The Enterprise and the Machine Builder

Ethernet Capabilities Unify, Enable Manufacturing Stakeholders

By Joe Feeley

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Automation Fair 2012

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Manufacturers today demand innovative machines that easily integrate into their plant-wide infrastructure. They need flexible and efficient equipment that increases business agility, optimizes productivity and helps achieve sustainability objectives–all while lowering their total cost of ownership.

Industrial machine and equipment builders are responding with increasingly smart machines that more easily connect the plant floor with the enterprise. They are realizing the benefits of using a single control and information platform to demonstrate a high level of intelligence with the ability to consume and generate information automatically, adapt to new situations and give machine builders the remote access and insight they need.

"There are three messages we've being focused on for three years now," remarked Christopher Zei, vice president of Rockwell Automation's global industry group. "One has to do with end users' goal of plant-wide optimization as they seek lower total cost of ownership (TCO). Another is machine builder performance: how building better machines can help users achieve their TCO objectives, and how machine builders can better partner with those users." The third message involves sustainability initiatives that support manufacturing organizations' efforts, Zei said.

End-User Demands

The focus at today's Global Machine Builder and Equipment Industry Forum at Automation Fair looked at the machine builder performance aspect of those three messages. Zei summarized some of the trends by saying, "It almost goes without saying that in a manufacturing factory everything revolves around machines. More of the automation decisions and even characteristics of the system are being decided by machine builders. These days more manufacturers, many of which no longer have big engineering departments, are simply telling the machine builders what performance they need with regard to throughput, efficiency, flexibility and downtime."

Two key drivers for builders, said Zei, are the demands to improve both machine throughput and machine flexibility. "It's not that easy to do," he said, "and it puts a lot of demands on the control system."

The last two trends Zei noted are somewhat tied together. It's becoming a standard requirement that machines be able to generate information at the machine and make it reliably and securely available. In addition, builders and end users both now view access to machine-generated information as important requirements for improved service through local and remote systems. Builders also see access to operating data as a way to build better machines.

So as part of the march toward building ever-smarter machines, information-gathering and the ability to act upon that information are key elements helping that cause. Zei noted several points in that regard. "Convergence of manufacturing and enterprise systems is happening because of a common thread now, which is Ethernet. It was there on the business side, but you saw a lot of proprietary networks on the manufacturing side. Now there's a lot of information moving back and forth."

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