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Getting Connected

Bill Koenig
By Bill Koenig Senior Editor, SME Media
As the IIoT moves from theory to reality, managing shop-floor data grows in importance

There was a time, not that long ago, that the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT, sounded theoretical. The notion of managing factory machines via smartphones, tablets and other devices got a lot of attention. The question was how quickly it would catch on. With advances in technology and business demands, the answer was very quickly.

“I’ve been involved with manufacturing for 40-plus years,” said Gregg Bigleman, TMS tool management solutions manager at Zoller Inc. (Ann Arbor, MI), which makes tool presetters and measuring machines. “When I started, plant managers were seasoned professionals. The plant manager was an all-seeing, all-knowing god of manufacturing.”

Customers in industries such as automotive, aerospace and energy are “demanding year-over-year cost downs,” he said. “You need to know the [plant floor] information, you need to know it’s accurate. It can’t be done the way it was done in the past with the plant manager walking around with everything in his brain.”

Even small manufacturers are “wanting to be part of this,” said Mike Rogers, director of automation at Predator Software Inc. (Beaverton, OR).

“All they’re hearing is Industry 4.0, IIoT and everything is going to be connected,” Rogers said.

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A smartphone display of data provided by a Cimco Americas system.

“The benefits of Industry 4.0—maximum efficiencies, higher quality, higher profitability—all lead to making things faster, better and less expensively,” said Pete Tecos, executive vice president of 5ME LLC (Warren, MI). “So now that standards have been developed and adopted, technologies have evolved and tangible benefits have been attained.”

Aerospace is an example of an industry embracing the connected factory, said Mohamed Abuali, CEO Americas for Forcam Inc. (Cincinnati).

“It takes 2.3 million parts to make a Boeing 787, with 5500 factories in the supply chain and a 10-year lead time per plane,” he said. “This means significant pressure on the supply chain with huge backlogs. Technology and digitization is a crucial strategy to reach significant performance improvements.”

Companies involved in data management on the shop floor say customers are doing their homework about the technology.

“The lines have blurred considerably between Industry 4.0, IIoT and Data Driven Manufacturing such that they are really one concept now in the customer’s eyes,” said David McPhail, president and CEO of Memex Inc. (Burlington, ON). Manufacturers, he said, “compile a compendium of good information, which leads to a more educated prospect.” Memex, he said, “can focus on the value created by adoption of supportive technologies.”

Improvements in technology have hastened the adoption of such technology.

“Computer processing speeds have increased and hardware capable of analyzing massive amounts of data are accessible to everyone,” said Jody Romanowski, CEO and partner at Cimco Americas (Streamwood, IL). “In addition, I think people see large amounts of data processed in many aspects of their lives. It is reasonable to extend this to their manufacturing processes.

“If you can collect data and get metrics on your activity by simply wearing a device, it seems reasonable that you should be able to have data on exactly what your machine tool was doing all day as well.”

Still, it is up to shop data management concerns to convince customers. The term Industry 4.0 “gives us an instant way to categorize what we do,” said Jim Finnerty, product manager at Wintriss Controls (Acton, MA). “So in that respect the introductions are easier. But it hasn’t seemed to help us close more sales.”

What follows is a look at how companies are adapting to the changes.

‘One Sheet of Music’

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An employee at Zoller Inc. demonstrates a Zoller display that enables monitoring of different factory systems. (Photo by Bill Koenig)

Zoller markets itself as “a one-partner solution” for customers to sort through all the available data.

Managers “became locked in their office trying to dig through this flood of unsorted, unfiltered information in an attempt to find out what was relevant in this mass of non-relevant data,” Bigleman said. “True digital tool management requires a single source to work efficiently; one database, which the entire operation utilizes. A manufacturing orchestra playing from one sheet of music.

“What we’re evolving to now is who can put that information into such a format that manufacturers can make informative decisions based on real-time data,” he said.

Zoller traditionally was known as a maker of presetting equipment and measuring devices. It’s now positioning itself as a “solutions” company, its equipment capable of helping customers develop plans so they don’t need as much inventory for machine tools while minimizing downtime.

“Everything in the manufacturing system can be controlled through the Zoller database,” Bigleman said.

The company offers a line of presetting machines, inspection equipment for cutting tools, software, vending solutions and data transfer tools.

Zoller didn’t cut jobs during the recession of 2007 and 2008, the executive said. Instead, the company was planning to make the “solutions” transition.

Zoller’s parent company in Germany is led by Eberhard Zoller, a member of the founding family’s second generation. Zoller Inc. is overseen by Alexander Zoller, a third-generation family member. “His vision is to be ahead of the customers,” Bigleman said. “He is always focused on a solutions-based approach.”

Zoller Inc. is hiring computer programmers and other employees. It is building a larger headquarters, also in Ann Arbor.

Management at plants “can have truly relevant information in an understandable format at their fingertips, while walking around the operation,” Bigleman said.

‘Structure of the Company’

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A display generated from Predator MDC software.

Predator’s lineup includes its Tracker software which monitors “all the tooling,” including gages and fixtures, on a factory floor, Rogers said. Other products include Predator MDC for automatic data collection, Predator RCM for robotic cell manufacturing and Predator Virtual CNC for 3D machine simulation, according to the company’s website.

Predator charges customers an annual maintenance fee. “If you’re up and current with us on maintenance fees, you will have access” to updated software updates, he said. Customers “will inherit all the new features we come up with…They know they will get the latest and greatest.”

Predator adapts its software offerings to large and small manufacturers. “It all depends on the structure of the company,” Rogers said. “If you have 100 or 200 people running these machines manually, we’re going to create more havoc by trying to ramrod everything Predator does down their throat. We will learn what works for your shop floor.”

The software company seeks input from machine operators at its customers. “We need to know if it’s time to replace the machine. Most people want to work and be profitable for the company.”

According to Rogers, Predator also seeks more detailed information about workstations. “It helps to identify hidden bottlenecks,” he said.

Aerospace Interest

At Forcam, many of its customers “are pushing to establish their internal digital initiatives to reposition their factories for growth,” Abuali said.

Forcam introduced its Smart Factory Starter Kit in 2016. The idea is “to prove that smart manufacturing does not need to be expensive, a long-term process with no access to data and little return,” he said. “We have proven that within the three months’ trial period companies can achieve at least 10% in productivity improvements on their three selected machines.”

The company plans to offer an update of the package this year.

The company also introduced the Forcam Academy last year to provide customers with information and training to maximize benefits from the Forcam Force software. Customers, after training from Forcam Academy, have been able to do software updates on their own, according to the company.

Aerospace has been a growing area for Forcam. One customer, GKN Aerospace “could reduce part cycle time by over 20% in less than six months,” Abuali said.

Forcam also is aiming at both large and small customers.

“Forcam believes that the Smart Factory is about connecting several dots,” Abuali said. “If the equation is balanced properly, it will lead to significant adoption by big and small shops alike.”

Abuali said a Forcam client, Richards Industries, has 150 employees and 30 machines. “Richards Industries used to collect data manually on the shop floor until they selected Forcam” for managing shop-floor data. “They improved productivity by over 40% within six months” with a 250% return on its investment.

`Scalable’ Technology

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Display generated by 5ME’s Freedom 4.0.

5ME also is among the companies adapting its products to customer size and conditions.

“That’s why we like to learn as much as we can about a customer’s operations,” 5ME’s Tecos said. “The more we know, the more we can help dial in beneficial information and provide the real value that can transform a business…We get more feedback and requests for additional features and enhanced functionality.”

“This technology is scalable,” Tecos said. “Shops can start with the monitoring of a single machine—maybe a workhorse that generates a lot of revenue—and then expand as it makes sense…The cost of implementing Industry 4.0 solutions should not be an obstacle for small shops.”

5ME introduced Freedom 4.0, intended to complement Industry 4.0 systems. The application can be accessed from any device with a browser. It also supports the Association for Manufacturing Technology’s MTConnect standard.

Many 5ME customers provide the company with access to their Freedom 4.0 installations. 5ME deploys updates or upgrades remotely at mutually agreed upon times.

Also, “We are engaged in projects that involve machine health, process health, predictive maintenance and interfacing with a variety of business systems within the manufacturing environment,” Tecos said.

Early Adopters

At Memex, “We are no longer leading with the ‘how to do it,’ but rather the business benefits and outcomes regarding the adoption of these concepts and technologies,” McPhail said. “We call this approach the ‘why should I do this’ approach, which establishes the business value right up front.”

The company’s target customers “are still in the early adopter phase, but those that get it are rapidly requesting new innovative ways to consume and display the data collected,” he said.

As a result, that “requires us to continually innovate to meet the demand,” McPhail said. “Constant innovation leads to differentiation, and differentiation is what we strive for.”

One of Memex’s products is Merlin Tempus, which the company said provides metrics and analytical capabilities to pare downtime and increase production. Tempus received the 2016 Frost & Sullivan award for global machine monitoring leadership.

“Tempus is our new IIoT platform of the future and is the culmination of three years of effort and several million dollars of investment,” McPhail said.

‘Now Mainstream’

“Both large and small shops are adopting this technology quickly and I think there is pressure on all shops to implement this type of technology,” said Cimco’s Romanowski. “I think these types of systems are now mainstream.”

According to Romanowski, “We see more machines with MTConnect or another standard for data collection although these protocols have been available for many years. Customers now know they should make sure their machines are shipped with the data collection protocols installed.”

The company released Cimco V8 last year.

“Highlights of this MDC-MAX V8 release include databased optimization, an interface update and more efficient data processing,” Romanowski said. “Most customers will continue to add to the functionality of their MDC systems and often require our assistance to add additional ways to analyze the information collected by our system.”

Implementation

“We specialize in downtime and efficiency tracking software,” Wintriss’ Finnerty said. “The quirky thing about this type of software is that if we do our job well, we obsolete ourselves.

“Once downtime is reduced to the minimum, and efficiency is raised as high as possible, the mere task of using and maintaining the downtime tracking system becomes a measurable source of inefficiency.”

Finnerty also said smaller shops can be faster to adopt Industry 4.0 systems.

“Once a small shop determines that it is beneficial, the implementation is quicker,” he said. “Getting a bigger company to invest in something new is like executing a U-turn with a battleship.”

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