Let’s get cyber-physical
Schneider Electric APAC food and beverage segment director Craig Roseman says there’s a significant shift happening in the manufacturing sector, and it all has to do with the Industrial Internet of Things.
The manufacturing industry has undergone significant transformation over the last two centuries. Today, we are rapidly being propelled into the Fourth Industrial revolution (otherwise known as the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT) – the era of cyber-physical systems. And this is heralding in a new vision for manufacturing: the ‘smart factory’.
There is no doubt that advancements in manufacturing have transformed our lives. Living standards have improved dramatically and real wages have risen, while the price of items once considered a luxury, such as cars, has fallen. On top of this, great strides have been made in food safety and public health.
However, the 21st century has brought with it a new set of challenges.
By 2050, there will be nine billion people on the Earth, 30% more than there are today. While productivity needs to increase in response, we also need to improve quality, to meet the demands of an increasingly discerning customer.
Sustainability is now firmly on the agenda as well. As a major user of energy, the manufacturing industry is under more pressure than ever before to reduce consumption and adopt a greener energy mix.
And the manufacturing workforce is ageing. Before long, there will be a real shortage of skills and experience in the labour market.
Set against a backdrop of rising energy costs and a volatile commodities market, manufacturers now face a catch 22 situation: the need to increase productivity and flexibility while using fewer resources at the same time.
With the dawn of the IIoT, the lines between the digital and physical are breaking down and the way machines operate, connect and communicate is being transformed. This offers a solution to the challenges faced by the manufacturing industry and forward thinking Australian companies are embracing the idea of smart factories to get ahead of the game.
While understanding these challenges can help Australian companies take advantage of smart factory technology and achieve more with less it is also important that electrical contractors are aware of the trend and its place in industry. This is because they are likely to play a crucial role in maintaining the electrical systems that support smart factories in the future.
The smart factory of the future
The smart factory of the future will be a seamless web of information and production. Across the entire supply chain, machines will hum in harmony, gathering intelligence from their environment, analysing it and using it to make autonomous decisions about how they function – optimising productivity and efficiency. With the emergence of the IIoT, operations will be controlled from anywhere, at any time, on any device – improving the ability to diagnose issues and enable greater flexibility. The smart factory of the future will use the cloud – housing and manipulating vast data banks securely and accessibly off-site.
Overseeing this smart factory will be a leaner, highly skilled workforce – free to focus on fine tuning production and maximising operations.
While this description offers a look into a brighter future, it does not entirely reflect reality today. While many manufacturers are taking steps to become smarter, most are yet to fully embrace this technology. Many machines still operate in isolation, without any interfaces to communicate with the other systems. To date, plant owners have had limited capability to respond rapidly to changes in demand or to quality and service problems.
Hesitations in embracing smart factory technology are often threefold: upfront costs, security concerns and cultural change. It’s true that storage and analytics associated with big data can be more expensive and with production processes linked up to the internet cyber-attacks have become a real threat. And major operational transformations come with changes in workforce – which can take time to adjust to. But with the right support, expertise and solutions, these barriers can and should be overcome.
It used to be daunting to revise whole operations architecture. However, there are now smarter solutions available that combine a platform concept with an open technology approach – allowing plant owners to build and adapt as they grow. Approaching smart factory strategists or ‘smart technology’ vendors is vital for an organisation to succeed in the evolution of a site. Electrical contractors will need to be on boarded and up skilled so they can understand the role they may play afterwards.
But before implementing smart solutions, organisations will need to understand the major gaps in their current operations:
Critical ‘must haves’ for operations – are you losing productivity because your workers have to manually input data?
Unfilled needs– do you need a dashboard showing all production? Could you reduce energy costs by analysing different resources? And aid better workflow management?
Existing applications – do they work for you? Are they integrated, so that you can access critical data from one system into the other?
Next, or in parallel, plant owners need to build a complete understanding of the technologies and applications available in the marketplace, considering:
Platform technologies – look for proven, flexible, standards based options.
Open technology – look to see if your current providers are taking an open approach that allows their applications to be easily integrated and aligned with offerings from other providers.
Disruptive technologies – take a look at key areas like the cloud, ubiquitous reporting, and virtualisation. Though your organisation may not be ready to embrace these yet, you need to understand the potential they offer and ensure that the application providers you are using or considering are integrating these technologies in their future plans.
Whether building a new factory from scratch (Greenfield site) or upgrading a pre-existing property (Brownfield site) consideration of these factors ensures Australian companies have a smooth and comprehensive introduction of smart, connected technology. Understanding how these technologies work at a top line level and how they will interact with pre-existing (or new) electrical systems will be another key focus for electrical contractors.
How to achieve more with less
Manufacturers must maximise both factory flexibility and standardisation to succeed. While engineers require flexibility to diversify, innovative and differentiate their products, corporate IT requires tight control – to reduce variability, ensure cost efficiency, deliver high consistent quality and maintain product safety.
The right smart solution will take both these needs into consideration.
Part one of a smart solution is the implementation of an overarching integration platform, which has the basic functions needed by any application to run in a plant environment. This functionality includes plant floor automation connectivity, collaborative workflow, process data, reporting and mobility with smart phones. Of course, the platform must be robust, scalable and highly secure.
The platform then provides the basis for the addition of any advanced software applications that suit the unique demands of a business. For example, in a factory focused on food and beverage production batch recipe management software can be applied in settings as diverse as cake baking to paint mixing. This offers greater functionality for recipe and process management, improving material traceability and limiting cross contamination. Energy management software can also be integrated into the platform to monitor and optimise the use of energy across a plant. Effective management of energy consuming systems such as HVAC, lighting, and blind control can reduce energy bills by up to 30%.
Where it has worked
Vendors such as Schneider Electric are at the heart of the global drive to help industry design and build smarter factories – and with it, improve productivity, sustainability and efficiency.
The company recently worked with F&N Dairies Thailand – a Food and Beverage giant known for producing popular canned milk and tea brands such as Carnation, Teapot and Bear Brand – to turn its production chain into a smarter factory. Companies such as F&N are continually faced with the challenge to maintain high-quality products and reduce waste, while at the same time, keep operating costs to a minimum.
F&N produce three million cans of milk a day so meeting quality control standards across the production line is no mean feat. In fact, when quality parameter deviations were detected, operators used to manually trace the information in the archived, paper-based operations sheets to determine the root cause, which took up to four hours per issue.
Today, with the development of a new integrated platform and suite of Wonderware software solutions from Schneider Electric, F&N Dairies have now optimised its entire enterprise, including manufacturing execution, enterprise integration, batch, quality, operations and performance management.
And the result? The plant achieved its production goal of 24 million cases, with a full return on investment within one year. It reduced quality traceability time from four hours to just one minute. And the plant achieved ‘100% First-Time Quality’, a lean metric that indicates what parts are manufactured correctly the first time without need for inspection, rework or replacement.
Beyond the future
It is clear that the potential for smarter working is limited only by our ability to innovate applications. Advancements in technology have provided the connectivity, intelligence and automation needed to drive productivity and quality, while reducing cost and waste.
At its heart, the cyber-physical revolution offers society the same opportunity as industrial revolutions gone by: the mindset and the tools required to meet the challenges we face today and beyond. Australian companies can now embrace this change and smart factories are the next step in the journey to a fully connected and more productive future.
While the role that electrical contractors play in this space is still evolving, what is certain is that the more knowledge they have the better prepared they can be for any outcome. Contractors have the opportunity to understand how factories will evolve, how this will change the systems they currently work with and where to up skill effectively to provide the best service for their clients.