A Q&A with Tom Jensen, SVP, General Manager at AMK Automation.
CPG companies are trying to create unique user experiences with their products, which cause the number of elements a machine controls to go up.
Packaging Technology Today: What does industry 4.0 and the smart factory mean for controls & automation?
Tom Jensen: From the outside, it would seem like Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory are game changers for technology providers that offer industrial automation products, but that is not yet the case. This is because the concepts for these two trends have roots that go back years, and we technology providers have been providing and promoting the core concepts for some time. For example, every technology provider I can think of has adopted OPC UA and OMAC’s PackML, which provide the core of line improvement. Every control provider typically provides a LAN hardwire connection that can be used to connect the machine to the IIoT and Cloud services.
What is new is the market expectation (demand) that technology provides more connectivity – that factories are now willing to trade some “security” justified by the fact that there are enough benefits to offset the cost of protecting their networks. This is music to technology companies that have wanted to do more with the controls they have and are excited about being able to incorporate newer technology to run and connect more machines and factory spaces together. Because of this new expectation, things like cloud support for machine commissioning and backup make support for plants happen in minutes. If a machine needs a new controller, technology providers now offer the ability for authorized service people to restore a new machine controller with a Cloud-based backup that contain all the most current updates and running data. It allows an OEM to collect performance data from a class of machines across the world, normalize the data and redistribute it to the same class of machines so that the machines share common knowledge of their working environments. This would provide for example machines that learn collectively that they should slow down by 5% in hot weather to prevent jamming. In short, technology providers (and their OEMs) are now free to pursue the higher goals available in factories, and now have great reasons to step up the power in their controls.
PTT: How do automation and controls assist in developing a successful packaging line?
Jensen: When it comes to line layout and design, controls and automation are THE enabling technology. Who does it enable – End users, OEM’s and integrators. How? End users have the need for equipment and specify how the line is meant to produce a product. The specification should be based on the features needed to keep the line running at the best possible rates. This means a lot of thought needs to go into specifying features, not hardware. Yes, hardware is important, but why specify hardware that is behind in features because it is presumed to be available. For example, what is more valuable to a production line; an HMI that runs webpages from the controller able to open common file types (like PDF, XLS, MP4…) or one that is deemed available and needs to have PC with specific software load an application to make it work with a machine? If the web-based HMI fails, you can replace it with ANYTHING (PC, tablet, Android, IOS – it is only opening a webpage HMI stored in the control). If a brand specific HMI dies; find the PC with the software, the source code, the special cable, the training manual (you remembered seeing somewhere) and call the one guy on vacation that knows how to do this. Not much of a choice. If you feel the need to spec hardware, at least base it on an obsolescence plan provided by the technology provider (you might have a shot at getting a replacement).
When a functional specification is written by the machine purchaser, the OEM can then be guided to provide technology to meet the need – keep the line running at the best possible rate. This means that the OEM will have to focus on providing a controls package that will be a complete “window” into the machine. If you can command, get feedback and troubleshoot every aspect of the machine from the HMI, you are steps ahead. If the OEM takes advantage of adaptive control (give the machine visibility to upstream, downstream and environmental data) the machine can self-adjust to optimize its performance.
It is then down to the integrator. The integrator is now becoming much more of an IIoT professional – pulling ethernet cables, providing redundancy, and integrating the standard data packages that are resident in the specification (ie: PackML), and providing line/plant/global dashboards so that process engineers can troubleshoot bottlenecks (what machine detected what environmental condition to cause it to slow). What did the automation provide; a platform the provide standard data, multiple data/field bus connections, server functionality (Web, data, Cloud) hardware interoperability, motion and enough CPU power to get it all done. Add to that the resurgence of distributed drive technology, and the layout of the line is vastly improved with the elimination of control cabinets.
PTT: What are some trends within the consumer packaged-goods space, and how does that impact controls/ automation?
Jensen: One trend that is shaping the way controls are used in the CPG industry is smaller count customized products for individuals. CPG companies are trying to create unique user experiences with their products (custom labels, mixes, sizes) on demand which cause the number of elements a machine controls to go up, adding as well the need for inspection. The end effect is that controls are asked to handle more motion components, peripherals and cameras than before. This is generally not a big problem for technology providers – but a huge problem for End Users. Why, because the machines are controlling so many components, and the code in the PLC is a reflection of physical machine, the strategy of training your plant maintenance people in ladder with the hope that they can diagnose a code problem is antiquated. OEMs have gone from one programmer for a machine to a strategy of using a motion group, an HMI/Connectivity group, a PLC/ Logic group, a Vision group and a Maintenance/Data support group. Is it fair to expect a plant engineer to spend any amount of time looking at the code of a modern machine and understand it? Smaller batch sizes cause the program density to increase for even common machines, the same amount of thought needs to go into machine support (without software) solutions.
AMK Automation Corp. is a leading provider of decentralized and centralized drive and control solutions, serving the production needs of industrial machine builders and their global customers. AMK Automation Corp. is part of the global AMK Group of companies headquartered in Kirchheim, Germany. AMK Group has operations in the U.S., Germany, and Asia. More information can be found at http://us.amk.systems/.