IIoT changes how companies fill skilled positions

Oct. 6, 2021
Machine connectivity and remote monitoring enable PdM and OEE capabilities

Dave Emory is director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation. Prior to B&R, Emory worked at Yaskawa Electric America and held several positions in sales and senior management. He was responsible for the motion and drive sales in North America and for several vertical markets.

The adaptive machine concept certainly isn't new, but it's expanding to encompass even more technology. The entire idea is moving forward toward adaptive manufacturing. The ACOPOS 6D is an important part of that expansion. For those familiar with ACOPOStrak, this is essentially the same as the track segment, which measures 240 millimeters by 240 millimeters by 70 millimeters. And it can be air-cooled, but it's also already set up to be liquid-cooled, if necessary. Each segment is supplied with 48 to 60 Vdc, and the segments can be combined in any configuration. The only real restriction is that one of the full edges of a segment must be adjacent to a pole edge of another segment.

As the country is reemerging now from the pandemic shutdown, which technologies will be important for manufacturers looking to ramp up quickly?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: First, let me say how excited and intrigued I am to be traveling again to customers. I've been able to start to see folks again and visit facilities. And, so far, those visits have confirmed one thing—customers are anxious to improve the level of automation that they currently have; there's no question. This is, of course, great news for the solution providers like ourselves. But, you're right, the ramping up quickly is going to be the key. We're already seeing shortages of common items and components, as you probably hear across the states, and in general around the world. Producers are, going to want to capture that need, and they're going to want to expand even into new markets and get into new things. So, several technologies come to mind. Certainly, there's going to be more general automation and robotics implemented in the short term (Figure 1). I don't see how that's not possible, considering pre-COVID that was already trending.

That’s going to continue. What's most exciting is producers are asking for more agility; they want more flexibility. The adaptive machine and adaptive manufacturing concepts that we've been speaking about, for going on two years now, brings this much needed agility and flexibility to the production floor. So allowing what we're saying is near-zero-downtime changeover and cost-effective small-batch production, which is part of the requirements that they're all seeing. I'm also seeing a tighter need for process simulation and digital-twin usage. These help to prove our concepts early and kind of allow for that fail-fast approach because we want to get to the market quickly, so that's helping. And then, of course, there's more discussion over cybersecurity. That is definitely a recurring topic.

Cybersecurity and the Internet of Things in general have become pretty much ubiquitous in the manufacturing area. How can machine builders and end users take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things and robotics?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: There's been lots of discussions for plenty of time now over the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). But, like most processes and decisions, more data, specifically more accurate data, is the key. Overall, machine health and the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) are super-important to producers, and the OEM knows this.

The ability to correct faster or even predict a negative occurrence before a failure was pretty much paramount to what we've considered to be first-class OEE numbers. Inputs to the decision process will be much more detailed and insightful as all these sensors and devices get connected. The fewer unknowns and eliminated guesswork regarding the status of the machine components allow for a much more productive production line. IIoT allows for that true predictive maintenance, real-time monitoring; we are even seeing some potential new business models centered around the service of that machine or those machines or the systems, lead management, like we're doing with the ABB Ability product, actually.

Those technologies certainly will alter the way that companies are staffing their own manufacturing operations in the future. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: That's a touchy one. We've been talking about human staffing versus automation, or staffing in general versus automation, since I entered this space in 1990. But companies are going to really ultimately make their own decisions with staffing. Many are struggling right now currently to hire and retain talent of all types; skilled, experienced operators are not as plentiful as they once were. So we're looking to the machines that need to use these advances in the technology to make the interfaces more intuitive, of course, to operate. But also, we've made some great progress with software packages in the past couple of years—like MappWorks. We're embedding video, of course, embedding documents into the machine controls. So those things are going a long way to offset the lack of talent, but it will be ultimately up to those producers to staff.

What about the evolution of software and the way that it's impacted requirements for machine hardware?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: We're all seeing more and more intellectual property (IP) and differentiation coming from software; there's no question. At automation vendors like ourselves, the machine builders, the systems guys and the OEMs, there's a big push around simplification of software, but differentiation.  hardware in time will become less the area of differentiation until we see that next chip or industrial-control (IC) breakthrough where hardware just takes a stairstep leap. But the demands, in terms of performance, they're continuing to go up; they're destined to continue upward. Software is already, but will become even more, an area of differentiation in the long term versus the hardware.

As IT and OT, the engineering and the the IT departments, continue their convergence, do you have a prediction or a hunch on which one of those will be leading that direction in the future?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: I’m going to take the middle ground. It's not so much going to be who's leading it. Both are independently super-important to success of the organizations. But the increasing connectivity and the cybersecurity, of course, that we just talked about mean that the OT folks are going to have to work a lot closer with the IT groups than they do currently to ensure any success and really limit the exposure and risk for that builder. This more of a collaborative approach.  This is going to be a big change, as these two groups are traditionally pretty disconnected. It really won't be so much lead-and-follow as much as it will be success based on collaboration. We're seeing it already among the product development folks on our side, where we have an OT outward face an IT side; they are already becoming closer as groups anyway.

Looking into the future, how will the technology change both machine builders’ and the end users’ business models over the next five years?

Dave Emory, director of end user sales at B&R Industrial Automation: Five years is a stretch. We're going to see it tighter than that; the ramp is pretty significant because it started, and then we lost that year-and-a-half; we were already seeing it pre-COVID. But the future's bringing requirements for flexibility, agility and profitable small-batch production, that we already see. Producers and, of course, therefore, the production equipment have to be able to keep up with the direct-to-consumer stuff, the DTC requirements, and the Amazon effect is already in play in almost every production environment that we're serving. Everything from snack foods to cosmetics and home care, personal care to medicine, all the way through the medicine itself, where consumers are getting pretty used to getting exactly what and how many of what they want basically when they want it, not to mention that marketing departments are focused on differentiation because of the competitive nature of the world; those departments are constantly changing the formats for packages; they're adding varieties; they're creating combinations that best serve their user or their consumer. This isn't easy to do. The logistics of all that has been very complicated and expensive. Largely, it's done with volume production, meaning they just crank out whatever it is, they inventory it, and then they co-pack it. So they dismantle, repackage and get product out. And that's true of foods all the way to even medicine. It's expensive, very expensive.

Every time a producer touches the product, whether it's a beer or a face cream or a drug, there's cost, not to mention the possibility of damage or contamination. So we're looking at adaptive manufacturing to allow for a lot fewer steps in that process to be able to build those desired varieties at the time of producing so that we're not touching it again—basically, a build-to-order concept, if you will, but more or less a merging of the product. So, machine builders will inherently need to incorporate that flexibility and agility and frankly the convenience for producers into their products. So zero changeover is driving much of this, but the interface or the HMI and the data exchange will be just as important.

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]