Information Flow and the Future of Manufacturing

Industry 4.0’s success depends on information being able to flow seamlessly around a manufacturing process and beyond.

Whether the discussion is around the Industrial Internet of Things, Big Data or Digital Manufacturing, all of these topics have a place in the Industry 4.0 initiative that is being supported by the German government as well as by industry suppliers and manufacturers around the globe. In general terms, Industry 4.0 is seen as the next big change in manufacturing—where cyber-physical systems and the Industrial Internet of Things will provide significant benefits to increase the capabilities, efficiency and flexibility of manufacturing systems.

However you look at this trend, one thing is clear: Industry 4.0’s success depends on information being able to flow seamlessly around a manufacturing process and beyond. For systems to offer optimum performance, however, this information flow must be unimpeded and in real time. Therefore, the industrial network pipes that carry this flow must be big enough to meet this requirement. In technical terms, the flow is bandwidth. And while there are many different industrial Ethernet technologies to choose from, CC-Link IE offers the widest bandwidth.

CC-Link IE (Industrial Ethernet) was first introduced in 2007 and has since developed into the fastest growing industrial Ethernet technology available. The original drivers for its development were leading Asian industries such as automotive and flat-panel display manufacturers. These companies had ever-increasing needs to track large amounts of data in real time.

For example, typical automotive production lines have multiple models being built at the same time on the same line with multiple variations in options. Keeping track of what parts go on what body for a whole production shift quickly becomes an extremely data-intensive task with thousands of parts all needing to be available, correctly selected and installed in real time.

The one feature of CC-Link IE that sets it apart from other networks is its gigabit performance—a clear advantage for end users. For industry suppliers, CC-Link IE also offers a clear opportunity for device makers via a wide choice of options. CC-Link IE-enabled products are available from vendors such as Mitsubishi Electric, HMS and Renesas. FPGA-based devices leveraging CC-Link IE are available from Altera/Altima, as well as a system-on-chip solution from Tokyo Electron Device/Xilinx.

Supporting CC-Link deployment and technical development is the CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), an international organization with more than 2,200 member companies. With CLPA’s support, more than 1,400 CC-Link certified products are now available from 290 manufacturers.

“In the past, we often got questions about why CLPA was offering a gigabit technology that seemed so far ahead of what else was on the market,” says Robert Miller, director of CLPA-Americas. “You could say that what is happening in manufacturing today is mirroring what happened with our home broadband connections five to 10 years ago. At that time, megabit speeds seemed futuristic, but they are now commonplace and, as a result, a whole set of new services such as streaming movies has arrived to exploit this capacity. In a similar way, Industry 4.0 will add new capabilities to manufacturing that maybe haven’t even been thought of yet.”

The CLPA’s main initiative for the Americas is the Gateway to Asia (G2A) program, which helps American businesses develop and expand their Asian business. More details are at G2A.CCLinkAmerica.org.

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