We’ve been talking quite a bit here lately—both among ourselves and on the pages of Automation World—about what kind of role system integrators should be taking on in industry. Manufacturers are struggling with increasingly complex systems that are more than their in-house experts are prepared to take on, and they’re desperate for help—especially from those companies that have a breadth of experience across several industries.
RedViking is one integrator that’s working to make the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the link from plant floor to enterprise easier for manufacturers to achieve, regardless of their size. At this year’s International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, the integrator launched Argonaut, a different kind of manufacturing execution system (MES) that makes it easier for its customers to manage and scale.
Although RedViking has been implementing MES with its integration services for more than 25 years, manufacturers needed something different. MES tends to have a lot of cats to herd—information about processes, product quality, IT solutions and more—and customers wanted something easier to manage, noted Greg Giles, director of MES and error proofing systems for RedViking. In many cases, manufacturers might want just a track-and-trace system, but are stuck buying a big box solution that’s more expensive and more difficult to manage, he added.
RedViking was hearing from its customers that they wanted to get rid of line-side PCs, which always had to be locked down and updated. They wanted it to be easier to take best practices and scale them up, and they didn’t want to be tied into elite programmers. They wanted to be able to control everything from one location, with remote update capabilities.
Some customers were avoiding MES altogether, whether they couldn’t afford it or they just didn’t want to set up an entire MES structure for one app. “Even in this connected age, the number of customers we talk to who have to go out to the factory floor to make a change is staggering,” Giles said, commenting also on customers traveling halfway around the world to deploy a simple solution.
Argonaut is an easier, less expensive way to deploy manufacturing software, Giles said. It has a simplified hardware and communications structure, and has an IIoT-based infrastructure. “We support the infrastructure, so when our customers are ready to go to IoT, Argonaut’s ready to go with them,” Giles said.
What RedViking is calling a manufacturing performance platform has several benefits over traditional MES:
- Manageable: Updates and troubleshooting can be done from a remote location; and IT support can also be provided from a centralized, remote location.
- Flexible: Web-based apps enable a broad base of development talent and fast deployment.
- Affordable: Rather than heavy upfront licensing fees and add-ons, Argonaut is subscription-based software with a cloud server option. A minimal hardware investment can be purchased or leased.
- Configurable and scalable: Apps are easily configurable via a web interface, with no need for custom scripting. The platform is easy to replicate across operations, and can be deployed in the cloud or on-premise server. “Once they deploy it one time, they can simply replicate it to multiple lines and multiple plants,” Giles said. “As needs rise, you can easily add more servers that we manage for you in the cloud.”
Argonaut is a fully configurable, end-to-end solution that includes cloud or on-premise servers, a software platform, edge-of-network IIoT devices, manufacturing apps, and third-party software hosting without a PC. Version 1.0 apps include an OEE/factory information system; track and trace; pack out to identify, verify and track completed groups of components; error/mistake proofing; IIoT gateway to securely broadcast PLC data to subscribers; HMI bridge for third-party manufacturing app deployment; part kitting and sequencing; automated work instructions for each operation; and media casting to deliver websites, videos and images to remote locations.
Because companies can buy just the digital manufacturing apps they need rather than a one-size-fits-all bundle, Argonaut is suited to producers that need just one app, for example. RedViking is looking to Argonaut to fill MES needs for a wide variety of customers—whether new manufacturers that don’t yet have an MES structure or manufacturers that just haven’t been able to afford a traditional MES. It could also be useful for multi-factory companies seeking to reduce local plant IT support or companies that have multiple types of MES installed (for example, through mergers or acquisitions).
Inductive Software is the first Argonaut HMI Bridge Partner with its Ignition SCADA platform. Ignition currently requires an in-cell PC, so Argonaut could be useful for Ignition customers that don’t want to add PCs to their lines. They will have a faster deployment path without the PC, and will be able to update the platform remotely.
RedViking executives seem enthralled not only with the possibilities that Argonaut offers for manufacturers today, but the flexibility it provides with IIoT efforts and growth into the future. “We’re very excited about it,” Giles said. “We think it’s unique, and we think it’s going to be a big deal.”