Industry 4.0 software for service specialists in production
Fulfilling the need to efficiently improve machine availability
Last week, I had an in-depth discussion with a production manager about Industry 4.0. He is in charge of a plant with around 500 associates and some 150 machines. As usual, the machines were built in different years by a number of different manufacturers. He asked me whether Industry 4.0 solutions could help him to increase the availability of his machines to ensure that production targets are met. He was interested in finding a solution that his service technicians can use with ease – in other words, no complicated software tools that require programming skills.
The good news is that, for his machines equipped with Rexroth control systems, I was able to show him a solution on the spot. Thanks to Open Core Engineering (OCE), software functions can directly access the IndraMotion control units. Above all, it doesn’t require a single additional line of PLC code to be written. The functions work on any device in parallel with the PLC.
The first step is now for the control systems to transmit the available data on the operating states of their components. The OCE technology interface in the control systems sends this information to the software for rules-based analysis – users don’t have to write a single line of PLC code or even touch the machines.
Maintenance technicians in the lead – moving toward predictive maintenance
But this data alone doesn’t yet solve anything; it first has to be translated into information and rules. This is done by the Production Rules Configurator. The service technicians know, for example, that changes in engine torque indicate mechanical wear and tear. Up to now, they would regularly inspect each machine and call up the data individually – a very time-consuming process. Now the service technicians translate their knowledge into a rule that the software then executes: if an engine’s torque changes by a given amount, the system notifies the maintenance group accordingly. The service technicians no longer have to call up the values manually for each machine, as they know they can rely on the software to inform them immediately whenever there is a deviation from the rule.
The rule modeled by the service technician uses defined tolerance values and trends to quickly detect such deviations, and reports them to the appropriate service technicians. The constant rule-based monitoring of the operating data means that service intervals can be adjusted dynamically to accommodate the actual wear and tear. In most cases, this will reduce service costs considerably, as it eliminates unnecessary work. Another particularly important consideration is that the rules are conveniently integrated into existing IT systems, independent of the manufacturer. With no need for costly training, service technicians themselves can change existing rules, model new rules, and even transmit these to the control system while the machine is in operation.
Digital assistant improves flexibility and speed
The rules are essentially a digital assistance system that helps skilled associates make the right decisions at the right time. Coming back to where we started: in our discussion, the production manager was initially skeptical. He brought in one of the maintenance group’s service technicians, who was very interested when I showed him how he could define the rules on his PC with no programming knowledge and without touching the PLC or the machine. He called it a digital assistant that increases flexibility and speeds up response times in maintenance.
Maintenance is just one of the possible application cases that require a link between operating and production data of machines, on the one hand, and business processes and actions on the other. And not to be forgotten: without altering the machine program.
What applications can you think of for rule-based analysis and support in production?