Monday was Aurelio Banda’s first day on the job as president of Beckhoff Automation, LLC, the North American arm of the German company, Beckhoff Automation, GmbH.
With his pencils and pens barely unpacked, he took time to speak with Control Design today about Beckhoff’s role in the evolving world of IT/AT convergence, the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0.
Beckhoff is an Industry 4.0 veteran, says Banda. “Because Beckoff has always been PC-based, we have been on this from the beginning. What’s happened on factory floor is that Industry 4.0 is taking on more of a role. We’re working on creating standardized approaches to the convergence of IT (information technology) and AT (automation technology). There is more IT and AT communication than ever before.”
And much of this convergence is driven by the consumer markets and the demand for more and more customization and faster delivery times over a variety of means. People are used to next-day delivery from some of the biggest retail vendors and information available at the touch of a button on a smartphone, and that has required manufacturers to adjust accordingly.
“The consumer is defining what the Internet of Things should be. What’s happening is that as consumer becomes more and more connected [and companies gather more and more data about their preferences] that information gets housed somewhere and helps companies connect better with customers. That data needs to move down to some application to make use of it.”
He adds that the biggest reason for the convergence of AT and IT is that manufacturing, is becoming more and more just-in-time oriented and moving toward more customer-demand-driven approaches. In order to be able to leverage all that information now available at the consumer level, companies need to bring it into manufacturing environment. The only way that happens is by moving data (that’s IT), but once you have the data, it has to go to shop floor (AT).”
But the Internet of Things is not just about consumer goods, says Banda. Its effects will be felt by OEMs and machine builders as well. “One of the biggest challenges for manufacturers is managing changeovers. They are a big deal for companies with a diverse product offering to consumers,” he says. “There has to be a better way to create a more flexible environment. Changeover is becoming more and more prevalent, and it’s driven through data and connectivity.”
He adds, “If I’m an OEM, I’d like to make a machine to get data out to customers and be able to change the machine’s parameters and get new product out. What you need now is a business model where as data comes in, you can position machine architecture to do tasks that enable that. OEMs need the ability to give their customers more connectivity, remote maintenance and support. They need to be able to look at machines remotely. Machine builders that can do this will succeed.”
Banda says that Beckhoff is in a great position to take advantage of this AT/IT convergence, the smart factory and Industry 4.0 Its history with standardization and connectivity goes back to its beginnings. “Since the company’s inception, Beckhoff Automation has led the convergence of automation technology (AT) and IT standards, resulting in great success for customers who embrace PC-based control as their foundation. Today this has only accelerated, with the full integration of computer science programming standards in TwinCAT 3 automation software, and with full support of OPC UA as the communications standard for Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things. This creates unique competitive advantages for our North American customers.”
Beckhoff is also a big supporter of Industry 4.0, an initiative of government, businesses and academia in Germany to leverage the power of these new developments. Besides actively promoting the Industry 4.0 movement and proving the hardware, software and networking tools to implement smart factories, Beckhoff Automation is actively involved in Germany to push the initiative forward. It is one of the core companies of the German technology network OWL (short for intelligent technical systems OstWestfalenLippe) which represents the first large-scale project supported in the context of Industry 4.0. Here, Beckhoff is the consortium leader of the innovation project, “ScAut,” which is driving the integration of engineering findings into standard automation under the keyword “Scientific Automation.”