Whole new approaches to control have enabled new levels of sophistication in operation, boosting the efficiency of machines and the quality of products. At the same time, the features and functions built into even the humblest of drives are contributing to increases in machine availability and overall plant floor efficiency.
Integration has come a long way. And yet, in many ways, we are still asking a lot of the same questions and facing the same risks.
For example, if I choose network ‘A’, will I still be able to use product ‘B’? How many vendors support it? Will it still be here in another two decades’ time? Which choice is the fastest? Which offers the widest range of supported products? And, what are the risks of obsolescence or lack of product support?
Automation and integration needs
To greater or less extents, all of the popular automation networks address today's automation and integration needs, with users free to look at the likes of EtherCAT, ProfiNet, EtherNet/IP, Ethernet Powerlink and others.
What they address is a need not for an overall winner, but for proven network technology supported by lots of different products. It means that users can focus less on the risk of obsolescence and more on the true issues of integration.
These issues might cover how that network will improve machine performance; how it will simplify design, programming, commissioning and operation; and how it will simplify integration with the automation platform. They also address how operational reliability will be boosted, and how it will enable the full information capabilities of the drive to be realised to maximise machine availability and overall plant efficiency.
Today’s modern drive is a much more intelligent part of the machine or process than it was. With this greater intelligence, it can deliver real benefits for boosting machine performance and availability, and is a key enabler for continuous improvement.
A key feature of the modern drive is the information it generates – from monitoring the life of its own components, to diagnostics data that can reveal problems elsewhere. The ability of the network to handle all of this data in real-time, and make it available to the people and systems that can act on it, is key to machine availability and continuous improvement.
We can also see that this data is not only of use in the moment, but can form the basis of ongoing trend analysis, helping in continuous improvement of the entire production line.
- Robert Brooks is European industry marketing manager for food and beverage with Omron.