendering assets in 3-D gain functionality when they’re coupled with geographic information. Tie in quantitative SCADA results, and you can develop highly customizable displays that let the user navigate to choose the information that best suits their needs.

Creating a visible factory doesn’t have to be difficult or time-consuming. An array of tools exist to streamline the process. Leverage the experience and efforts of those who have blazed the trail. Stop developing and start benefiting today.

Further Reading



Previous issues of Creating Productivity

Making the Factory of the Future, Today

Cutting Total Cost of Ownership

Meet the Tools: MC Works64

MC Works64 is a suite of factory visualization tools designed to make it easy and quick to convert data into insights. It encompasses eight modules that cover all steps of the process, from harvesting data to creating 3-D renderings. It delivers detailed information in a highly consumable format that can be easily customized.

  • Workbench is the centralized management tool and development environment for MC Works 64. It can be used to build applications, configure settings, manage development projects, etc. Workbench provides an easy interface to MC Works64 tools like:
  • AssetWorks, an asset management tool for presenting, navigating, and configuring a wide range of equipment, from manufacturing cells to chillers and pumps, to building infrastructure. Built around the ISA-S95 reference model for manufacturing architecture and communications, AssetWorks streamlines the process of implementing MC Works64 in your operation.
  • GridWorks64, which gives the MC Works64 product suite access to external and/or legacy databases across the enterprise. Functionality includes not just writing inquiries but managing the data and databases themselves.
  • GraphWorks64, a vector-based graphics tool that can be use to build 3-D renderings of facilities and assets. Graphic objects produced with the program can be integrated with data and tables prepared by other modules in the software suite. The approach enables users to begin with a visual understanding of the system and easily access performance numbers to better address production issues.
  • EarthWorks64, which adds a geographic context to data presentation courtesy of GEO SCADA with Esri. It interfaces with AlarmWorks64 and services like Google Maps to pinpoint the location of asset performance issues or alarm conditions within seconds. SmartPin technology enables it to mark each location with a colored pin (red, yellow, green) that corresponds to the status of the asset.
  • TrendWorks64, a reporting and analysis solution that taps relational databases to present real-time and historical trends. It simplifies the process of importing data and offers full configuration capabilities. The data can be imported into other MC Works64 modules like GraphWorks64 to add richness to basic displays.
  • AlarmWorks64, an enterprise-wide distributed alarm management system. It doesn’t just display a status, it presents user-configured charts that supply full details on the assets being monitored. It can present data in a desktop or web-based environment.
  • MC AppBuilder, and engineering tools that brings it all together by managing tags and settings to eliminate conflicts and generating automatic code to speed the process of putting it all together.

Meet the tools: MES Interface IT

Mitsubishi Electric’s MES Interface IT connects production equipment directly to enterprise computing systems without the need for a gateway PC or any custom programming. The appliance delivers secure bidirectional communication and is compatible with IBM DB2, Oracle and MS SQL Server databases. Preconfigured for a variety of business intelligence and ERP systems such as SAP, Oracle MOC, IBM, and IFS Applications, as well as the Linux, UNIX and Windows operating systems, it allows users to connect in a matter of minutes. Best of all, it is designed to be compatible with hardware from a variety of major automation vendors, giving integrators and end users the freedom to work with the equipment they have and not a new suite of components that a vendor wants to sell them.

Purpose built for manufacturing environments, the platform is designed around event-driven communications. It supports a variety of communications protocols such as TCP/IP, SMTP, FTP and others, allowing it to send notifications via message, email, file or SQL query when triggered.

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