Revitalizing U.S. Manufacturing With Industry 4.0

Successfully leveraging the huge promise of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things will allow companies to transform their business models to accommodate shifting customer demands.

Jonney Chang, Associate vice president, Advantech iAutomation System & Solution Group
Jonney Chang, Associate vice president, Advantech iAutomation System & Solution Group

In the U.S. today, every dollar earned in manufacturing contributes $1.37 to the macroeconomy; and for every job in manufacturing, about three jobs are created in other fields. Therefore, efforts to reinvent U.S. manufacturing by leveraging the latest technologies to establish intelligent factories will have a substantial impact on the nation’s long-term economic growth.

The growing use of interconnected intelligent machines to support activities along the entire value chain, as well as the adoption of Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), is creating a fully digital manufacturing landscape. In this smart manufacturing landscape, customers are increasingly demanding customized, flexible automation equipment that enables them to use the same set of production equipment to produce multiple products. Moreover, with the application of digital systems and advanced manufacturing technologies, such as data acquisition, automation, adaptive processes and cloud computing, production can be moved closer to the markets that originate the demand using smart manufacturing. Automation allows smaller companies to grow, be profitable and employ more people.

Until recently, however, it was difficult for separate pieces of industrial automation equipment to communicate with each other. IMS Research estimates that 85 percent of legacy devices lack this ability because of incompatibility between manufacturers. The lack of compatible standards and programming languages means that integrating data is a costly and time-consuming challenge.

Although device programming still lacks standardization, technological advances are enabling manufacturers like Advantech to develop integrated hardware and software solutions that facilitate communication between devices. Advantech’s UNO series of industrial computers are renowned for their high performance, rich I/O and flexible expandability. Featuring hot swappable SSD/HDD bays with RAID 0/1 support, and equipped with motion and frame grabber expansion cards, these devices are ideal for factory and machine automation.

Manufacturing needs durable, strong infrastructure to thrive. The implementation of IoT solutions involves placing sensors on equipment, leveraging software to collect data, and using data insights and analytics to optimize the entire manufacturing process. Because most existing manufacturing assets will need to be retrofitted with intelligent sensors and programmable logic controllers, some companies, particularly small to medium-sized businesses, find that the high upfront costs of retrofitting pose a significant barrier.

Fortunately, most products currently available offer smart connectivity (i.e., remote access and control from a wide range of Internet-based devices) and can be easily monitored from web-enabled SCADA management software using Ethernet or wireless networks. Such products also often do not require the use of a gateway. Advantech’s WebAccess/HMI platform featuring HMI Runtime software is an example of such a product with its remote display technology that facilitates remote monitoring and control.

The challenge for manufacturers now is how to use these kinds of products to monitor legacy equipment.

This is where solution-ready platforms (SRPs) play an important role. Advantech’s iFactory SRPs are quick-start tools that enable a stepwise approach to achieve Industry 4.0. They offer a modular way of adding flexible functionality to a range of devices through the addition of Advantech’s iDoor modules.

Currently available iDoor solutions include modules that support fieldbus protocols, such as Profibus, Profinet, EtherCAT and Powerlink; memory expansion and storage with backup RAM, CFast/compact flash and SD/mSD; digital and analog I/O such as multi-functional I/O, analog I/O, digital I/O and counters; smart sensors such as smart meters, pressure sensors, temperature sensors and light sensors; and communication technologies such as GPS, 3G, LTE, Wi-Fi, GPS, GPRS, ZigBee, RFID, Bluetooth and LTE. These modules eliminate the need to purchase additional devices to serve as a gateway between UNO and legacy equipment.

By standardizing networking methods and allowing devices to use established industrial networking technologies to communicate via Ethernet, new and existing devices can be connected to the same network and communicate with manufacturing execution systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems. Once data from devices and machines are filtered and converted into a standard protocol, they can be transferred to servers over the Internet to facilitate remote monitoring and control of all machines and systems on factory production lines.

Leveraging the full potential of Big Data
Despite widespread adoption of digital systems and data acquisition devices, most industries have not even come close to realizing the full potential of data and analytics. Companies that do collect process data typically only use it for tracking, conducting minimal data analytics without fully appreciating how to transform data into actionable insights.

For these companies, the challenge will be to adopt a long-term perspective and invest in the systems and technology that will enable them to not only collect data, but analyze it thoroughly to glean actionable insights.

Regardless of how Donald Trump’s presidency unfolds, the future of U.S. manufacturing is being redefined. Industry expectations of a more business-friendly environment with looser regulations have already encouraged growth, with many manufacturers establishing initiatives to upgrade their infrastructure.

Once old and new devices are connected and communicating with each other, the next step in creating a successful future with IIoT is collaboration. To gain an advantage, technology companies should establish partnerships aimed at advancing a particular field or building end-to-end customer solutions that harness the best of their assets and capabilities. The resulting emergence of ecosystems and platforms will deliver a whole new level of value and business opportunities.

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