Manufacturing AUTOMATION

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TOP 5 IN 2007: Automation technologies to watch for in the New Year


January 17, 2007
By Mary Del


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It’s survival of the fittest for manufacturers these days. Those who remain lean and implement leading-edge technologies and flexible processes to produce high-quality products cheaper and faster than their competitors will be successful. To help you achieve success, we’ve asked industry experts to name the top five technologies or trends they think will make a difference in 2007 and beyond. Thank you to Jim Pinto, Peter Luh, Peter Orban, Sal Spada and Sath Rao for contributing to our second annual Top 5 feature. Last year, wireless technologies and robotics were a common theme among contributors. This year, wireless and robotics still made the list, along with a bevy of other emerging technologies. Read on to see what the experts had to say.

Jim Pinto’s top five
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Bio: Jim Pinto is an industry analyst and commentator, writer, entrepreneur, investor and futurist. Read his predictions, as well as excerpts from his book, Pintoís Points, at www.jimpinto.com.
1. INDUSTRIAL WIRELESS.
Already widely deployed in commercial and business applications, wireless adoption in industry has been delayed because process control users have concerns about security, and because major suppliers are debating standards. But industrial wireless is at the "tipping point" and significant new products and applications will emerge this year, not just to replace hard-wiring, but to generate new applications. I’m willing to bet that advanced and innovative wireless products, if introduced rapidly at a breakthrough price, will sweep industrial automation markets; end-users will gobble them up. It could spark a new phase of growth that will re-energize industrial automation.
2. INTELLIGENT EQUIPMENT AND PREDICTIVE DIAGNOSTICS. Increasingly this coming year, equipment will contain embedded operating information and diagnostics. Embedded intelligence allows adaptation to user needs and operator skills, progressing from basic functions to more advanced operating features, with already built-in options becoming available as needed. Automation equipment will increasingly have self-
diagnostics, not only showing causes after failure has occurred, but also providing predictive, preventive and advisory information.
3. MACHINE-TO-MACHINE (M2M) COMMUNICATIONS. M2M will start to generate increasing efficiencies and productivity in the coming year. Equipment will send operating information and end-users will use this to improve asset management. M2M communications will provide significant benefits to both suppliers and end-users, leading to improved asset management, dramatic cost reductions and enhanced service initiatives.
4. WEB SERVICES AND APPLICATIONS INTEGRATION. Production and business systems will increasingly work together. Integrated applications access data from servers connected to industrial networks and production management systems. This provides access to real-time plant-floor information, production and business applications across the manufacturing enterprise in a consistent manner. Users will have a seamless exchange of production and equipment status information across plant floors and multi-plant locations, directly up to the management level. And real-time decisions can occur in response to real-time changes. Web delivery of process and business data enhances collaboration between work groups and multi-location plants across the enterprise.
5. REAL-TIME INFORMATION. The drive for real-time operations and services is reshaping business, generating increased productivity. Real-time applications will become widespread. Web services allow integration and delivery of real-time information to all parts of the enterprise. Low-cost, effective applications will allow co-operating suppliers and users to monitor, analyse, optimize and adjust business processes in real time. It’s all about getting information in and out quickly, monitoring the business as it happens, and making quick, effective, agile decisions.

Peter Luh’s top five
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Bio: Peter Luh is a professor and head of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with the University of Connecticut. He is a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
1. RADIO FREQUENCY IDENTIFICATION (RFID). Tracking products will be made much more efficient with RFID. While the technology has been in use in security, access control and specialized tracking applications for many years, recent advances in RFID protocols, tag manufacturing costs, software systems and standards have poised it for explosive growth. The ability of RFID to track individual products, components and parts will revolutionize factory automation, inventory management and supply chain management.
2. ROBOTICS. With the increasing demand for flexibility for low-volume and high-variety products, robots are becoming more intelligent and more reliable, with higher performance and lower costs. Robots will have a much more prominent role in manufacturing automation beyond their traditional role in automotive and semiconductor industries.
3. SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGE-MENT. The infusion of information technology into business operations is changing how businesses operate. There are decision-support systems and communication tools available for automating marketing and sales processes, as well as processes in the supply chain. The primary goal is to serve customers more efficiently and effectively. The universal availability of the Internet is also accelerating mass customization of products, from PCs to automobiles. Managing supply chain relationships in this new environment necessitates the adoption of a new and more vigilant paradigm, and together with RFID, they will fundamentally change how factories operate.
4. REMOTE PROCESS MONITORING, PROGNOSIS, DIAGNOSIS AND REPAIR. Manufacturing processes and equipment are becoming more complex as products get more complicated. At the same time, manufacturers are striving for better throughput and less downtime. Thanks to advancements in information technologies, equipment will have built-in process monitoring, prognosis, diagnosis and communication capabilities to dramatically improve equipment availability and performance.
5. SENSOR NETWORKS AND WIRELESS COMMUNICATION. Due to rapid innovations in sensing technology and the rising complexity of manufacturing processes, inexpensive and smart devices with multiple heterogeneous sensors, networked through wired or wireless links and deployable in large numbers, will be distributed throughout physical manufacturing systems to maintain the production performance, to ensure the life cycle quality of products, and to improve the quality of management and service. These technologies will produce an environment rich in both temporally and spatially dense information, and provide unprecedented opportunities for continuing quality and productivity improvement.

Peter Orban’s top five
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Bio: Peter Orban is a senior research officer with the Integrated Manufacturing Technologies Institute, National Research Council of Canada. He is the project leader of the reconfigurable machines project of the Virtual Reconfigurable Manufacturing Technologies program at NRC-IMTI.
1. MANUFACTURING AGILITY. Manufacturing is changing rapidly. Production lots are shrinking. Instead of mass production there is mass customization. Quality is ever important, and there is no room for scrap. For today’s manufacturers to be successful, they have to be nimble and agile, be able to respond to the changing market and production requirements, and exploit emerging opportunities at a moment’s notice.
2. RECONFIGURABLE MACHINES. Machines are the mainstay of manufacturing. Machines are generally accurate, repeatable, programmable and flexible. They are also expensive. When new manufacturing processes are introduced, or existing processes change significantly, there is usually the need for new machines. Machines are built and configured to user requirements by the supplier, and usually cannot be changed by the user. To address these concerns, a new class of machines is emerging. Reconfigurable machines are based on the module principle, using standard or common mechanical and other interfaces. Users will have the ability to quickly change the function of a machine by adding, removing or changing modules, and configuring them into the required form. Such machines will greatly mitigate the pressures manufacturers face when production needs change.
3. RECONFIGURABLE CONTROLS. When the shape and functionality of a machine changes, the control system also needs to change. Number of axis, co-ordinate systems and ancillaries all need to be controlled differently. Conventional controllers are delivered and configured together with the machines, and users only do application programming. In a reconfigurable control system, the control functions are distributed among equal peers or control modules, and the individual modules are in charge of the mechanical modules. The control modules are connected to each other via a network. Configuration will be done through intelligent web-based services where the modules discover each other’s capabilities, and negotiate with each other to form the overall control strategy.
4. VISION-BASED INTELLIGENT ALIGNMENT. When production needs change, a primary concern is the quick startup of quality manufacturing. This includes the proper alignment of machines, fixtures and parts to ensure accurate production. The measurement and adjustment of machine and part components, and the creation and utilization of complex and accurate fixtures, are time consuming and expensive. New means to achieve accuracy are based on optical sensors and intelligent software in the controllers and preparation functions. The location of components and parts is determined by the optical sensors, and the control action is corrected for accurate processing.
5. AUTOMATED APPLICATION PROGRAMMING SYSTEMS. Preparing the manufacturing process programs for production is increasingly becoming a bottleneck with the shrinking of production lot sizes and the increase of variants in products. While humans produce high-quality process programs with the aid of computer-assisted tools, automated application programming systems will increase productivity and ensure the quality of user programs. Intelligent software systems will analyse designs, determine features and suggest optimal processes for execution. Such automated systems will allow for last minute changes and increased throughput in the preparation of process plans.

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Sal Spada’s top five
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Bio: Sal Spada is a director of research with the ARC Advisory Group. His responsibilities include studies in the worldwide CNC, North American general motion control and servo drive markets. His areas of expertise include real-time, object-oriented software design and development applied to motion control systems.
1. INTELLIGENT MOBILITY SOLUTIONS. These enable work process improvements when combined with workforce training and cultural changes. Common needs of all manufacturers, regardless of the industry, includes increasing productivity to offset the rising salaries of the workforce and, more importantly, preserving the knowledge of experienced workers to overcome the looming threat of mass retirement of baby boomers in the next few years. Typically the first phase of a mobility solution initiative requires capital investments centred on infrastructure, including hand-held communicators, RFID, wireless and GPS capability, data acquisition systems, and management and analysis software.
2. FENCELESS ROBOTICS. Eliminating fencing around robotic work cells has become an issue of increasing importance as manufacturers seek to increase productivity and reduce overall floor space. Although machine safeguarding technology has become more advanced and reliable, the current safety regulations in most regions of the world lag the technology trends. This prohibits the elimination of safety fences, safety mats and light curtains. As a result, the partnering of robots and humans becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible. Despite the restrictions present in developed regions, there still exists a desire from end-users to eliminate fences, particularly where automation becomes difficult to apply in certain assembly tasks.
3. INTELLIGENT SAFETY SYSTEMS. Manufacturers are seeking upgrades of safety solutions for existing assets and selecting new capital equipment expenditures that improve utilization, minimize unscheduled downtime and allow operators to work efficiently. Modern, intelligent safety solutions are usually associated with safety PLCs that replace conventional hard-wired safety relays. However, far more important to productivity improvements are the avoidance of unintended axis movement and "safe motion" that reduces the risk of injury to operators by allowing continued but limited axis movement. Integrated safety in motion actuation devices supports a variety of safe drive functions without the use of external safety hardware. These functions can greatly increase machine productivity by allowing operators to perform tasks, such as minor maintenance and changing tools, which in the past could only be performed if power was completely removed from the drives.
4. INSIDER SECURITY THREATS. Every security strategy should include an insider threat review process that is based on a simple model of insider attacks such as prevention, containment, detection and recovery phases. Insider threats include malicious activities and do not include accidental damage or damage due to failures in hardware or software. Security professionals alone cannot protect against insider threats. Management, human relations and security teams must work closely together to create comprehensive insider threat security reviews and practices.
5. OPC FOUNDATION’S UNIFIED ARCHITECTURE (OPC-UA). Manufacturers and technology providers recognize the importance of integrating, exchanging and synchronizing data and information between plant floor systems and enterprise systems. Information about plant floor systems needs to be provided to the business applications in the enterprise world, providing real-time information to make effective decisions. Therefore, it is important to understand the OPC-UA functionality and its capability to integrate plant floor systems to the enterprise. OPC-UA is the new series of specifications that embodies the OPC Foundation’s vision of providing secure, reliable interoperability for moving data and information from the plant floor to the enterprise. It is intended to expand the framework for moving information between applications in the enterprise space by taking the existing OPC specifications and integrating them together, leveraging web services as the key technology enabler in the new architecture.

Sath Rao’s top five
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Bio: Sath Rao is industry manager, industrial automation and process control, with Frost and Sullivan. His expertise is in industrial automation, process control and the energy industry.
1. MANUFACTURING INTELLIGENCE. Organizations that are on the lean/Six Sigma cycle have realized the importance of using appropriate sets of metrics derived from data on the plant floor, essentially to drive productivity improvements, remove constraints and develop overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) strategies. The process industry was more tuned to variations in process and pro-actively adopted advanced process control strategies. The positive implications to the discreet environment have not been lost and corporations are eagerly harvesting the benefits of making better use of plant data to drive productivity gains.
2. INDUSTRIAL WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES. The industrial automation environment was initially skeptical about the deployment of wireless technologies on the plant floor. Advanced solutions now available provide robust wireless solutions. Industrial customers are looking at phenomenal paybacks and better control over process parameters, finally plugging leaks that were a drain on energy, innovating to reduce operational costs and impacting the bottom line.
3. ADVANCED LASER TECHNOLOGIES. The traditional mindset of quality control being relegated to the white-coat personnel, sitting in a central quality control room, far away from the shop floor, is changing. Quality control has moved to the shop floor. Portable articulated-arm co-ordinate measuring machines (CMM) and laser trackers enable production floor personnel to fix quality errors before they show up as rejected parts. Increased use of lasers in manufacturing has been witnessed across the world, with benefits ranging from better quality and finish to improved energy utilization and reliability.
4. MOBILE TASK MANAGEMENT AND COLLABORATIVE AUTOMATION SYSTEMS. The ability to provide data at the hands of the plant personnel has helped to improve manufacturing; operations; maintenance; health, safety and environment (HSE); quality control; training; reliability; and compliance. Leading manufacturers are looking at deploying mobile solutions for asset tracking, maintenance management and operations, because they have a direct impact on the bottom line.
5. EMBEDDED MACHINE INTELLIGENCE. Vision guidance, robotics and embedded intelligence are all headed towards convergence. The capability of image processing tools and their ability to effectively communicate with robots and machines with embedded intelligence has created exciting possibilities. The actual translation could range from robotic controllers that can now tell you when it is time for re-calibration or preventive maintenance, to machines that alert supervisors about an operator’s failure to acknowledge an alarm.