On-machine components have been driven by many trends—better and easier to use software and communication protocols that lead to more open platforms, massive data collection for predictive maintenance analysis and customized and modular machines that are easier for end users to install and change on the fly. The culmination of these technology advances is remote and eventually autonomous operations.
While the industry is still some ways away from full autonomy on the factory floor, mobile access and remote operations are enhanced by on-machine components. These two trends were also magnified by the pandemic.
“To integrate cabinet-free products into a company’s IT system, the system must have direct access to power supply, drive and motor parameter values. This is possible using interface technology that allows direct access to products using high-level languages,” says Joaquin Ocampo, product manager at Bosch Rexroth. To parametrize the information or view the product diagnostics and status, users can access data via smartphones or tablets and monitor production from anywhere, he adds.
Manufacturers are increasingly using sensors that communicate predictive maintenance or abnormal changes in their environments, such as temperature, vibration and moisture levels, says Brian Taylor, business director of safety, sensing and connectivity at Rockwell Automation. “In addition, machine builders are incorporating on-machine components to help their customers keep their machines running longer. This has allowed machine builders to remotely diagnose issues, which has been especially helpful during the pandemic,” he adds.
“The trend of using IIoT technologies allows data to be collected and published to the cloud securely, where off-site remote analysis can be done,” says Brian Jaeger, engineer at Maple Systems. “This trend of connectivity has allowed the continued use of legacy systems without a major redesign of existing functioning applications.”
Abbot Vascular in Temecula, California, manufacturers cardiovascular medical devices with dozens of production lines using legacy Omron PLCs. “Abbot wanted to collect more information into the off-site SCADA system for better production reporting and optimization,” says Jaeger. It added a headless HMI to each legacy PLC via the existing RS-232 serial port connection, explains Jaeger. The headless HMI collects production data from the PLC and then publishes it to the off-site SCADA system, via MQTT using the headless HMI’s Ethernet port. “This collection of data enables management and maintenance to optimize operations and track real-time production data without interrupting or the need to re-engineer the existing application hardware,” Jaeger says.
A headless HMI has all the functionality of a regular HMI—communication gateway, data logging, alarming and control—but does not have an integrated display. “This creates a mobile solution rather than a fixed display at a location on the equipment,” Jaeger says.
Users can log into the headless HMI remotely using a phone, tablet or PC to interface with the HMI or might also choose a different type of display connected via HDMI, at the size and location of their choice. “The benefit is the headless device is more compact, has a wider temperature operating range and is lower cost than a standard HMI with a display. The user then logs into the headless HMI remotely using a phone, tablet or PC to interface with the HMI,” Jaeger says.
For Abbot Vascular, which wanted to collect cycle times, production counts, log uptime/downtime and track equipment usage, the existing legacy PLC did not need to be changed or reprogrammed at all. “The headless HMI connects via serial port to access tags already being used in the existing PLC programming. The HMI collects this data, formats it tagged to each production station and then publishes using Ethernet port on the LAN via MQTT to the customer’s SCADA system from logging and analysis,” Jaeger says.