Smart Machines & Factories
Translator in a box
Published:  09 August, 2019

At the recent B&R Innovations Day: Enabling the Adaptive Machine, held at the Williams F1 headquarters in Oxford, Sam Tinsley, managing director of Cutting Edge Services - supplier of food processing machinery, services and consumables - highlighted how the company is working with B&R to add incremental automation solutions in an under-invested and low-tech industry such as butchery, in order to raise productivity and address labour shortages for the industry. Smart Machines & Factories’ Aaron Blutstein reports.

Today, automation technologies are being commercialised that put smart-factory functionalities in the realm of real-world production and packaging. This new generation of machinery is a must if producers are to cost effectively meet the expectations of consumers who are increasingly used to getting precisely what they want, quickly, online.

For end-user products manufacturers in volume industries such as food and beverage, consumer packed goods, or medical devices this presents very real challenges that affect how they operate their businesses to remain competitive and profitable.

For example switching from glass bottles to plastic, or from rigid to flexible containers, will require a completely different set of filling and packaging machinery. In addition as consumer behaviour changes, the lifecycles of consumer products and packaging keep shrinking, while SKU counts continue to grow. Given the 15 to 20+ year service life of industrial machinery, it is no longer possible to anticipate all the changes that will occur – especially the disruptive ones.

Therefore the theme for the recent B&R Innovations Day staged by B&R - Enabling the Adaptive Machine, highlighted how the adaptive machine can support on-the-fly changeovers and allow reconfiguration with different production modules using the same base machine platform. In addition such machines will readily adapt to constant changes in size and format, but will also adapt to radical and unforeseen requirements through corresponding equipment changes.

As lot sizes shrink and throughput requirements (lead time and volume) remain critical, adaptive machinery will also compare favourably in all aspects of productivity measurement – OEE, ROI and TCO.

One technology that stood out at the event and is helping to enable the adaptive machine is Orange Box. As an Industrial IoT solution package, the Orange Box brings smart-factory intelligence to brownfield installations for sectors of industry where the build of greenfield sites are simply not a viable option.

Jason Johnson, sales manager, Process & Factory Automation Solutions, B&R UK & Ireland explained that the technology takes away the human element and allows the machine to tell you why it stopped. Preconfigured OEE dashboards make it easy to locally identify improvement opportunities.

The technology highlights how it is now possible to read and analyse data from previously isolated machinery and equipment. A controller collects runtime data via I/O or fieldbus and processes it using intelligent software components. The greatest advantage is that there's no need for any changes to existing hardware and software. Johnson explains: “It’s completely non-invasive. And that’s what scares people. You can connect Orange Box to existing machinery. You do not modify existing PLC code, you don’t have to make changes to hardware it basically sits like big brother and watches what’s happening in the PLCs with a native connection. The PLC doesn’t even know the connection has been made. It just happens.”

Transforming a traditional industry

One business that has taken advantage of this technology in order to help transform a very traditional sector is Cutting Edge. The company services the food production and processing industry across the UK and Ireland, through the supply of food processing machinery, services and consumables.

Sam Tinsley, managing director of Cutting Edge, explains that the business started life in the butchery and abattoir business, with today over 70% of its products and services involving sharp edges with knives or cutting machines. It essentially works at every stage of food processing, from providing durable PPE wear and specialist abattoir equipment to offering a unique knife sharpening service.

However Tinsley describes the industry as very traditional in terms of process, people and mind-set, and explains that the sector is at the cusp of change – indeed she says it needs to change and transform. She equates the changes needed in her industry to the significant changes that the automotive sector went through around 20-30 years ago and how if you look at it today it has moved on in terms of technology, people and mind-set.

The founder and current chairman David Mook, started a process of change for his industry back in 1992 and explored new ways of going to market as a butcher in terms of knives, cutting machines and sharpening of blade. Ever since, Tinsley explains, it has evolved and grown and today works with a range of global manufacturers, including brands such as Sainsbury’s to deliver bespoke solutions.

Tinsley warns that there is a crisis in the food industry: “People don’t want to work in it. It is screaming out for change. So we decided as a company to look at what is affecting this industry to try and help it transform. A lot if this is to do with data and technology. We are working with different partners to put in new technology for customers where we can – such as smart sensors, which are providing smart data.” The problems that her customers have however, explains Tinsley, is that they don’t have pots of cash to build these greenfield sites and they need to do this now, which is where she sees working with B&R in terms of robotics, vision technology: “We can actually start to help our customers bridge this gap.”

Tinsley explains that buying smart sensors and getting the data from them isn’t the problem. She says that customers are drowning in data. But more importantly she asks is “how do we do something with it? How do I know where to start first? I have a limited amount of capital; I have a limited amount of space, and running out of staff.” Orange Box she says addresses many of these issues in terms of reading and analysing data, and is a technology that takes away the human element and allows the machine to talk to you.

The company has been collaborating with B&R for around 12 months now, and the success she sees in working with the company and Orange Box is that it is able to make true insights into the data: “This is where we have been working within our business as well our customers that helps us see where the pinch points are in our customers’ processes and to help them find the solutions they need. I see the Orange Box as a translator.”

As Johnson highlights, “once it has been installed you get real data that you can quickly make decisions on”. Ultimately he concludes that we need to think about the narrative around data capture and processing in use: “We (B&R) see the same way as all of the industry does. The customer now gets Industry 4.0 and they get the need to use and mange data. We believe that it’s now about how customers make that first step without getting too bogged down with huge IT transformation projects. And that’s where Orange Box finds a real need. And a real acceptance as the first easy steps to take.”

Tinsley also concludes that she sees the Orange Box as a start of the journey: “Building on from this we’re now working on the next step towards complete IoT for the industry. We’re currently planning the pilot of B&R’s Edge controller in test conditions throughout this summer.” Following on from this pilot, Smart Machines & Factories will be taking a look at the results later this year.

As can be demonstrated with Cutting Edge, Orange Box technology, highlighted at the B&R Innovations Day – Enabling the Adaptive Machine, offers a way to collect machine data automatically to help identify problems before they occur or determining measures to boost productivity and availability, which is fundamental to enabling the adaptive machine. For many brownfield plants this technology also offers an opportunity to move away from reaching for the pen and paper, and at the same time presenting huge opportunities to start to transform sectors of our economy.


Technology overview

B&R’s Orange Box solution was launched at the 2017 Hannover Messe and enables machine operators to collect and analyse data from previously isolated machines and lines and get them fit for the smart factory with a minimal effort.

An Orange Box consists of a controller and B&R mapp Technology's preconfigured software blocks – known as mapps. The controller collects operating data from any machine via its I/O channels or a fieldbus connection. From this data, the mapps generate and display OEE ratings and other KPIs, and can also share the information with higher-level systems via OPC UA.

Installing the Orange Box requires no changes to existing hardware or software. Equipment owners can achieve a substantial boost in productivity with a remarkably small investment in time and cost. Thanks to the mapps, the Orange Box is as simple and intuitive to operate as a smartphone.

It is also entirely flexible and modular. To collect and analyse basic operating data, all you need is a 25mm wide compact PLC and the mapp OEE component. For more advanced features – such as alarm management or energy monitoring – the solution can easily be scaled up with more powerful PLCs and additional software components. To give the Orange Box a modern user interface in addition to PLC functionality, a power panel or a panel PC can be used.