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Traceability automation can help overcome human error

Posted: June 24th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


In the last decade, we’ve seen product after product recalled, for reasons ranging from toxic materials in childrens toys to bacterial contamination. Determining the problems and reasons for a recall have never been an issue. The hard part has always been tracking where the affected products have gone. Building a system that can keep track of items when they leave the factory floor would fix this problem.

Conceptually, building traceability systems is simple. Track raw materials through the production process to finished goods and into the supply chain. But when it comes to actually implementing a robust traceability system, there are a couple of predictable challenges.

The first is the number of different systems in manufacturing plants. Testing labs use laboratory information management systems to ensure quality product. Control systems are used to automate the production of finished goods. Warehouses use tracking systems to track finished goods inventory, automate order processing and improve transportation timelines. Unless these systems are integrated, tracking a product through a single product line a matter of time-consuming guesswork.

While keeping track of the items produced every step of the way through the production process, without creating a system with checks and balances, there is little to mitigate human-based tracking systems. This is where the technology can shine.

The second challenge is the human element in some systems. I often see warehouse pallets marked with red paper to signal a product hold. But what happens when the paper falls off or the pallet is incorrectly oriented? What about the time lapse that keeps products from promptly being marked as on test or on hold? What about pallets that went out the door before an issue was found or before they were marked on hold? If a problem arises, how narrowly can you limit your window of recall?

The solution is to design traceability systems that are both integrated and automated. This integration needs to span from receiving raw materials to testing, production, and inventory storage all the way through to finished product shipment. In a facility with traceability from front to back, employees who spot concerns at any point in the process can alert the rest of the system.

By using automated tracing technology, these new systems can take the guesswork out of keeping track of products and make recalls less painful and time consuming. It can also make collecting data about the production process, and increasing the efficiency of production, easier.

To read more about traceability technology, head over to Automation World.


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Looking for where to begin with IoT

Posted: June 17th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


In many cases, it isn’t a questions of what to do with the Internet of Things (IoT), but rather where to begin. This is the point at which many manufacturers looking to take advantage of data collection technologies and internet connected machines run into trouble, not knowing how to take the first step.

If there’s one common theme I see and hear repeated in presentations and articles about the Internet of Things (IoT) and the value it can have to manufacturing, it’s that the technologies to enable the IoT are here today—and typically already in place at most manufacturing facilities. If that’s the case, why is that the IoT concept is typically treated like a futuristic, utopian manufacturing scenario that is all too easily dismissed?

That’s a hard question to answer to everyone’s satisfaction, but it’s most likely due to the grandiose application possibilities that are typically part of most IoT discussions. But when you dispense with the awe-inspiring application theories and take a small slice of the IoT concept, it becomes much more understandable and tangible.

The fact that IoT technologies are already here and already offering some of the benefits that manufacturers are hoping the future will bring means that manufacturers now only need to understand what to do with those technologies. The technology is no longer a futuristic concept.

To foster the IoT concept in a more easily digestible way, Microsoft recently sponsored an IDC study of global companies to better understand what actions by “data smart” manufacturing organizations yield the most impactful outcomes—both in terms of growth and efficiency. The research revealed what IDC and Microsoft claim is a $371 billion potential global net value that could be attained over four years via data smart manufacturing. This “data dividend”, as Microsoft refers to it, can be achieved by companies that become data smart and perform some combination of the following four actions: a) bring together as few as three to four discrete data sources, b) use analytics tools to glean insights from the data, c) surface those insights in a consumable fashion to the right decision makers across the company, and d) ensure that insights from data are shared in a timely manner.

By taking those four steps into account, manufacturers were found to have up to 60 percent higher returns on their data, which could increase production efficiency or output. Based on this, it seems that the benefit comes with knowing what to do with the information gained through the futuristic technologies that are in use in factories today.

Read more about the IoT at automationworld.com.


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China plays catch up with automated factories

Posted: June 10th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


China has been purchasing robots at an increasing rate recently, surpassing Japan as the worlds leader in robotics purchases. This is interesting considering the recent re-shoring movement in the United States.

One in five robots sold globally in 2013 was purchased in China, as surging labor costs forced it to speed up productivity via automation, according to the International Federation of Robotics, an industry group based in Germany.

About 36,560 industrial robots were sold in China last year, up 60 percent from 2012, said the IFR report. Japan, which had long taken first place in purchases of industrial robots, accounted for 26,015 units in 2013, followed by 23,679 in the United States.

This increased demand is being driven by manufacturers looking to increase production.

Demand is being driven in part by Chinese original equipment manufacturers, notably from the vehicle sector. Reuters had reported earlier that companies such as Great Wall Motors Co Ltd and Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd could lead the next surge in automation.

In the long run, further growth in China will be achieved as technology opens up new industries to the use of robots, said IFR President Arturo Baroncelli.

If automation spreads to more industries, China may be able to increase their profitability and manufacturing output and begin to once again rival the cost-effectiveness of re-shoring.

Read more about China’s move to automated manufacturing at ecns.cn.


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Industry 4.0 will require technology, research

Posted: June 4th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


With the ever-changing and improving technology of the 21st century, manufacturing is becoming more flexible, efficient, and is becoming more local than it has been in recent years. This is allowing manufacturers to reduce the amount of energy used, reduce the volume of resources required, and increase the flexibility and production options of the factory to meet consumer demand.

Manufacturing is changing faster than ever before. The drivers for this include globalisation, personalisation, time-to-market and sustainability. Domestic manufacturing interest or localisation has become apparent worldwide, as nation states seek to maintain or grow their manufacturing footprint.

The technology being used in manufacturing and production processes is becoming smarter and is producing larger and larger amounts of data that can be acted on by manufacturers. This change in technology and increasing data collection is starting to be considered the next industrial revolution.

Some commentators refer to this as “Industry 4.0”, suggesting a fourth industrial revolution driven by embedded or cyber physical systems that would interact with each other intelligently and lead to a potential 30 per cent increase in productivity in manufacturing, mobility and healthcare. The research is long-term and focused on digital integration across the enterprise. In time, it could also mean the merging of digital product design and factory planning processes.

These changes, bringing manufacturing closer to another industrial revolution, will require the new technology to be well tested and thoroughly researched. While manufacturers will be the testing grounds for these technologies and processes, governments may be the forefront of the research that helps continue the “Industry 4.0” movement.

To read more, visit the Business Reporter.


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Factory automation helping keep businesses competitive

Posted: May 27th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


After the economic recession that began in 2008, manufacturing in the US slowed down and jobs could no longer be supported by manufacturers. In the years since the recession, however, some of those lost jobs have been recovered and manufacturing production has increased beyond the pre-recession levels.

U.S. manufacturing output shriveled by 20 percent during the severe recession of 2008 and 2009, and 2.5 million production jobs disappeared, said Tom Runiewicz, an industrial economist at IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting and consulting firm based near Denver.

Since 2010, the nation has added about 500,000 manufacturing jobs and production yields have returned to 2007 levels, Runiewicz said.

“We have increased (output) basically to what we lost in the recession, but we are doing it with 2 million less people,” he said. “Technology is helping protect those jobs.”

The work being created, though, is different from the once-dominant assembly line model.

“The jobs are more skilled, requiring more technical training,” Runiewicz said. “These people operating the machines understand how to use it in the production process.”

With the increased production through the use of new technologies, manufacturers are able to create more at a higher quality with fewer, but more highly trained, employees.

The productivity advance mainly reflects investments in technology and automation, according to a 2013 Congressional Research Service report. Fewer than 40 percent of workers in U.S. manufacturing plants now work in production, the report states, and 28 percent of manufacturing workers hold college degrees.

There is no dispute about the need for manufacturers to invest in technology, said Eric Esoda, president and chief executive at the Northeastern Pennsylvania Industrial Resource Center, a state-funded agency based in Hanover Township that provides training, consulting and assistance to manufacturers.

“The question is not, do we look for new technologies?” he said. “The question is, which ones?”

As manufacturers continue to choose automation technologies for their factory floors, their employees are becoming more highly educated in order to work with these new technologies. While we may not recover all of the jobs lost during the recession, the jobs that have been recovered are more secure and the employees more versatile.

Read more about post-recession manufacturing at citizensvoice.com.


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Improvements in technology could make decision-making easier

Posted: May 20th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


As more technology finds its way into factories, ‘Industry 4.0’ becomes a reality. This reality is increasingly becoming the standard in the automated factory.

“We believe this cyber-physical system is going to be the nature of the factory, going forward.”

Smart technology will allow traceability of products, and link different processes together. It will allow for flexible production systems, and for smaller batches to be produced profitably, he added.

The increased traceability and flexibility of production processes, coupled with monitoring technologies and high-speed internet connections, can improve profitability, increase the number of product varieties that can be produced, and improve efficiency. It can also increase the connected-ness of every level of the organization with the production processes.

“The decision making process will be particularly integrated to the manufacturing process. The CEO sitting at the top of the chain can make real time decisions based on what’s happening on the shop floor. That’s the sort of vertical integration we’re talking about.

“When we talk about smart integration we are talking right down to the bottom level, and I think of of the key challenges is to understand how we can make these shop floors smart, from the basic building block level.”

Read more about Industry 4.0 here.


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Offshoring losing out to factory automation

Posted: May 13th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


With the automation technology of the twenty-first century, there is less incentive to send production overseas since technology can lower production costs. The increase in the use of robotics, though it is usually seen as replacing workers, is not all bad news. In fact, the robotics are creating jobs.

Despite the doom and gloom, advances in robotics and associated technology are having a positive impact on local manufacturing and services and both sustaining and creating jobs. In developed economies, they have even sparked a trend toward the return of jobs from overseas, or “botsourcing.”

In each of these cases, the combination of advances in robotics and automation and rising wages in developing countries has upended the promise of cost reductions through outsourcing. Sutherland Global Services, an outsourcing company in Rochester, NY, says it can reduce costs for its clients between 20 and 40 percent by shifting IT work to a developing economy, but it can reduce costs by up to 70 percent if it uses automation software coupled with its U.S.-based employees to complete tasks involving high volumes of structured data.

The movement of manufacturing back to the US because of the savings that come with factory automation are a good sign for American manufacturing and the automation industry. Not only does modern factory automation reduce production costs, but it also creates jobs.

To learn more about “botsourcing,” check out hbr.org.


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Bringing legacy devices to the 21st century

Posted: May 6th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


With the number of internet connected devices making their way onto the factory floor increasing, its no surprise that the industrial internet industry is expected to grow over the next 20 years. This growth, however, is could make the continued use of legacy technologies more difficult.

Still, it’s important to note that the [industrial Internet of Things] IIoT is not simply a version of the consumer IoT happening on a factory floor somewhere. IIoT use cases might include transit braking systems, energy grids, and elevators, as well as factories. As a rule, the IIoT has far more stringent requirements than the consumer IoT, from non-negotiable reliability and security to scalability, peer-to-peer device operation, and the ability to operate autonomously, without human intervention, in often-inhospitable environments.

Of all the differences between consumer and industrial device requirements, however, one of the most overlooked is longevity. Industrial automation has been around for a long time, and many industrial devices predate the Internet of Things terminology by decades. In fact, the IIoT has a billion or so long-lived devices already operating on various control networks across the globe.

Not surprisingly, multiple protocols have evolved to meet the needs of specific industrial environments and communities of devices. These legacy industrial devices don’t intercommunicate outside of their own discrete control networks, and they were typically installed prior to widespread Internet Protocol (IP) integration.

If the industrial Internet of Things is going to be successful, there will have to be a way to incorporate these legacy machines and technologies into the IIoT. As the technology stands now, each device requires its own way to communicate with the network. Moving forward, though, there may be a more universal way for devices to connect with networks, regardless of their current compatibility.

Successful industrial control networking solutions must recognize and embrace the special considerations of the industrial world while building IP-based bridges to the IIoT. This includes myriad existing protocols, devices installed for their reliability and longevity, and the need for both wired and wireless connections. In this way, all those legacy industrial devices already connected on various incompatible networks can co-exist alongside newly developed and already IP-enabled industrial devices, so that all can participate in the alluring opportunities presented by the IIoT.

To read more about connecting legacy devices to the IIoT network, head over to designnews.com.


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As factory automation increases, humans are finding their place

Posted: April 29th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


Robots are quickly becoming commonplace on the factory floor. This increase in factory automation is, and has been, worrying to the humans that had previously performed the tasks being taken on by robots. This begs the question, will people be replaced by robots?

While more processes are becoming automated, robots still can’t function like the human brain. “Over time, we’ve seen more and more robots take over the assembly line, but they can’t replace all jobs,” Levy said. “Robots don’t respond quickly to change, and computers are strongest when there is a repetition of a single action, so humans still have roles in the workplace; they just may be a little different in the future.”

Stephen Spurr, economist and interim chair of the economics department at Wayne State University, said despite a hollowing-out of low-skilled jobs due to automation, there is no reason for alarm.

“We know more and more jobs are going to be automated,” Spurr said. “The huge increases in technology always cause concern that people will be out of work, but we’ll never get to the point where our wants will taper. Our wants increase exponentially with our output. People will have jobs, just different jobs.”

It would seem that while some specific jobs will be replaced by robots, this does not necessarily mean there will be fewer jobs. In fact, robots and automation technology will create new and different jobs.

However, community colleges continue to struggle filling classes on robotics, said Phil Callihan, executive director of Ann Arbor-based National Center for Manufacturing Sciences. He fears the state could miss out on the jobs of the future.

“As robotics and autonomous vehicles make their way into society, there is a huge opportunity for trade schools and community colleges,” he said.

“We need to set up an environment for the jobs robots are creating, because someone has to work on those robots and maintain those robots; there will always be jobs for workers that get their hands dirty.”

In the world of factory automation and robotics, there should not be any worry about job losses. In fact, with the increasing introduction of robots, there is the potential for an increase in the number of jobs available in the manufacturing sector.

To read more, visit crainsdetroit.com.


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The next generation of factory automation shown at the Hanover show

Posted: April 22nd, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


Today, factories are able to produce larger numbers of product variations and more custom products than ever thought possible in the past. Factory automation and the new technologies associated with this are what have made this all possible.

“Digitalization has made it possible to have a production line that doesn’t only produce one product,” said Jochen Köckler, the head of the trade show, adding: “You’ll be able to paint a product one color one day and a different one the next.”

Today’s factories are producing more custom-made goods than ever before, Köckler noted. A significant challenge thus remains remaining competitive while addressing consumers’ individual needs.

At the Hanover industrial fair in early April the future of factory automation made its debut, showing off technologies that could revolutionize how products are handled and made – though in novel displays.

Futuristic novelties on display included production lines that communicate directly with the components they assemble. There were also robots capable of parking a car entirely on their own.

At one point on Sunday, a dexterous robot developed in the Netherlands sporting golden pigtails and a traditional Dutch bonnet handed a tulip to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was there to open the event with her Dutch counterpart, Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Though they were being shown performing activities they might never have to perform, the point being made is that industrial robots just might be capable of anything we can think up, and this has implications for manufacturing.

Consumers “expect to get the product they want as fast as possible,” said Eckhardt Ebele, who works with industrial automation systems for Siemens.

Another major trend this year is an emphasis on sustainable, low-energy production facilities.

Finding ways to increase efficiency and lower costs, all while becoming more flexible is the direction that manufacturing is moving since customers want more options and to have them faster. It seems that factory automation technologies are catching up with, and surpassing, these consumer wishes if the Hanover fair is any indication.

Read more about the technology on display at the Hanover fair here.


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