Fieldbus / Automation Fair

The Enterprise and the Machine Builder

Ethernet Capabilities Unify, Enable Manufacturing Stakeholders

By Joe Feeley

Automation Fair 2012


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."

Zei noted that stand-alone machines really aren't disappearing. "People still buy stand-alone machines, but they're not islands of information anymore. They can be integrated in like any other machine."

Remote access to perform troubleshooting and diagnostics is a pent up demand that many machine builders would like to see become more accepted so they can provide services to customers. "There's still a security concern, but we see more [manufacturing companies] being ready to give it a try."

The Risks Involved

These are very effective tools that can benefit builder and user alike, but as companies open their systems, everyone has to be aware of the risks involved and implement the many security tools that are available today. Chet Namboodri, Cisco's global industry director for manufacturing, provided a few examples intended to help convince companies that the benefits can far outweigh the risks.

"I did bit of research about whether we're at a real inflection point with this technology and found this great quote, which reads, 'If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things, using data that they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, costs and loss. We would know when things needed replacing and repairing, or recalling, and whether they were fresh or past their best'." The quote, said Namboodri, is from Kevin Ashton, who coined the phase "Internet of Things" back in 1999.

But the Internet of things in industry is defined by automation and has been evolving for decades, believes Namboodri. Users are gaining value from adoption of practices involving the convergence of networks and the use of Ethernet on the floor, according to a study by the Aberdeen Group, which Namboodri referenced. "Best-in-Class manufacturers, those that embrace this technology, exceed their planned margins by 26%," he reported.

Ethernet Enabling Machine Builders Too

So is there some evidence to encourage machine builders as well, since many of them express concern at exposing their own intellectual property? Namboodri noted that large OEM Comau Robotics, one of the leading suppliers of assembly lines for the automotive industry, is now about 80% EtherNet/IP in its operations communications. At the most recent ODVA annual meeting, Namboodri said, Comau reported that it found installation, commissioning, and debugging of a project that involved 10 control stations and 12-15 robots now takes two days instead of a week and a half.

Considerations remain, as Namboodri noted. "If you think about the integration of the enterprise into the factory down to the device layer, there still are two worlds." He said that the policies and priorities of the IT side still are rated differently. For the factory side, uptime is everything, while first on the list for IT is protection and confidentiality. "The implications of a device failure to IT would be to find a workaround or stop and wait. For the factory it means critical lost production revenue."

So, said Namboodri, there need to be guidelines for optimizing the factory integration with Ethernet, referencing ODVA initiatives.

"It has to be comprehensive across the entire industrial ecosystem," said Namboodri. "It has to be scalable, so that it works for big or small machines and factory floors."

In addition, the network must be proven secure, with particular emphasis on access control, including third-party service providers. "The plan must also be inclusive, making provision for heterogeneous networks and openness to multiple component providers."