As an equipment maker for the packaging industry, we've always believed that customers are the best judges of the equipment we build. So, it's important to give them a voice in designing our products.
The Open Modular Architecture Controls (OMAC) Working Group, which was founded by major manufacturers in the medical, automotive, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries, is an important step in that direction. OMAC and its various committees provide end users, industrial OEMs, automation vendors, system integrators, and other professionals with an open forum for sharing ideas on how we can work together to give end users what they want.
Reducing the cost of integration is a major factor driving customer decision-making. Companies know that automating and integrating processes can save them time and money. Integration helps them evaluate overall equipment efficiency, identify bottlenecks in their processes, and make better business decisions.
A major barrier to integration is the lack of common standards for machine operating systems and information exchange. A typical plant today might have to integrate dozens of different machines, each with its own control system, software language, and HMI screens.
In the past, many companies tried to simplify that task by specifying only one PLC or motion control vendor. To simplify the integration, this often meant settling for less than the latest technology. For many industrial machine builders, it also meant constantly changing control hardware and reworking software to meet different customer specifications.
OMAC's ultimate goal is to create a common, global, and vendor-independent structure for control design. The benefit would be a single set of standards that gives end users the common structure they need, while giving machine builders greater flexibility in their hardware and software choices.
And, it gives the innovative OEM an opportunity to differentiate itself by offering new capabilities to its customers. The less time we spend replacing processors or re-doing system engineering because of customer preferences, the more time we can spend on things that really count.
The advantages of the OMAC approach already are apparent. Our company has incorporated the Plug & Pack guidelines developed by the PackML sub-team of OMAC's Packaging Working Group into our new machines. We demonstrated these guidelines in a joint-development project with Schneider Electric in a machine shown at PackExpo last year. This effort used uniform definitions that end users and industrial OEMs have agreed on for line types, machine states, tag names, values, and structures. The intent is to achieve a consistent meaning for data elements.
These guidelines simplify the design and operation of packaging equipment and provide the consistency in operation that will pay off in improved productivity and lower costs. Standards such as these make it easier to program and operate machines, reducing engineering and training costs for both OEMs and their customers.
By establishing common definitions for data elements and machine states, the Plug & Pack guidelines provide a universal language that both end-users and industrial OEMs can use to collect and communicate machine performance data. We believe these standards will contribute significantly to improving productivity for our customers.
The ultimate goal is not just to have a machine that performs well, but one that runs well all the time. The issue is productivity, which requires us to better understand performance issues such as the mean time between failures for parts.
We've already seen the benefits of providing customers with real-time data and diagnostics through Ethernet and the Internet. We have solid data and real proof of the benefits from the numerous times we've found a customer problem and corrected it--remotely. We can go in from a distance and see where the problems are on a machine, even using web cams on the equipment to determine where there's been a mechanical failure.
We're not all the way there yet, but the companies involved in OMAC are making progress. And it all goes back to this group of end users who are telling us what they want.
Developments in technology are offering new capabilities to OEMs and their customers every day. Standards like those being developed by OMAC will help us realize their benefits.
Michelle Bergeron is partner and chief electrical design engineer for MDC Engineering, a packaging equipment builder based in Sarasota, Fla. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org