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Robot Company Creates Industry 4.0-Friendly Software

Ilene Wolff
By Ilene Wolff Contributing Editor, SME Media

FANUC has made real one of the promises of Industry 4.0, that of predictive maintenance for factory equipment, with its Zero Down Time IoT solution. ZDT can be applied to any of FANUC’s robotic arms and their peripherals.

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Manufacturers can use the ZDT portal to check robot status inside the factory, as well as when they are traveling. (Provided by FANUC America)

To help with the rest of the automation in a factory, later this year the robotics company will make available FANUC’s Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (FIELD) system, a free and open-source platform for third-party developers to use to write applications that will collect and analyze data from other automated equipment.

Smart Manufacturing sat down with Joe Gazzarato, engineering director of ZDT at FANUC America, to find out more.

Joe, what is ZDT all about?

“ZDT” stands for “Zero Down Time.” With manufacturers running constantly now, 24/7/365, trying to meet demand, any unexpected downtime can cost them production. With ZDT we’re monitoring the mechanical, system and process health of our robots to eliminate unexpected downtime.

We have over 21,000 robots connected to ZDT at more than 100 customer locations in 16 different countries.

We monitor those robots and if an issue is predicted by our analytics, our ZDT system will notify the customer and our service team so we can address the issue before any unexpected downtime occurs. We’ve already saved customers more than $85 million by identifying issues that we believe would have led to unexpected downtime.

How did you accomplish this?

We’ve been working on ZDT for a little over four years now. We started out with just 500 robots, with 50 robots at each of 10 locations.

We created software for our robots that produce messages containing important data. Those robots send their messages to a data collector that’s inside the customer’s factory. The ZDT Data

Collector’s job is to encrypt and send the messages outbound to our data center in the cloud where they’re stored and automatically analyzed using programs that have been written by our engineers.

If one of the analytics determines there’s an issue, emails go out to the customer and our service team and one of our service technicians calls the customer to make sure they understand what the alert means, how to confirm it and how to address it. Also, if the customer needs assistance, the tech can arrange to have parts or support sent to the site so we can address the issue before any downtime occurs.

What specific technologies make ZDT possible?

The ZDT Data Collector has very low bandwidth requirements. Some other implementations around big data will stream data constantly at a rate of milliseconds. ZDT is not designed like that. We collect less than 500 megabytes of data from the robot in a year. Also, the data collector can run on a small computer. It doesn’t require much in the way of computing resources.

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Joe Gazzarato, director of ZDT business management for FANUC America, reviews the ZDT customer web portal.

Another key is our cloud infrastructure. The tools we use to ingest and store the data for analysis are really important. We make sure the data is organized in a way that keeps it secure when it’s stored and efficient for use by our analytic programs.

Our analytics are probably one of the most important parts of ZDT and key to our success so far. They’re written by the same engineers who develop our robot controller software. FANUC engineers with years of robotic experience have written the analytic programs that look at the data we’ve collected. Their expertise in writing robot software has helped them become very good at writing the analytics from the data that’s produced by our robots.

Are there other uses for the data you collect in the ZDT process?

ZDT does a lot of other things, too. We’ve created a lot of functions to help customers increase their productivity, optimize their maintenance resources, reduce their support effort and extend the life of their robots.

One good example is our process change analytic. A common experience for a lot of us who’ve worked with automation equipment is to show up at the job site and find your system isn’t making rate or it’s doing something different than it was doing the day prior. And you ask around and get the same answer. ‘I didn’t touch it,’ or ‘Nobody changed a thing.’ Without ZDT, people then have to perform their own analysis to figure out what’s changed.

With ZDT, our customers know for sure if any of their robots were changed because we’re logging all kinds of data from the robots every day. When a robot is changed, they’ll know exactly what program or setting was changed, along with the date and time it happened, so they probably can determine who made the change, and they also know the original value. All this makes it really easy for the customer to put things back very quickly.

Are my data secure?

The ZDT data collector, which can be blocked by the customer’s firewall, encrypts the data as it’s sent to our data center, and it’s an outbound service only.

Also, think of ZDT as read only. We can only see information collected by the robots. We can’t change anything.

When FANUC says ZDT users can access diagnostic information across the enterprise, is it referring to robots and not to other equipment in the factory?

Typically, but we actually designed ZDT so customers can track some of their peripheral equipment.

Let’s say a robot’s dress package includes external air lines and electrical cables that are carrying power to the end of arm tooling. You can associate the wear and tear on the dress package with data from the robot. For example, after the robot has moved so many thousands of degrees or twisted its wrist so many thousands of times, ZDT can notify the customer the condition has been met and he can send someone out to inspect the dress package.

Without ZDT, you may perform maintenance periodically, but with ZDT you’d inspect it based on how the robot’s being used. So, customers are optimizing the use of their maintenance resources and doing maintenance when it’s needed and not just because of how much calendar time has gone by.

Also, although ZDT doesn’t collect data from other equipment, FANUC is preparing to release technology later this year which is designed to do precisely that.

How would you describe the FIELD system?

FIELD is a platform that we’re launching in the U.S. this year. It’s designed to collect data from any network enabled component, including robots, weld controllers, PLCs and sensors, and not necessarily FANUC equipment. Any network-enabled device in a facility can share its data with the FIELD system, which will run internally in the plant.

FANUC makes available software developer kits so third parties can write applications that access that data and do things that provide value to the customer. ZDT is an example of value FANUC is providing through use of this type of data, but we think there are millions of possibilities for what people can do with data from manufacturing equipment. The FIELD system is designed to make it possible for other companies to develop their own applications and sell them to manufacturers.

There are two different servers available for the FIELD system. One, the FIELD Base Pro, can connect up to 30 devices. We also support a Unified Computing Server from Cisco that can support up to 150 device connections. They can be ganged together so information can be shared between the servers.

There are a lot of different IoT platforms out there, but FANUC’s FIELD system is unique for several advantages that it offers.

  • It runs inside the factory. Others run in the cloud, like ZDT does. Since FIELD applications will run inside the factory, the applications can be much more responsive. They’re getting their data in near real time and they can analyze it and make decisions very quickly. They also don’t depend on an internet connection.
  • FANUC has made the FIELD platform entirely open. There will be a FIELD system Partner’s Association where people who want to write applications or integrate the FIELD system into their systems or with their devices will be able to do that. There’s no cost to being a member.
  • The system can connect to any network enabled device. A lot of the other platforms that exist support only a very few protocols or a couple of standard protocols, but FANUC also includes the ability for device manufacturers to write their own protocol. So, if there isn’t an existing driver to connect your device to the FIELD system you can create one. And that developer’s kit is freely available to device manufacturers.

The idea is to create this community of devices and application developers to further manufacturing capabilities.

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