Process Audits – the most powerful tool you probably aren’t using

For a myriad of reasons, when industrial machinery is being designed and constructed, the right sensing/connectivity product with the right application-specific attributes doesn’t always get designed into the zone of the machinery for the function it’s intended to perform.  This can result in consumption, excessive and expensive machine downtime and increased overall cost to operate the machinery.  A process audit, which is used in end-user environments to document specific sensing/electronic measurement/network/connectivity issues, can assist with reducing machine downtime, increasing productivity and reducing material consumption on the plant floor.

Getting to Root Cause of Failure

Finding out and documenting exactly why things prematurely fail in specific electronic locations by Cell Number and OPS Number, photographing each problematic sensor location and offering solutions to areas where components are prematurely failing is the heart and soul of an audit. It’s pretty amazing, but once problem areas are documented, and shared with every pertinent player from the corner office to the operator, it’s hard to refute and even harder to ignore.

Understanding the problem and why it is happening, allows a company to establish a timeline and an action plan for retrofitting sensor locations and developing best practice solutions that will enhance productivity, decrease machine downtime, build better parts with efficiency, and save the organization money.

Pictured below is a plain Jane, plastic faced, M5 inductive proximity sensor with minimal rated sensing distance (Sn) in a hostile spot that a customer is using to detect small “L” brackets on a huge welded panel.  If five of these are used per day (common), and the purchase price for the device is approximately $56 each, this equates to $280 per day or $1,680 per six-day work week. That totals to $84,000 spent per year for one inductive sensor in one individual sensor location.  If machine downtime is a nominal $250/minute (a very low estimation) and it takes five minutes to change out this sensor, machine downtime equates to $375,000 (1,500 sensors x $250).  One sensor can potentially cost this customer $459k per 50 week manufacturing year when factoring in material and downtime.

Dave Bird

If best practice solutions save the customer 50% (In fairness, most customers will only go so far to improve the process.), the business will see a savings of $229,500!

This is a significant payoff for the relatively small cost of an audit. Some businesses will provide them at no charge in the hope that the customer will then use that business to implement the best practice solutions — a win-win situation.

A small price to pay

Audits aren’t reserved for only harsh manufacturing environments like metal stamping and robotic welding. Any end-user manufacturing discipline that integrates sensors, connectivity, RFID, and networking systems that are consumed in the process of a hostile manufacturing environment is a candidate for an audit.

Hostile manufacturing can show up in all industries in all parts of the country.  The process audit can be a valuable tool for you and for your customers.

5 Ways Flexible Manufacturing has Never Been Easier

Flexible manufacturing has never been easier or more cost effective to implement, even down to lot-size-one, now that IO-Link has become an accepted standard. Fixed control and buried information is no longer acceptable. Driven by the needs of IIoT and Industry 4.0, IO-Link provides the additional data that unlocks the flexibility in modern automation equipment, and it’s here now!  As evidence, here are the top five examples of IO-Link enabled flexibility:

#5. Quick Change Tooling: The technology of inductive coupling connects standard IO-Link devices through an airgap. Change parts and End of Arm (EOA) tooling can quickly and reliably be changed and verified while maintaining connection with sensors and pneumatic valves. This is really cool technology…power through the air!

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#4. On-the-fly Sensors Programming: Many sensor applications require new settings when the target changes, and the targets seem to always change. IO-Link enables this at minimal cost and very little time investment. It’s just built in.

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#3. Flexible Indicator Lights: Detailed communication with the operators no long requires a traditional HMI. In our flexible world, information such as variable process data, timing indication, machine status, run states and change over verification can be displayed at the point of use. This represents endless creativity possibilities.

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#2. Low cost RFID: Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) has been around for a while. But with the cost point of IO-Link, the applications have been rapidly climbing. From traditional manufacturing pallets to change-part tracking, the ease and cost effectiveness of RFID is at a record level. If you have ever thought about RFID, now is the time.

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#1. Move Away from Discrete to Continuously Variable Sensors: Moving from discrete, on-off sensors to continuously variable sensors (like analog but better) opens up tremendous flexibility. This eliminates multiple discrete sensors or re-positioning of sensors. One sensor can handle multiple types and sizes of products with no cost penalty. IO-Link makes this more economical than traditional analog with much more information available. This could be the best technology shift since the move to Ethernet based I/O networks.

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So #1 was the move to Continuously Variable sensors using IO-Link. But the term, “Continuously Variable” doesn’t just roll off the tongue. We have discrete and analog sensors, but what should we call these sensors? Let me know your thoughts!

To learn more about RFID and IO-Link technology, visit www.balluff.com.

 

 

 

5 Common IIoT Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

IIoT is the perfect solution for all your data accessibility needs, right? If you check out my previous blogs, I discussed the many benefits of using the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to remotely access data. However, if not used properly, IIoT can get you into some trouble. Let’s review 5 common mistakes to avoid when building your IIoT application.

1. Excluding your IT department
It’s crucial to make sure your Information Technology group is involved in this project. IIoT applications can be very taxing on your network. It’s easy to forget some key aspects like bandwidth and network traffic when developing your application. But when your application is finished, your IT department is going to want to know what network resources that are being used. Some questions they might ask include:

  • How many potential clients will the server have at any given time?
  • What is the max refresh rate of your application?
  • How frequent do you query the SQL server?
  • How are your queries structured?
  • What might be some vulnerabilities on this application?
  • What measures are you taking to protect these vulnerabilities?

It’s going to be a lot easier if they are included right away so everyone has a good understanding of what resources are available and how to protect them.

2. Excluding OT and Controls Engineers
Similar to the IT department, it’s important to include the controls engineer especially if you plan on hosting data from a PLC. The controls engineer is going to want to determine what data is publicly available and what data should be kept private. Some questions the controls engineer(s) might ask include:

  • What is your application trying to show?
  • What PLC data do you want to use for this?
  • Is your application going to write data to the PLC?
  • Do any modifications need to be made to the PLC code?

Keep in mind that any modifications that need to be made to the PLC will probably have to go through the controls engineer. This is to ensure that no code changes on the PLC will impact the efficiency and safety of production.

3. Running out of date software
Software that you write and the software that your application relies on should always be up to date. In other words, if you use a module or library in your code, it’s important to make sure you have the most up to date version. Also, it’s important to keep updating your application for additional security and functionality. Out of date software can lead to potential application crashes or even vulnerabilities for cyber attacks. Keep in mind, an application that runs on out of date software makes the server host vulnerable as well as its clients.

IIoT_Pyramid4. Unorganized data flow
Data flow is an important concept to consider early on in the development of your application. Say you have a server forwarding PLC data to a SQL database that is then utilized in a web application. The web application acts as a historian and analyzes data change over time. Is it better to calculate the data in the back-end application, the SQL database, the server forwarding the data or the PLC? The answer depends on the situation but typically, it’s best to keep the data calculations as close to the source as possible. For example, say your back-end application calculates percentages based on yesterday’s production compared to today’s. In this situation, if the back-end application crashes, you lose historian calculations. Typically, a SQL database is much more reliable as far as downtime and crashes and it will run whether your back-end application is functional or not. Therefore, it would be better to do these calculations in the SQL database rather than the back-end script. Continuing this concept, what if the PLC could do this calculation? Now the forwarding server, the SQL database, and the back-end script can all crash and you would still have your historian data for when they go back up. For this reason, the closer to the source of data you get, the more reliable your calculations based on that data will be.

5. Unprotected sensitive data
Possibly one of the most important things to remember when developing your application. Even simple applications that just display PLC data can give a hacker enough for an attack. Think about this IoT scenario: Say I have a server that hosts data from my personal home such as whether or not my front door is locked. This information is important to me if I want to check if someone forgot to lock the front door. But to a burglar, this data is just as useful if not more as he/she can now check the status of my door without having to leave their car. If I don’t protect this data, I am openly advertising to the world when my front door is unlocked. This is why encryption is crucial for sensitive data. This is also why it’s important to discuss you project with the controls engineer. Data that seems harmless might actually be detrimental to host publicly.

Data accessibility is evolving from a convenience to a necessity. Everyone’s in a hurry to get their data into the cloud but keeping these ideas in mind early on in the application development process will save everyone a headache later on. That way, IIoT really can be the perfect solution for all you data accessibility needs.

To learn more about IIoT visit www.balluff.us.