There was a time when industrial manufacturers had large engineering departments that made all the decisions on how their machines would look and operate. But more and more, that breadth and depth of expertise is leaving the building, and manufacturers are instead handing their specs to machine builders and leaving it to them to figure out how to get the job done.
The OEMs, meanwhile, look to their automation suppliers to get the tools they need to ease machine design and development. Much of that is geared toward building smarter machines—more integrated, more sustainable, safer machines that provide the information and diagnostics machine builders and users need. And it needs to be done easier and cheaper in the long run.
"We hear a lot about total cost of ownership, but that's not the right message for machine builders," said Christopher Zei, vice president of the global industry group at Rockwell Automation. "Instead, we need to talk about total cost to design, develop and deliver."
Zei led a discussion among machine builders and users this afternoon at the Global Machine & Equipment Builders Industry Forum as part of Rockwell Automation's Automation Fair in Philadelphia. Panel members discussed the new requirements they face in building smart machines and the way they are tackling those demands.
Diagnostics and Data
The discussion focused primarily on the information and diagnostics capabilities of smart machines—how the OEMs are leveraging the wealth of information that's available on machines today to build competitive advantage or reduce costs.
"Cost is a big deal," said Matt Wicks, vice president of systems engineering for Intelligrated, which provides automated material handling systems. "We're leveraging the technology and integrated architecture to reduce not only the hardware cost, but the engineering cost, and also the cost of servicing the equipment."
Intelligrated not only accesses the data on its machines, but is able to take action to keep those systems running more smoothly. The company gets data out of its high-speed sorters, for example, to recognize problems early. "We monitor the amount of chain sag that we have over time and determine what maintenance needs to happen," Wicks said, explaining that they are able to react to the data and do some tensioning of the chains. "We use this as a competitive advantage."