The Internet of Everything

Plant Magazine – September 25, 2014

When Google purchased Nest Labs Inc. for $3.2 billion in January, the internet giant was buying more than a company that manufactured “smart” thermostats and smoke detectors – it was buying a position in the race to digitize people’s homes.

The thermostats learn how inhabitants like their homes to be heated and cooled, and then automatically adjust the temperature.

Google certainly has the bankroll to hedge bets on deals like the one with Nest, a fairly new company that grew fast. Co-founded in 2010 by two former Apple engineers, the company had more than 130 employees by the end of 2012 and now analysts at Morgan Stanley estimate it’s selling 100,000 thermostats a month. At $250 each, annual revenue is expected to top $300 million. That’s a drop in the bucket when you consider Google has more than $60 billion in revenue, but it’s money that can be used to develop a suite of smart home products including locks, doorbells, baby monitors and humidity monitors, all packed with sensors that capture user information and a wi-fi chip to relay the data.

Nest’s “smart” innovations are a prime example of the capabilities home automation and “connected” technologies are playing in the current consumer market place. Other technology giants, including Apple, Samsung and Sony, are developing wearable devices such as watches and smartbands that collect data about users’ activities and provide them with details such as how many steps they’ve taken in a day or how many calories they burned on a weekend bike ride.

Now thanks to this growth in the consumer market, costs of sensors, controllers and communications have dropped, and connected devices are making a big splash in business.

A sector that will truly benefit is manufacturing.

Intelligent sensors, cameras and tracking devices are transforming how companies operate and changing how businesses use data. The basis of what’s called “Industry 4.0” builds on the fundamentals of its first, second and third iterations. But it also takes mechanical and mass production, and the electronics and control systems of today to a new level where manufacturing is driven by machine-to-machine (M2M), person-to-machine (P2M), and person-to-person (P2P) connections within the Internet of Everything (IoE, a.k.a Internet of Things).

It connects everything from industrial equipment and systems to the internet via wireless and wired networks to gather and transmit data that manufacturers use to improve efficiency, productivity, asset health, quality, safety and environmental impact.

Big money, big possibilities According to research conducted by General Electric, enabling internet-connected machines could add up to $15 trillion to global GDP by boosting annual productivity growth by 1% to 1.5% in the US.

“It’s extremely important that we explore the potential of connectivity, says Victor Woo, general manager for IoE at Cisco Canada. “We’re gaining intelligence from dark assets, such as machines and other systems that will help businesses make better decisions.”

A report for Cisco by Lopez Research suggests as costs decrease for standard “smart” sensors with IP communications and embedded controls, solutions will be implemented across manufacturing equipment and into new areas that have not seen much investment in automation, such as Balance of Plant equipment and supply logistics. The benefit for manufacturers comes from the information collected by these sensors that’s communicated back to shopfloor workers, plant managers and software systems. Although in its infancy, IoE is already having an impact, and manufacturers are reaping the benefits. Some of the world’s largest industrial players are leading adoption, including Cisco, General Electric, General Motors, Toyota, Samsung, Intel and Dell.

A forecast prepared by IT research firm IDC Canada and telecommunications company Telus Corp. suggests companies are preparing to increase their spending on data collection and analysis, the beginning of a rapid industrial-scale innovation that will have far reaching implications.

IDC estimates Canadian companies will spend $21 billion on such projects in 2018, up from $5.6 billion last year – a 375% increase. About 13% of study respondents were already working in the IoE, while another 30% say they are planning to adopt the technology within two years.

The survey suggests advancements in the reach and speed of wireless networks and technologies such as cloud computing are fuelling growth for IoE and opening up its potential for manufacturing.

Connecting machines creates intelligent networks along the entire value chain that communicate and control each other autonomously with significantly reduced intervention from operators. Machines predict failure and trigger maintenance processes autonomously, while self-organized logistics would react to unexpected changes in production, such as materials shortages and bottlenecks.

“IoE can not only increase productivity, it enables entirely new business models. Companies need to examine its possibilities as a competitive advantage or they risk falling behind global innovators already utilizing new applications to creatively reinvent their businesses,” says Tony Olvet, group vice-president of research at IDC Canada.

Equipping people with mobile technology, you dramatically shrink the delta between when a problem occurs and when it’s acted upon, says Mark Bernardo, general manager of automation software for GE Intelligent Platforms, in the Cisco study.

“If there’s a quality control problem in a production line, they can shut down the line before it continues to create products that will all be waste.”

For example, Harley Davidson installed software at it’s York, Pa. plant that records how different equipment is performing, such as the speeds of the fans in its painting booth. Software automatically adjusts machinery if it detects a measurement, such as fan speed, temperature or humidity, has deviated from acceptable ranges.

General Motors has implemented a standards-based network architecture called the Plant Floor Controls Network. It standardizes the design of each of its plant networks to establish a single engineering team that monitors and troubleshoots network operations globally. The automaker has since reduced network downtime by 70%.

And at a General Electric plant in Schenectady, NY, tens of thousands of miniature sensors are collecting data about each step in the manufacturing of batteries. The sensors know information relating to humidity on the shop floor and how much pressure each machine must apply to particular battery components. The company says it’s using the data to improve its factories by determining which conditions are associated with the best products.

Meanwhile, Cisco Canada is in the process of opening an IoE Innovation Centre in Toronto, one of four locations around the world, where it expects to spend $100 million over the next 10 years on the development of infrastructure and technology. “Convergence is the key work here,” says Woo. “We have to bridge information within the business by connecting the shopfloor to the top floor.”

Woo, looking at Cisco research, estimates that IoE will drive net profits of $3.9 trillion in the global manufacturing sector alone over the next 10 years. Canada’s share would be about $100 billion.

He contends manufacturing has the most to gain from IoE globally.

Leveraging value While sensors and computerized automation have been around for decades, PLC and PC-based controllers and management systems are largely disconnected from IT and operational systems. They’re organized in a hierarchal fashion within individual data silos that often lack connections to internal systems.

But Dave McPhail, the CEO of Memex Automation in Burlington, Ont., says that’s changing thanks to IoE.

“Having the ability to connect equipment via ethernet is providing businesses with a new value stream based on the fact that you can pull data in a cost effective way,” he says.

Memex develops real-time shop-floor-to-top-floor technologies, and its flagship product MERLIN provides overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) metrics in real-time to allow manufacturers to enhance their production through shop-floor data analysis.

The company has strategic partnerships with Microsoft and tool builder Mazak, which has installed the MERLIN OEE system at its plant in Florence, Ky.

Thanks to new sensor information, wireless connectivity and big data processing tools like Memex’s, IoE would help manufacturers improve OEE by gathering information related to equipment health to minimize machines failures.

The next step in IoE development, McPhail says, is a ubiquitous platform.

“We have the hardware part figured out. Now we need an open source protocol that allows data to be consumed by any number of applications to add even more value, such as overall equipment effectiveness, total predictive maintenance and the cost of core performance,” he says. “I think we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of how we can use data. Our imagination is our only limitation.”

So you want to enter the IoE realm? A Cisco research paper suggests there are four elements that provide the foundation for smart manufacturing within IoE:

Network. “Smart” manufacturing environments require a standardized IP-centric network that enables all devices within a plant to communicate to operational and enterprise business systems. A standard IP network also makes it easy to connect and collaborate with suppliers and customers to improve supply chain visibility.

Security. Safeguards must be built into any solution, including security procedures such as hardware encryption, physical building security and network security for data in transit.

Software systems. Systems must translate information from the physical world into actionable insight that humans and machines can use. For example, Toyota is using Rockwell Automation software for real-time error corrections at its Alabama plant to minimize rework and scrap rates. The software is saving the automaker $550,000 annually.

Big data and analytics. Processing tools are enabling real-time data stream analysis that provides dramatic improvement in problem solving and cost avoidance.

Smarter manufacturing may only have scratched the surface of the Internet of Everything, but sooner rather than later, the sector will leverage the age of the machines, and unlike James Cameron’s Skynet (artificial intelligence run amok) in the Terminator movie series, that’s a good thing.

This article appears in the September 2014 issue of PLANT.

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CNC Hardware Adapters Connect All Legacy Machines, No Matter the Make, Model or Vintage

Astrix Networks Inc., operating under the trade name Memex Automation Inc., is solving the “last meter of productivity challenge” with new CNC hardware solutions that utilize MTConnect, an open, royalty-free standard that is intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications.

For older FANUC-controlled machines that still populate about 50 percent of CNC machine shop floors, Memex Automation’s new Ax760–MTC is a fully configurable hardware adapter that allows you to communicate with your CNC’s utilizing the MTConnect standard.

The plug-and-play hardware connects into the main FANUC I/O Link bus to transform FANUC signal into the MTConnect software protocol without disrupting the machine. The result is a machine that can passively detect data, on both the X and Y addresses from 0.0 to 127.7, as well as 16 additional digital inputs, allowing Memex’s MERLIN (Manufacturing Enterprise Real-time Lean Information Network) software to track a large number of data inputs that measure Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) in real-time, enterprise-wide, machine by machine and other operational machine information.

For any machine, the Ax9150 UMI-MTC is a fully configurable MTConnect hardware adapter that allows you to communicate with your CNC utilizing MTConnect. Rather than buying a new controller, you can enhance your oldest legacy controllers so they can take advantage of today’s MTConnect communication standard and take advantage of MERLIN OEE benefits. In many instances, this can substitute for a machine monitoring retrofit. The Ax9150 UMI-MTC offers simple installation regardless of CNC make, model, or type.

“Increasing the utilization of both legacy and new assets is critical to a modern company and MERLIN makes that happen,” said Dick Morley, who is on the Board of Memex Automation and is known as the “father” of the programmable logic controller (PLC).

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Memex’s CEO Talks About its new CNC Hardware Product in Video Interview at IMTS

Proactive Investors – Sept 10, 2014 – Memex Automation (CVE:OEE) is getting some buzz from the International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) in Chicago, as president and chief executive officer Dave McPhail talks about the benefits of the company’s new hardware product in an interview with MetalWorking Production and Purchasing of Canada.

The CEO showcases the company’s new MERLIN MTConnect hardware, which allows manufacturing companies to measure overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) in real-time, enterprise-wide.

MTConnect is the open, royalty-free standard that is intended to foster greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software applications. It is used with the company’s new CNC hardware adapters, bringing OEE network connectivity from the shop floor to management, no matter the make, model or vintage of machine.

The company said its new Ax760-MTC is a fully configurable hardware adapter that facilitates the communication with a company’s computer numerically controlled (CNC) machines via the MTConnect standard, and can be used with older FANUC-controlled machines that still populate about 50 percent of CNC machine shop floors.

“Rather than buying a new controller, you can enhance your oldest legacy controllers so they can take advantage of today’s MTConnect communication standard and take advantage of MERLIN OEE benefits,” Memex said.

“In many instances, this can substitute for a machine monitoring retrofit.”

The result is a tool that allows Memex’s MERLIN software to track a large number of data inputs that measure OEE in real-time, machine by machine as well as other operational machine information.

The MERLIN device monitors production and capacity utilization on the shop floor, improving profitability, reducing waste and ensuring compliance with regulations. It enables customers to address production bottlenecks as they happen, converting idle time back into production and ultimately improving throughput and increasing income from plant operations.

To view the video interview with McPhail, titled “Canadian tech brings MTConnect to older systems“, please click on the link.

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IMTS Must-Sees: Robots, Data Visualization, and Hybrid Manufacturing – September 10, 2014 – The International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) is fully underway in Chicago, and a few trends have surfaced at the show that will affect the machining business. Here are some of the most notable ones, which ThomasNet News will cover in more detail here in the near future. IMTS began at McCormick Place on Sept. 8 and will conclude on Sept. 13.

Trend No. 1: Data Interpretation

Machinery and equipment suppliers are sounding the need for machine shops to adopt software and tools that collect and translate the huge amounts of data generated by production processes and controls into actionable intelligence. Among the forms with which this trend is crystallizing is real-time views of process conditions in key areas, such as machine utilization and part loading and unloading. One company with a product in this area is Makino, whose MPmax (Machine Productivity Maximizer) software analyzes data in real time and displays results that alert operators to problems.

The software isn’t new — it’s been commercial for three years — but it continues to evolve, says Mark Rentschler, Makino’s marketing manager. At its show booth, Makino presented MPmax results on flat-screen displays with color-coded graphics that tracked how its machines at the show and at its headquarters in Mason, Ohio, were running.

Expect more hardware and software suppliers to release such data tools. Other companies showcasing digital data visualization and capabilities at IMTS include machine tool maker DMG Mori, cutting tool producer Kennametal, and machine networking expert Memex Automation.

Trend No. 2: The Democratization of Automation

I noted this trend last week on ThomasNet News, in reference to the Motion, Drive and Automation North America show that is co-located with IMTS in the East building of McCormick Place. Automation, notably robotics, has been a mainstay of large operations for some time. Recently, automation for smaller companies has intensified, as shops learn about the productivity and quality advantages of robots as well as advances in robotics, such as more intuitive robots, robot arms, and collaborative robots. Most important, the cost and simplicity of robots and automation equipment is now well within reach for smaller manufacturers.

Many booths at IMTS have robots on display, integrated with machine tools and tending work cells. Some feature low-cost systems that are no more difficult to program and run than a smartphone, and which are as effective for most operations as far costlier and higher-tech versions. Simple robots may be a niche now but could become mainstream by the next IMTS in 2016. Some players in this field are Universal Robots and Rethink Robotics.

Trend No. 3: Hybrid “Additive + Subtractive” Manufacturing

Specifically the combination of additive manufacturing (3D printing) and milling is about to take the marketplace by storm. A handful of IMTS exhibitors were spotted on opening day with hybrid machines. These can produce prototypes, tooling, and low-volume parts via additive manufacturing (AM) followed by milling to finish the parts on a single platform.

Hybrid manufacturing may not gain wide use for a while, but it represents a step forward in the ongoing development of AM as a viable production process that complements machining. The consistent mantra being professed at IMTS is that additive manufacturing is not eliminating traditional subtractive manufacturing but is rather ready to be leveraged as a supportive technology and a new revenue generator even by small job shops.

One example that highlights hybrid additive and machining is, in fact, the centerpiece of the advanced manufacturing exhibits at IMTS: the live production of a concept car where AM parts will be finished with milling.

As reported in July here at ThomasNet News, Local Motors of Chandler, Ariz., revealed the electric car concept for urban driving, called the Strati, after holding an open design competition. The participants behind the car project intend for the Strati to be assembled and driven around McCormick Place before the end of the show.

Production of the Strati began on Sept. 7 in the Emerging Technology Center in the North building, using an extrusion-based AM process developed by Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Chad Duty, group leader of deposition science and technology at the government facility, told me on opening day that ORNL modified a laser-cutting machine produced by Cincinnati Inc., of Harrison, Ohio, for the project, replacing the laser with an AM deposition head.

Cincinnati wants to commercialize a line of AM machines. The unit that is building the Strati at IMTS, the initial result of the joint effort between ORNL and Cincinnati, has, in fact, already been sold to resin producer Sabic Innovative Plastics for almost $1 million.

Duty says the machine, called the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) system, has a work area of 2 by 4 by 0.87 m (6.5 by 13.1 by 2.8 ft) and is probably the largest extrusion-based AM system in the world. It is building the Strati’s body, layer by layer, out of 15-to-20-percent carbon fiber-reinforced ABS polymer from Sabic.

One feature of the BAAM is deposition speed. The machine builds parts at a rate of 500 to 1,000 cu-in/hr, Duty says, using about 30 to 50 lb/hr of material. The baseline deposition rate for most AM processes is 1 to 5 cu-in/hr, he notes. Conventional AM materials can be expensive — $50 to $100/lb in some cases. The BAAM model uses standard resin pellets that cost $1 to $5/lb.

A problem that remains to be resolved with BAAM is low resolution; surfaces are not smooth or finely detailed. After the Strati body is built, it will be transferred to a CNC machine for finish milling.

Duty expects the issue of resolution to eventually be resolved. He sees the BAAM system gaining use in the rapid tooling market, among others, for its relative speed and low product cost.

However, most talk at IMTS is centered around the fact that AM is not yet sophisticated enough to produce parts without the need for secondary processing and traditional finishing operations, hence the new breed of hybrid machines. Among other machinery suppliers with hybrid manufacturing machines are DMG Mori and Millennium Machinery.

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On the IMTS show floor with Canada’s Memex Automation

Manufacturing AUTOMATION caught up with Burlington, Ont.’s Memex Automation while at the International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago. Company president David McPhail gave us a demo of MERLIN, Memex’s manufacturing operations management system. Take a look.