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Every component is a data source

March 18, 2022
Monitoring and data collection will enable Industry 4.0

Freeman Smith is the founder of Nufactur.

What have been the biggest improvements to industrial-networking technology in the past five years?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is a breakthrough in the ability to scale industrial networks to a feasible size for the Internet of Things. Without TSN, it would be impossible to reliably manage the convergence of many data streams at different speed, latency and availability. TSN adds a robust layer to industrial networking that will allow Industry 4.0 to become a reality.

Also read: Vibration and temperature monitoring from afar

What’s the most innovative or efficient industrial-networking technology application you’ve ever seen or been involved with?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: A lumber mill in Georgia was the most complex and well-oiled industrial network I have seen. The network needed to maintain the lumberyard, process the logs, cut the wood and package the finished product. As the logs made a winding journey through dozens of stations, the industrial network coordinated different climates, motors, pneumatic and hydraulic actuators, industrial robots and communications with operators, all while syncing with the logistics of continuous drop-offs and deliveries.

How has industrial-networking technology benefitted from remote monitoring and connectivity?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Remote monitoring and connectivity means controls technology is more centralized. Compared to the fragmented networks that existed before remote monitoring, it is much easier for networks to be maintained and analyzed from a centralized hub. Therefore, network failures occur less often and are resolved more quickly.

Can you explain how software development has changed industrial-networking technology design and production?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Advancements in software have allowed interfaces and SCADA systems to become user-friendly enough to be used by operators and maintenance workers. This has shifted the intended design audience from controls engineers to machine operators. Therefore, we now see less focus on technical specifications and more emphasis on usability and new features.

How do industrial-networking technologies figure into digital-twin platform models being used by manufacturers?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Data collected in the actual manufacturing environment must be fed into the digital-twin platform. This means that all the inputs collected by the industrial network on humidity, pressure and temperature must be output to the digital-twin platform to see how the components will react. Industrial-networking technology must be prepared to integrate with these technologies.

When will industrial-networking technology become IT-friendly enough that engineers are no longer required for installation and operation?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Industrial networking will likely follow the same trend in manufacturing that personal computers did in the office. As they became more user-friendly, individuals were more capable of installing and operating the machines themselves. However, this allowed for more complex networks and software products that are now maintained by a small team of IT professionals. I envision industrial networking will follow the same trend where operators are mostly self-sufficient, but a team of engineers is there for troubleshooting and maintenance.

What future innovations will impact the use of industrial-networking technology in discrete-manufacturing operations?

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: The biggest innovation I look forward to is tracking discrete manufacturing through every stage of the process. Once Industry 4.0 truly arrives, every single component will be monitored and its data collected. This will be helpful for predictive maintenance, process improvements and trimming costs, but what I look forward to most as a consumer is the end of mass product recalls. Once we are tracking every aspect of manufacturing, if a product is defective, we will be able to follow the breadcrumbs back to the exact error in the process and then recall only the specific products that experienced that defect. Gone will be the days of taking your new car to the dealership because of a mass recall you heard about on the news.

Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art industrial-networking technology.

Freeman Smith, founder, Nufactur: Nufactur's industrial parts search engine is the quickest and easiest way for end users to find the industrial-networking components they need to get and keep their networks up and running.

About the author: Mike Bacidore
About the Author

Mike Bacidore | Editor in Chief

Mike Bacidore is chief editor of Control Design and has been an integral part of the Endeavor Business Media editorial team since 2007. Previously, he was editorial director at Hughes Communications and a portfolio manager of the human resources and labor law areas at Wolters Kluwer. Bacidore holds a BA from the University of Illinois and an MBA from Lake Forest Graduate School of Management. He is an award-winning columnist, earning multiple regional and national awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He may be reached at [email protected] 

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