Advanced Factories 2018: How a more Connected Factory is Transforming Manufacturing
The Advanced Factories annual trade-show is the place where innovation shapes Industry 4.0, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The movement represents the linkage between the physical and the digital world, and it exists because of the ever-growing personalization demand on the markets, which is forcing companies to rethink their production, their supply chains, and their workforce.
Industry 4.0 is based on two pillars: the so-called Cyberphysical Systems, and the Internet of things. The Internet of Things is already transforming manufacturing and industrial operations through deeper visibility and greater connectivity. There is a nearly unlimited potential for improvement, and the profound transformations that such potential involves will force manufacturers and industrial operators to reconsider machinery and facility design methodologies, technology implementation and safety issues.
At Advanced Factories 2018, two major trends affecting industrial plants stand out:
- The development of the connected factory, to improve productivity and efficiency.
- The rethinking of facility and machinery design methodologies, to address ergonomics and safety risks.
The development of the connected factory
The connected factory is built around the idea that industrial operations can be smart, secure and connected, using sensors and machinery that communicate among them. By sharing information across global and remote operations, a connected factory improves productivity, and the innovation it requires enhances the manufacturing process.
The rethinking of the machinery design
Not only traditional hazards, but also the ergonomic and usability issues for a broad range of workers should be taken into account for the design of machinery. Therefore, some questions and considerations have to be kept in mind:
- Do operators have to lift materials? How can the manufacturers design more supportive machinery to alleviate the operators?
- Do maintenance technicians have to bend or twist awkwardly when providing maintenance?
- How can these operations be performed more safely, more ergonomically and more efficiently?
Safety systems integrated with machinery controls can be very effective in mitigating risks. In this field, electric linear actuators are often at the root of the solution because they can work easily with machinery controls and provide the desired feedback. The main reasons for working with electric linear actuators are:
- Their movement is reliable, safe and accurate.
- They can be operated with batteries.
- They do not consume any power while at rest.
- Their installation is simple and maintenance-free.
As components of Industry 4.0, linear electric actuators have to be able to monitor different values and a have varying control options.
Electronic monitoring options:
- Current monitoring: a critical safety feature that trips the actuator if overloaded.
- Voltage monitoring: prevents the actuator from operating in an environment outside of the correct range.
- Temperature compensation: allows the actuator to push the rated load at lower temperatures without nuisance tripping.
- Temperature monitoring: if the internal temperature of the device is out of the acceptable range, the actuator shuts down after completing the extension or retraction.
Enhanced control options:
- Analog position feedback: a potentiometer provides a voltage signal for the user to determine position, speed and direction.
- Digital position feedback: an encoder provides a single pulse train signal to determine position and speed.
- End-of-stroke indicator: indicates when the actuator has reached the end of the stroke.
- Low-level power switching: onboard electronics limit current draw at switches or contacts to a predetermined maximum (in mA), enabling a simplified and less expensive system design. These low-current signals can be used to program actuators to extend, retract or stop the trajectory, providing a soft start. This improves safety by reducing the hazard of electrical shock and puts less stress on system batteries and charging systems. An autohibernation feature also helps improve efficiency by reducing power consumption during idle or dwell periods.
- Dynamic braking: reduces coasting, which improves repeatability and positioning capability.
- CAN bus: secures communications in integrated systems by providing a standard messaging structure for communications among network nodes guided by an electronic control unit.
The transformation of the manufacturing and industrial operations is already underway. Companies that implement these changes and adopt new technology early will ultimately prevail in the global economy.