Machines as singular entities with fixed components and proprietary communication protocols are becoming a thing of the past. The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things is changing how machines talk and what they communicate. From machine-to-machine communication to the collection of in-depth analytics, this data revolution is led primarily by more open platforms and systems that welcome multiple protocols, not adhere to a singular communication method.
“More than anything else, connectivity has changed the direction of on-machine components,” says Tom Jensen, head of system sales and technology evangelist at Murrelektronik, “but connectivity only exists when there is something to say and someone to say it. It seems the ante for an on-machine controller—the hub of decentralized components—is that it must be able to communicate out of multiple channels simultaneously and for free.”
This is a drive behind edge computing, Jensen says. A machine controller can’t communicate back and forth, until it can collect data on one bus, send commands to other peer machines on a second, and report up on a third. “The problem up to now is that most controllers, and therefore components, spoke only one protocol on one port, and to add an additional port was very expensive, if it was possible. It is common to see that the controls being introduced in the IP67 era have multiple fieldbus connections available in the base unit,” Jensen says.
All of this is possible because manufacturers can add additional communication chips without having to increase the price of the controller as the cost of chips is now so reasonable.
“As more components continue to evolve and incorporate intelligence, users and vendors acknowledge that we as an industry need to continue to move toward neutrality and harmony in regard to communication protocols,” says Sandro Quintero, electric automation business driver of North America for Festo. He points to IO-Link as a good example of this harmony.
The use of on-machine components is enhanced with the continued development in IP65- and IP67-rated remote I/O modules. Remote I/O modules provide local connection points for digital and analog I/O, as well as IO-Link masters with higher end functionality. “Remote I/O modules with built-in Web servers are turning the commissioning of on-machine components into an increasingly simple task,” says Eric Rice, product market manager for electric automation at Festo. “A single industrial Ethernet node module can scan all other modules connected to it and provide the necessary configuration setting to the user via a single web page. This web page allows the user to see and configure all modules into the control architecture by streamlining the creation of tag data, variable types and assembly sizes for the software programmer.”
Modular and specialized
Open communication between components and machines also has manufacturers seeking out custom solutions and modular equipment. The user-friendly software has made customized machines and modular systems more accessible.
Roeslein & Associates builds preassembled machines for the container manufacturing, process and energy industries. “Their modular approach to specialized plant facilities is a key differentiator,” says Brian Taylor, business director of safety, sensing and connectivity at Rockwell Automation.
The company’s approach to aluminum-can manufacturing highlights the advantages of modular construction, installation and operation. Cold-rolled aluminum is turned into beverage-ready cans along a production line with cupping presses, bodymakers, washers, decorators, inside spray systems, neckers and palletizers.
Most production lines are built to fit a facility after the building and space is constructed, but Roeslein premanufactures units for each system in the process. “The modularity of on-machine and plug-and-play allow them to easily test subsystems. They create a subsystem that attaches to a controller to be tested via a network connection and power, instead of wiring up to a cabinet,” Taylor says. Each unit includes all process piping, the cable tray, lighting, handrails and conveyors and is shipped pretested and ready for installation. “The manufacturing systems run more efficiently, use significantly less energy and can easily be changed as needed to meet customer requirements in different regions,” Taylor says.