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Arduino’s Guneet Bedi explains how AI, edge computing and the IIoT will impact the future of machine control

Aug. 25, 2023
Integration of machine controls with the IIoT has allowed factories to connect machines, sensors and controllers

Arduino’s micro-controller technology continues to inch its way into industrial applications. In 2017, retired engineer Doug Reneker compared one with a programmable logic controller for a simple process application.

And in 2022, Reneker offered tips for using an industrialized Arduino controller.

In this interview, Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas at Arduino, answers questions about the future of machine controls.

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What have been the biggest improvements to machine-controls technology in the past five years?

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: Specifically, in the past five years or so, several significant improvements have been made in automation, efficiency and connectivity. The top three areas of improvements I see are in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), advanced human-machine interfaces (HMIs) and edge computing and edge controls.

These improvements in machine controls technology have resulted in more efficient, connected and intelligent manufacturing processes. They have enhanced productivity, quality and safety, while enabling better decision-making and optimization in the industrial sector.

The integration of machine controls with the IIoT allowed manufacturing plants to connect machines, sensors and controllers to the internet. This allows manufacturers to gather real-time data, monitor equipment performance and enable important operational efficiencies with the likes of predictive maintenance for reduced downtime, improved productivity and enhanced overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

Human-machine interfaces have undergone significant improvements in terms of usability and functionality. Touchscreen interfaces, intuitive graphical displays and customizable dashboards have made it easier for operators to interact with machines, monitor performance and access relevant data. Additionally, augmented-reality (AR) and virtual-reality (VR) technologies are being used to provide immersive and intuitive interfaces for operators, simplifying training and enhancing productivity.

The emergence of edge computing has brought computation and decision-making closer to the machines themselves. Edge controls allow data processing and analytics to occur directly at the machine or within the local network, reducing latency, enhancing real-time responsiveness and minimizing reliance on cloud-based systems. Edge controls are particularly valuable in applications where low-latency, real-time decision-making is critical, such as robotics and automation.

How has controller technology benefited from remote monitoring and connectivity?

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: A few advantages that we see are in predictive maintenance and condition monitoring, remote configuration and firmware updates, simplifying configuration and updates, data-driven optimization and performance improvement, remote troubleshooting and support.

First, by monitoring critical parameters and analyzing data trends remotely, controllers can generate alerts or trigger maintenance actions when abnormal conditions or potential failures are detected. This proactive and predictive approach to maintenance helps to avoid costly breakdowns, extends equipment lifespan and optimizes maintenance schedules, resulting in improved reliability and reduced downtime.

Second, connectivity allows for remote configuration of controller settings and firmware updates. Instead of physically accessing each controller, operators or administrators can remotely configure parameters, modify control algorithms or apply software updates to multiple controllers simultaneously. This remote configuration capability saves time, simplifies maintenance tasks and ensures consistency across the controller fleet.

Remote monitoring and connectivity further facilitate data-driven operations by providing access to a wealth of data that can be leveraged for performance optimization. By analyzing the collected data, operators and engineers can identify areas of improvement, optimize control strategies and fine-tune the controller settings. This data-driven approach helps to increase efficiency, reduce energy consumption, improve product quality and optimize overall system performance.

Last, this enables remote troubleshooting and support for controller-related issues. Instead of relying solely on on-site technicians, experts can remotely access and diagnose controller configurations, review system logs or perform troubleshooting steps. This remote support capability can significantly reduce response times, minimize travel costs and enhance the efficiency of problem resolution, leading to improved uptime and operational continuity.

These advancements contribute to enhanced performance, reduced downtime, increased reliability and improved operational efficiency in industrial systems.

Can you explain how software development has changed machine control in manufacturing?

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: Software development has had a profound impact on machine control in manufacturing, revolutionizing the way industrial systems are designed, operated and optimized. The key change has been programmability and flexibility. Software development has not only introduced programmable logic controllers (PLCs) but with Arduino-style open approach we are replacing traditional hardwired control circuits. This shift allows for greater flexibility and adaptability in machine control. Instead of relying on fixed hardware configurations, manufacturers can now program and reprogram the behavior of machines through software, making it easier to modify control logic, introduce new functionalities and accommodate changing production requirements.

Software development has enabled the implementation of more sophisticated control algorithms. Machine-control systems can now leverage advanced techniques such as model-based control, fuzzy logic, neural networks and predictive control. These algorithms enhance the accuracy, efficiency and responsiveness of machines, enabling precise control of complex processes and optimizing performance. Not just supervised machine learning (ML), but also unsupervised, allows the control systems to learn and do unattended and automated anomaly detection.

Software development has also facilitated the integration of machine-control systems with other parts of the manufacturing ecosystem. Through industrial communication protocols, such as open platform communications unified architecture (OPC UA), message queuing telemetry transport (MQTT) and Ethernet/IP, machine-control software can seamlessly exchange data and communicate with other devices, sensors and systems within the factory. This integration enables coordinated operation, data sharing and centralized monitoring, enhancing overall system efficiency and enabling smart manufacturing concepts.

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

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: Control technologies play a crucial role to enable the virtual representation and simulation of physical systems as digital twins.

Digital-twin platforms leverage control technologies to monitor and optimize the performance of physical systems. By connecting the digital twin to real-time data streams from sensors and actuators, manufacturers can analyze system behavior, identify deviations from desired performance and simulate control interventions to improve efficiency and productivity. Control technologies enable the digital twin to provide recommendations and predictive insights for optimizing control parameters and fine-tuning operations.

Control technologies allow manufacturers to simulate various operating scenarios, assess the impact of different control inputs and verify the effectiveness of control logic in achieving desired outcomes. By conducting virtual experiments within the digital twin, manufacturers can refine and validate control strategies before deploying them in the physical system, reducing risks and optimizing control system design.

Digital-twin platforms with control technologies provide a valuable training ground for operators and engineers. By interacting with the virtual representation of control systems, operators can gain hands-on experience in operating and troubleshooting equipment, responding to different control scenarios and understanding the implications of control parameter adjustments. This enables skill development and fosters a deeper understanding of control strategies without the need for direct access to physical machines.

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

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: The complete elimination of engineers or technical personnel for the installation and operation of controllers is unlikely in the foreseeable future. While advancements in controller technology and user-friendly interfaces have made them more accessible to non-technical users, the expertise and knowledge of engineers remain crucial for several reasons.

First, there is system integration, where engineers possess the expertise to understand complex systems, integrate controllers with other components and ensure compatibility between different devices and software. This includes the knowledge to design and configure control systems to meet specific requirements, taking into account factors such as communication protocols, networking and interoperability with existing infrastructure.

Any control system will always need customization and optimization, Engineers play a key role in customizing control systems to suit specific applications and optimize performance. They have the technical understanding to fine-tune control algorithms, adjust parameters and tailor the control system to achieve desired outcomes. Additionally, they can leverage their expertise to troubleshoot and resolve complex issues that may arise during operation.

Another very important element is safety and compliance, where oversight by engineers is critical to ensure that control systems meet safety standards and regulatory requirements. They possess the knowledge to design control systems that comply with industry-specific regulations and guidelines, safeguarding personnel, equipment and the environment. Their expertise is vital to minimize risks and ensure compliance with legal and industry standards.

Not to forget system maintenance and upgrades and optimization in performance. While efforts are being made to simplify the installation and operation of controllers, engineering expertise remains critical for complex applications, system integration, customization, compliance, maintenance and performance optimization. Engineers provide the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to ensure reliable, safe and efficient control-system operation.

What future innovations will impact the use of controls technology in manufacturing operations?

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: There will be several really exciting trends to watch; and the three I am really excited about are artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning; edge computing and edge controls; and IIoT integration.

The integration of AI and ML techniques in control systems is set to revolutionize manufacturing operations. AI-powered control systems can autonomously adapt and optimize processes, learn from data, make intelligent decisions and predict outcomes. This can lead to improved efficiency, reduced energy consumption, enhanced quality control and better overall system performance.

The advancement of edge-computing technology will enable more powerful and intelligent control capabilities at the edge of the network. Edge controls bring computing resources closer to the machines, allowing for real-time data processing, faster decision-making, reduced latency and improved system responsiveness. Edge controls also provide enhanced security, as critical control operations can be localized and protected within the manufacturing environment.

The continued integration of IIoT technologies into control systems will enable enhanced connectivity, data exchange and communication between machines, sensors and control devices. IIoT integration will enable real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, remote control and optimization of manufacturing processes. By leveraging the vast amount of data generated by IIoT devices, control systems can provide deeper insights, drive process improvements and enable more efficient and agile operations.

These innovations hold the potential to transform manufacturing operations, making control systems more intelligent, connected, secure and user-friendly. By embracing these future advancements, manufacturers can unlock new levels of efficiency, agility, sustainability and competitiveness in their operations.

Tell us about your company’s state-of-the-art controls technology for discrete manufacturing.

Guneet Bedi, senior vice president and general manager of the Americas, Arduino: Arduino Pro’s flagship product is Arduino Opta; a microPLC with Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) capabilities.

This secure, easy-to-use micro PLC comes with IIoT capabilities, supporting Arduino programming experience and PLC standard languages. Designed in partnership with Finder, industrial and building automation device manufacturer, Arduino Opta allows professionals to scale up automation projects while taking advantage of the open and widely known Arduino ecosystem.

Arduino Opta can be programmed by Easy and fast software development, starting from ready-to-use Arduino sketches, tutorials and libraries. However, it still allows you to choose any of the five programming languages defined by the IEC 61131-3 standard—ladder, functional block diagram, structured text, sequential function chart or instruction list—and quickly code PLC applications or port existing ones to Arduino Opta.

We recently launched a micro PLC, despite this being a consolidated market, basically to disrupt it with a new approach.

We extend the number of people working on automation and controls, starting from young generations with Arduino skills/experiences as a student.

We provide a competitive natively secure IoT PLC with artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities.

We are lowering the barriers to access such technology—open source, free tools, community support.

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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