The smart industrial facility is upon us. We’re already accustomed to having information about nearly anything at our fingertips. Industry 4.0 looks to extend that immediacy and extract vital information from your sensors, equipment and plant floor.
You might say, “Well yeah, we’ve been doing that for years.” To some extent, that’s true; we’ve been able to organize and promote information from machines for years, bridging the gap between plant floor operators and upper management. But Industry 4.0 goes beyond just gathering information about processes happening at the plant level. Rather than being reactive, Industry 4.0 focuses more on being proactive.
Think of it as intelligent equipment or leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Imagine every sensor and piece of equipment connected either wirelessly or hardwired through a gateway directly to your (secure and controlled) network accessible from your computer, tablet or smartphone. Industry 4.0 is designed around constant connection to information—sensors, drives, valves, all working together with a single common goal: minimizing downtime and increasing efficiency. Individual pieces of equipment can directly report their health or degradation, ensuring timely replacements. This philosophy goes far beyond tracking the hours meter on a machine with a regular preventive maintenance schedule.
Every company is starting to incorporate smart technology into its devices, and that’s a good thing for us in manufacturing. With the expanding Ethernet-capable sensors and equipment, we need to start thinking about our plant infrastructure. In the past, machines only sent small packets of data to a manufacturing execution system (MES) or supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) platform. Today, we are sending exponentially more information over that same back-end network.
Is your industrial Ethernet network prepared to handle several times the bandwidth previously asked of it? In many cases, after you evaluate just how much additional burden Industry 4.0 places on your network, you’ll find the answer is no. Industry 4.0 forces us to start thinking in more detail about the vision and back end required to perform the heavy lifting of future machinery and equipment.
Luckily for us, many industrial automation suppliers are on the forefront of this revolution. You can take advantage of tools to help calculate the bandwidth requirements your upgrades might incur on your existing network, and paths to help your company manage that load. So before that next major upgrade, don’t just ask, “Do I have enough floor space to fit this equipment?” Although that’s still obviously important for its own reasons, also add to your thought process: “Will my industrial network start bottlenecking when I add this new equipment or retrofit?”
Make sure to speak with your OEM or integrator about what those impacts might be and how you can implement a proper industrial network—one that will last you long into the next industrial revolution.
Bruce Slusser is principal engineer at Avanceon, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Avanceon, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.