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High-level connectivity

10 February, 2017

The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 is here, transforming the economy and society, resulting in the demand for smart machinery and factories to meet the developments of the Internet of Things. Gavin Stoppel, HARTING Ltd, reports.

Integrated industry requires high-level connectivity and networked connections, with secure communication and authentication. Industrial Internet and the Cloud connect the virtual and real world, and smart factories are required to integrate cyber-physical systems at all levels of the production process, including the decentralisation and modularisation of production systems.

Communication

The core of the smart factory is communication between machines, enabling full interaction and integration across the whole factory. Power, signal and data are the three industrial “lifelines” on which all industry depends. While links to these lifelines can be incorporated directly into the machine, it is also possible to add flexible modular interfaces to transfer data throughout all the levels of the factory. Such devices communicate information and data at all levels, allowing modular production systems to be implemented to provide flexible, cost-effective and innovative production solutions.

Digitalisation

The processes and changes surrounding digitalisation of industrial equipment are driven by information and communication technologies. The Internet provides a platform for direct, interactive, dialogue-centred communication, with network structures replacing the previously used linear design. As a result, the customer is increasingly at the heart of the production value chain, with the production process tailored or even “personalised” to meet requirements of the customer, however complex.

Digitalisation enables separate tasks to be linked to integrated services and new business models, combining resources and bringing together the concept of a smart machine or integrated factory. Ultimately this process brings together separate processes and systems into a combined high-value application within the lifecycle of machines and factories.

Modularisation

Modular computing architectures offers virtualisation on embedded devices for manufacturing use, along with the capability of virtualising field devices without the overhead of conventional virtualisation.

This concept forms the basis of a new industrial computer system, MICA (for Modular Industry Computing Architecture), which is designed to provide existing machinery and systems with intelligence, making it possible to transform manufacturing plants into smart factories and bringing to life the potential of integrated industry. As a result, customers can design their production facilities to be more modular, affordable and less complex. MICA makes it possible to temporarily save, evaluate and process data directly within the machinery and equipment. Based on a modular open platform, it can be customised as required, including the hardware, software and interfaces.

MICA functions as a small, robust computing unit between physical devices and the higher-level IT system. It provides a cost-effective solution that allows users to run computing power at all levels as well as communicating with central IT systems and the cloud, offering fast data analysis and decision-making at the field level along with storage and data-collection capability to provide relief for computer centres.

MICA’s open source approach allows users to completely customise the computer: for example, by choosing the programming language and development environment. Software applications run in virtual, Linux-based containers which hold all the necessary libraries and drivers. As a result, incompatibility and dependency on existing packages are no longer an issue.

The MICA computer features a powerful 1 GHz ARM processor, 1 Gbyte of RAM and 4 Gbyte of eMMC flash memory (plus an additional 32 Gbyte on a micro-SD card). HARTING’s virtual industry computing technology enables multiple programs to run in parallel within the virtual containers. These containers run in individual “sandboxes” which isolate and secure different applications from each other. This enables smart, multi-tasking to occur for productive operations.

The one-time investment for MICA is significantly lower compared to complete industrial PCs. Moreover, using MICA involves no licensing or leasing fees, and offers inexpensive prototyping and development because of its open development environment, even for multiple projects. Further savings in operating costs are provided by the very low power consumption: less than 5 W for the base version.

Identification

The unique identification of plant modules and products is required for production processes to run comprehensively. Real-time production can be viewed via the implementation of RFID (radio frequency identification) systems, along with sensor information for production and maintenance processes. This can be used to communicate information about each modular section, and record information for maintenance purposes on writable tags. Identification within the smart factory sees full traceability with continual feedback.

Smart machinery

Smart factories have benefited from the concepts surrounding “big data” and its associated structuring and analytical procedures. Properly used, big data allows machinery and systems to learn and adapt their processes. Similarly, asset management using a networked environment enables machines to provide information on their condition and productivity. The resultant data makes it possible to forecast their future operational status state based on their process history, enabling processes to be fully optimised. This, in turn, assists planning for the requirements of production environment changes and future projects such as new product launches, product modifications or quantity changes.

The implementation of a smart factory can be achieved by working to the specific requirements of the customer, with the networked environment building full end-to-end traceability from the supplier to the customer.

For further information please visit: www.harting.co.uk

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