Smart Machines & Factories
Smart logistics!
Published:  25 October, 2016

Smart Machines & Factories spoke to Howard Forryan, at HARTING, about the role of Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things in helping to improve the efficiency of manufacturing logistics.

Within the modern manufacturing environment, the Internet of Things (IoT) offers a number of significant benefits. New developments in cloud computing, machine-to-machine connectivity, and the configurability of automation process allow companies to migrate advanced IT strategies into areas such as innovative sourcing strategies, increased visibility of assets, and the smoother management of work in process by identifying and reducing the need for human intervention.

Together, these advances fall under the umbrella term of “smart manufacturing”: the addition of intelligence to manufacturing processes. The goal is to achieve a high level of connectivity, visibility, awareness, and adaptability at all stages in the supply chain, allowing the end-user to quickly implement solutions that deliver real profitability gains without re-engineering already proven and stable manufacturing processes.

Howard Forryan, at HARTING says there are two key elements of IoT which are directly applicable to smart manufacturing: machine-to-machine communications and manufacturing logistics:

• Machine-to-machine communications: typically concerned with the transmission of information obtained from the monitoring of production equipment to improve diagnostics and to enable effective preventative maintenance.

• Manufacturing logistics: challenging the existing supply chain management model by using intelligent systems to implement functions such as supplying the line with discrete and accurate quantities of materials; ensuring goods flow on a “just in time” schedule, and faithfully tracking assets and inventory in the warehouse and in transit.

Forryan explains that manufacturing logistics allows data captured from the manufacturing area to be “operationalised” so that production lines can be adjusted, maintained or re-tooled, based on live information: “Automated endpoints of lines can inform inventory and shipping systems, which can, for example, automatically move finished goods to where it needs to be, when it needs to be. Rapid use of manufacturing data to provide the input to IoT systems can be invaluable to creating a competitive advantage for users in today’s complex markets.

“Manufacturing logistics converts data acquired from the production line into actionable intelligence for continuous process improvement, thereby building resiliency, developing agile supply and production, and incorporating predictions of market-driven events into production and supply planning.”

RFID technology

The practical implementation of these enablers of smart manufacturing has been greatly facilitated by developments in radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. Forryan comments: ”In the modern factory, RFID sensor networks can provide and communicate all the necessary data, with strategically placed RFID tags and sensors creating a real-time multi-directional autonomous pipeline of raw manufacturing data.”

Integrated Industry 4.0

He says his company now allows manufacturers to integrate together the two key manufacturing IoT elements of machine-to-machine communications and manufacturing logistics, thereby optimising production process efficiency improvements and minimising costs, through its compact MICA (Modular Industrial Computing Architecture) open-source edge computing device.

MICA, Forryan explains, can save, evaluate and process data from sensors, including RFID transponders, and it can then either:

• Act as a stand-alone offline computer that can make local decisions (trigger local alarms, for example), or:

• Operate as a gateway via the Internet to allow access to a higher-level IT system to facilitate greater operational process improvements, moving the next step forward on the path toward smart manufacturing.

MICA transfers data, saves it to a buffer, and aggregates it to take the load off data networks and computing centres. It operates with open architecture software, including the standard tools (e.g. HTML5 and JavaScript) used to programme and maintain it. It can therefore be very easily customised using software applications that run in Linux-based containers holding all the necessary libraries and drivers. Such containers run in individual ‘sandboxes’ which isolate and secure different applications from one another with their own separate log-in and IP addresses. Forryan, says that as a result, there should be no concerns over data security when MICA is allowed access to a higher-level production operating network.

MICA can be used in high shock and vibration environments, is resistant to moisture and dust to an IP67 degree of protection and provides a high immunity to RFI/EMI interference. In addition, there is no fan, it is maintenance free, and it can be operated remotely through a web browser. Its compact size means that it is small enough to fit onto an electrical control cabinet DIN rail, allowing it to be easily integrated into new installations or retrofitted into existing manufacturing plants. It can operate either via Power over Ethernet or from a separate 12-24 V DC power feed.

Forryan highlights that: “MICA offers significantly lower investment costs by comparison with complete industrial PCs. Moreover, using MICA involves no licensing or leasing fees, and offers inexpensive prototyping and development facilities because of its open development environment. Further savings in operating costs are provided by the very low power consumption: less than 5 W for the base version.”

He concludes by saying that by applying both developments in passive UHF RFID technology and new industrial computing solutions in combination, production line manufacturing managers can monitor the condition status of key machinery in real time for applications such as material supply chain management or preventative maintenance issues: “They can then carry out continuous control adjustments through the separate simple, compact and reliable computing device which provides secure access to the main operating software system to maximise process efficiencies.”

As a consequence, Forryan explains, users achieve important productivity gains via the interlinking of the key IoT elements of machine-to-machine communications and manufacturing logistics. Such an approach fully supports the trend toward Integrated Industry 4.0 and “smart factory” deployment.

For further information please visit: