Outfitting Legacy Devices With a Digital Tap

Aug. 22, 2017
Being able to collect data from the legacy manufacturing devices, analyze it and increase efficiency is a sure-fire way to optimize processes, make products more affordable for customers, and ultimately see a difference in the bottom line.

Though new machines are engineered to share information, machines manufactured even just a few years ago operate as self-contained entities. In other words, though the majority of machines on your plant floor are fitted with sensors measuring temperature, levels and cycle times, they were not designed to propagate this valuable data. So how can manufacturers collect data from the different types of machines they have on their plant floor and transform it into information that enables them to visualize and optimize their operations in a way that’s both cost-effective and practical?

There are a few traditional ways to approach this problem, but they tend to be engineering-intensive. For example, if a machine already has a modern controller onboard, the program can be modified so that the important data is sent over a network. This sounds straightforward, but for many applications it can be daunting. First, a person with programming expertise for the controller used must be hired to update the program. If the program’s documentation is lacking, then the programmer might have to reengineer the code in order to copy the desired data into memory that the supervisory system can access. This process can be time-consuming and expensive.

Another approach is to fit each machine with a custom application that can monitor the specific machine. If you have multiple machines on your plant floor, or machines from different vendors, you might need to have a custom application for each one. This can be very labor-intensive to develop. Then, the supervisory system needs to be programmed to extract the data from the machine’s custom application. Each application needs to be individually maintained and archived. Sound cumbersome and tedious? That’s because it is. What if there were a way to collect and process data from different machine types using a universally standardized language?

There is such a way and it’s called MTConnect—an open-source, royalty-free standard that leverages proven Internet protocols to transform data from manufacturing equipment into a standardized format. Essentially, it bridges the data harvested from machines to an application that then translates that data into legible metrics with which a machine’s status and activity can be tracked and monitored remotely.

The MTConnect standard describes three components: an adapter, an agent and an application. The adapter collects machine data, normalizes it and transfers it to the agent. The agent follows a prescribed XML schema that organizes the data in a standard format no matter what type of machine it is monitoring. The agent buffers the data and serves it to the application when requested. The application stores the data in a database and can display it in a way humans can understand. Using graphs or charts, the machines’ performances are displayed in easy-to-interpret formats for engineers and manufacturers.

A digital tap
Let’s clarify this with a metaphor. Imagine the machines on your plant floor are maple trees and the sap from the trees is their operating data. Looking at your plant floor forest can be overwhelming, but when using MTConnect technology, it’s easy. The MTConnect adapter and agent can be thought of as the spile, the metal tube that taps into the interior of the tree to extract the sap. The application is a combination of the sap collection bucket and the evaporator that boils down the sap to make the syrup.

MTConnect can be seen as a universal digital tap that can be easily integrated into your existing machines without disturbing your production process. It provides a standard platform that taps into this information, collects it and then allows for a connection to analytics software. This would look something like inserting the MTConnect tap into the tree, connecting to the data bucket in the application, then connecting to an HTML webpage and simply viewing the efficiency of the tree and how it performs with the other trees in the forest. The concept is really as simple as that. Manufacturers with complex machines and processes can now effortlessly digitize their plant floor.

Now that the ease of installing and integrating the MTConnect standard is understood, one might be asking what the real benefits are. The direction manufacturing and industrial companies are taking is following the trend of technology around digitization. It’s becoming increasingly fundamental to have the ability to monitor, adjust and control every aspect of your plant in real time. Monitoring machines can reveal a host of problems or raise red flags before costly errors occur. It can benefit scheduling and logistics by having concrete numbers on cycle times. Essentially, MTConnect enables operators to visualize the workflow of the plant and optimize it, ultimately cutting costs down the road—a benefit anyone can stand behind.

The transition
Many machines are not equipped to connect directly to the MTConnect adapter and agent. However, the Wago-I/O-System has developed the Digital Tap to aid in making a smooth transition to a digitized plant floor. The Digital Tap comes complete with an industrial PFC100 input system integrated with the MTConnect adapter and agent. There is no programming involved. Simply tap into your machines’ data, such as stack lights, power usage and motor speeds, and configure these inputs via your web browser to begin real-time analysis. Along with this, you’ll need reliable software that is able to convert the data into easy-to-interpret charts and graphs—an application like Forcam Force, for example.

MTConnect provides hard machine data that enables manufacturers to monitor and track overall efficiency of the plant floor. Implementing this tool is the next logical step in optimizing your processes. The transition is seamless with the support of innovative and reliable companies aiming to help you tap into the future.

For more information, visit Wago at www.wago.us.

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