Machine builders know what they need to do. Build machines that improve productivity and, while they're at it, find the means to reduce the total cost to design, develop and deliver this high-performance equipment.
At Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair 2009 event this week in Anaheim, Calif., a range of panel discussions and presentations with global machine builders, users and system builders discussed these issues and how an integrated approach can affect future successes.
Even defining "machine performance" has its nuances. "You have to look at machine performance as holding market value," said Andy Pringle, engineering director at converting machine-maker PCMC. "Customers come to you asking for a machine that gives them a fair return based on the investment they make."
Roman Kaiser, president, Grenzebach Automation GmbH, put it simply: "Automation performance is giving the customer exactly what he needs and wants."
"From the customer standpoint, it's productivity," believes C.P. Fang, vice president, Crown Machinery. "From the OEM viewpoint, it's also about reliability, longevity, efficiency and ease-of-use."
Stepping outside the machine footprint, machine user Mike Sweet, manager corporate controls, First Solar, says it's all of those things, but also "how the machine plays with others. Because if you can't put it into your architecture, you can't get integrated data, you can't interlock processes together, you can't trust your process.
As a machine user that builds and assembles complicated solar arrays, First Solar needs its OEMs to provide a standard interface for their data gathering needs, or their cost of ownership and operation suffers. "A uniform control platform is vital for us," says Sweet.
Issues that are driving OEMs' designs play to the strengths of an integrated approach. PCMC, for example, is introducing a new machine that offers preventive maintenance features that will monitor the machine and email the builder regarding worn parts replacement or drifting parameters, focusing on root causes of problems. "We want that information," says Pringle. "We want to service and support that machine long after the warranty period. That's a vital revenue stream for our business." Automation decisions also require avoiding "the 'magpie effect' of choosing that bright, shiny, new component that appears to save a few overall dollars at the bill of material level, but means adding a needless, new $1,500 part to have to support, says Pringle.
Rockwell Automation's Integrated Architecture makes it easier for companies like PCMC, said Pringle. "We serve big customers in our tissue business who spec out their machines carefully," he says. "We also serve clients that will take what you build as long as it reliably meets their needs." Pringle says they need an integrated architecture to keep it all under control and avoid the old blame game when something goes wrong.
Fang leverages Integrated Architecture to simplify Crown's parts infrastructure and to help modify machines in a timely manner, as customer needs change "sometimes in the middle of the build" without delaying deliveries, he says.
Carlos Hernandez, automation business director, SYCSA Silos y Camiones, sees the advantages of Integrated Architecture in making customer expansions a little easier. "A glass manufacturer started a new plant three years ago with four ovens and a growth plan in mind," he says. "The company added four more ovens with the same Rockwell Automation controls to the overall system in an integrated fashion."
Integration of safety functionality within the automation system has become an imperative for many machine builders. "The legal system makes it very important," stated Pringle. "We can't not include it. There's no walking away from the machine for an OEM. We have to be very proactive on safety with upgrading the installed base as well as new machinery."
First Solar's Sweet talked of the need to work with his company's OEMs in safety initiatives that he calls First Solar's core values. "We've rolled out worldwide NFPA 70E, a standard that creates challenges of its own by how restrictive it is, so we've been working with some of our OEMs to design, for example, new controls enclosures in which all high voltage is restricted to one door with non-contact test points on the outside. Everything else would be 24 V controls, so you can lock the panel out in accordance with NFPA70E without PPE [personal protection equipment]." Without this, continued Sweet, you'd require a live-dead-live test. Something as basic as a blown fuse would require calling in a qualified technician to suit up and endure a lot of downtime.
This type of safety proactivity is not yet so common in Mexico and Latin America, said Hernandez. The entry point for these initiatives has started by highlighting energy-savings opportunities. "We've seen the advantages of using PowerFlex drives and smart SMC controllers and motors that also provide safety advantages."
The Asia-Pacific region is not emphasizing safety as much as Europe and North America, added Crown's Fang. "The real push for this comes from OEMs such as Crown," he says. "We have incorporated certain designs that incorporate safety, so the customer doesn't even have to ask for it. Sometimes they have concerns about being able to deal with it internally, but we also emphasize the improved protection of the machines themselves from damage in case of emergency shutdowns."