Written by Kevin Davenport & Peter Granger, Industry Manager & Sr. Industry Manager, Cisco Systems Inc., a leading supplier of Industrial Intelligence solutions
Things are on the move in the USA for manufacturing. Commentators are talking about a potential renaissance, and whichever way you look at it, most are agreed that after the worst downturn in decades, manufacturing is the way out of the recession for the US. Things are also on the move in our factories, in our plants and on our shop floors. Equipment, tools, work-in-process (WIP), finished products and people all move. Keeping track of these assets, finding work-in-process, and locating experts when you need them are some of the challenges currently being faced.
The mobility technologies used today are all about providing manufacturers with access to knowledge to improve operational efficiencies and increase both productivity and throughput.
Industrial intelligence forms the fundamental fabric and architecture for mobility and collaboration. It enables devices, sensors and computers at different places to work together to accomplish tasks, often in real-time. It’s predicted by Cisco’s Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) that by 2015 there will be 25 billion devices connected to the network – likely to double over the subsequent five years.
Mobility with Collaboration
This increased connectivity and mobility is enabling manufacturers to ‘Work Their Way’, rather than be tied to outdated work practices. For example, paired with collaboration tools, some companies are using high-definition Unified Communications (UC) video devices to collaborate between plant floor personnel and design engineers, many of whom may be back in the product development area. In this case the ‘Bring Your Own Device’ (BYOD) is a combined camera and wireless IP phone with a monitor (video or still) that can be marked up using telestration techniques.
The device can find where people are on the network using clever Cisco ‘Presence’ technology, and can start up a meeting using conference facilities like WebEx to collaborate and share information, pictures and video. It is the secure industrial intelligence network fabric that allows this real-time collaboration. The network includes a range of compatible technologies such as wireless (including hardened industrial wireless if necessary), fixed LAN and a backhaul infrastructure to the datacenter, converged with plant operations technologies. Plant systems and IT systems are now starting to work together.
Whether you view prototyping as an art, a science or both, it has become much faster and cheaper through the use of new 3D printers and other creative ideas. Companies like GEare using a variety of collaboration tools including video, online and IP-enabled interactive smart white-boards with shared workspaces, so that globally dispersed teams can participate, real-time in prototype reviews and then watch end-users interact with prototypes. Active collaboration environments like those at GE let remote teams interact as if they were together in the same room.
This approach improves time-to-market for new products, facilitates decision-making and problem-solving at every management level and at every stage of a project. It reduces travel expenses and related downtime for members of design, product, sales, and customer service teams. It also improves product lifecycle management, effectively accelerating sales and revenue opportunities, and provides faster access to design and customer experts as well as executives throughout the supply chain. It therefore increases customer satisfaction, shortens the sales cycle, and improves partner relationships.
Where is it now and where is it going next?
Once production starts, WIP can be tracked in real time so that variances and issues can be noticed sooner. In many cases that information can be passed back to the designers so that the design can be updated or production methods can be revised. In order to react quickly, tool changes might be needed. Since tools can be mobile too they can sometimes be temporarily lost.
Boeing now uses RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tagging to keep track of important tools so that delays are minimized and production continues. Both Boeing and Continental Tire of the Americas also use rugged, long-life RFID tags for tracking WIP to increase plant floor productivity and reduce product wastage. These tags send their signals over the Wireless Control System and communicate in real-time with MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) systems. The information provided by those ERP and MES systems can be displayed on mobile devices such as a tablet, or a ruggedized PC on a fork lift truck – in real time.
Converge to simplify and gain visibility
When networks and systems are merged to provide Industrial Intelligence, manufacturers begin to realise a converged plantwide network. With Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE), manufacturers can be agile and efficient, open and controlled. Converged network manufacturing solutions let manufacturers globalise their operations by integrating IT with manufacturing automation systems using a scalable but secure architecture. The result is an efficient real-time and secure plant-and-business convergence that provides lowered operational costs, and greater efficiency through familiar and secure remote access to plant floor systems. It also means less disparate proprietary systems and more open-standards based and familiar tools.
An example of an enterprise embracing industrial Intelligence is General Motors, one of the world’s largest producers of vehicles. GM recognised it needed to standardize its network and addressing scheme globally to cope not only with business applications and the growth of IP telephony, but also deal with the addition of robotics, PLCs and factory automation.
With 100 data centers and 185 plants worldwide GM has now centralised the management of the infrastructure to support both carpeted and non-carpeted areas. The infrastructure is able to deal with over 8,000 change controls annually. This Industrial Intelligence adoption has been instrumental in providing GM with a flexible, agile and lean infrastructure leading to a 95 percent reduction in network downtime. In addition, global collaboration is now enabled as a result of a business transformation that allows greater focus on innovation since the network is relied on as an instrumental platform for the building and delivery of vehicles.
Not so fast…
None of this is without challenges. When implementing Industrial Intelligence networks and solutions be sure that you embrace partners that not only provide a wide range of solutions, but also be sure that those solutions work well together. Even with a joint partnership solution, it’s important to ask for Design Implementation Guides (DIGS), to see inter-operability testing documentation and to also see a strong constructive partnership, rather than just a marriage of convenience or a solution that’s still at the ‘brochure-level’.
We’ve seen how Industrial intelligence is becoming the enabler for increased efficiencies and greater throughput for manufacturers. Wastage is reduced and productivity is increased. Smart manufacturers are adopting new technologies, integrating them into a converged infrastructure and gaining significant business benefits. In return they get real-time visibility into the plant floor systems via collaboration and other business tools in the factory.
Whether it’s the reduction in scrapped tires or glass, the continuous building of cars with less downtime, or providing key design feedback to engineering to design that new airplane before your competitor, industrial intelligence is opening the door for more companies to compete effectively on a global level.