“A number of manufacturers told us their goal was to reduce the cost of manufacturing by 100 percent,” says Aga Zupancic, senior product marketing engineer at Mitsubishi Electric. “To do that, they need to be able to react quickly and solve problems in real time. Smart machines connected to the IoT are now seen as a viable solution to meeting that challenge.” The ability to access large amounts of data, identify problems with machines or production systems in real time, and detect historical patterns in performance are beginning to transform the business models of individual companies and entire industries for both machine builders and manufacturers.
The ability to acquire large amounts of data about manufacturing processes, machine performance or consumption of materials is making this transformation possible, according to Zupancic. “Equipment makers used to sell machines; now they’re selling output. Engine makers GE and Rolls Royce, for example, are charging customers per flying hour, while food and beverage manufacturers pay Tetra Pack, a maker of aseptic packaging machines, for the packaging materials they consume, whether it’s bottles, boxes, cartons or bags. Air fractionation OEMs, such as Air Liquide and Praxair, are also reimbursed based on consumption.”
As OEMs move from a “sell and forget” transactional business model to one requiring a closer, long-term engagement where priorities are shared, expectations for machine performance are changing. Machine builders are essentially becoming an extension of their customers’ staffs, taking on more of the responsibility for maintaining uptime and keeping machines and production lines operating at maximum efficiency.
“OEMs want to build smarter machines because maintenance is a critical issue for their customers,” she says. “The ability to keep on eye on machine operations from a remote location, which enables faster and better troubleshooting, as well as to report on such issues as downtime, machine performance, how equipment is used and the root causes of problems, are all becoming an OEM responsibility.”
Having more information on how machines are operated may also protect machine builders from the “run it until it breaks” mindset typical of too many manufacturers. “When maintenance is not done to schedule or machines are run for long times at the wrong speeds, then components wear out or break faster, shortening life cycles and leading to unscheduled downtime,” she says.
“If an OEM can evaluate production information and proactively show customers better ways to operate and maintain the equipment, it creates an opportunity for lasting changes in behaviors,” adds Zupancic. “This kind of information can even be used to help customers improve their use of labor, materials and timing, making it possible to increase the volume of production from existing assets.”
Providing the hardware and software that creates visibility on demand is a priority for automation suppliers like Mitsubishi Electric. “Our cloud-based subscription service is a low-cost solution for streaming information about what’s happening on the factory floor,” she explains.
Products like Mitsubishi’s IoT Gateway sends machine data to the cloud or an on-premise server for visualization and reporting. It can also transfer data securely to remote locations, working over standard Ethernet, Wi-Fi and cellular 3G and 4G networks.
Packaged with a wide range of driver options that make it compatible with other suppliers’ products, the IoT gateway employs drag-and-drop configuration and can monitor the status of each asset, providing alarms, key properties, API usage, event logs and geographic location. Custom applications can also be created to connect to Mitsubishi’s web-based IoT Portal or help OEMs manage hundreds of customers using customized dashboards.