Linking Industrial Equipment to the Cloud

You’ve invested in robots that are older but continue working well. Production goals are being met, product quality is good and there’s little downtime. Yet, concerns surround your legacy equipment. The challenge is upgrading without an unnecessary overhaul to handle data needs and become a well-run connected factory.

But taking a step into a factory of the future is important, too. Turning data into insights for useful strategy requires a smart and strategic flow of information.

Learn about standards and moving to the Industrial Internet of Things while using equipment that wasn’t originally designed for that purpose.

A Gateway Technology

Data collection in a smart factory can lead to more efficient energy usage and alert supervisors to components that are wearing down. Information is becoming more critical to production success in all industries. Is it possible to get to the cloud if your equipment isn’t the latest?

A number of organizations are working to revolutionize data flow and provide an infrastructure to handle information on any platform and vendor.

OPC UA is an open standard that specifies information exchange for industrial communication. This one-minute video by the OPC Foundation, What is OPC, illustrates how the information exchange is used in industries like food and beverage, packing, automotive and oil and gas.

The benefit is the technology enables data and device management, insights, and machine learning capabilities for equipment that was not designed to have these capabilities built in.

Into the Cloud

Cloud computing is making software solutions affordable compared to industry specific Software as a Service solutions that would need to be coded and programmed for each individual industrial facility.

Sensor-to-cloud communication is detailed in the article Groups collaborate on sensor-to-cloud interoperability on the website Control Engineering. Control is carefully thought out in the method which is described “as a good example of Big Data because it supports better and faster decision-making.”

Factory of the Future First Steps

Equipment and components like sensors are necessary for future communications. But another way to modernize a factory and bring it into the “future” is to start at the beginning. Design products with automation in mind.

As noted in the article the Robotic Industries Association website, Design Your Product for Producability, Design for Automation, estimates are that 85% of a product’s costs are determined in the design stage.

This approach creates collaboration between product designers and automation engineers “to work together to examine how the product design accommodates automated processes with little or no human intervention, from fixed automation to flexible automation with robots.”

Don’t “slap sensors and meters on every piece of equipment you own,” is the advice given in the article Converting Big Data into Actionable Intelligence on the Motion Control and Motor Association website. Start by identifying a specific challenge like prolonged downtime and then set specific goals like reducing downtime by 20%.

Achieving a factory of the future without disrupting current processes and having unnecessary overhauls is doable. A few strategic decisions and use of a gateway technology will improve the flow of data and create actionable insights.

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