Posted: May 21st, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
While fieldbus systems dominated factory networking and automation for decades, ethernet is moving in, and taking over, as the standard for networking and automation in manufacturing settings.
With more than 500 million ports installed worldwide in enterprise networks, Ethernet has become the dominant networking technology and a de facto standard. It delivers wide availability, openness, high performance and cost-effectiveness, and enjoys such wide acceptance because it is easy to understand, deploy, manage and maintain.
Ethernet technology delivers substantially higher performance. And, because it is based on industry standards, it can run on and be connected to any Ethernet-compliant device from any vendor.
Ethernet does have its drawbacks for industrial applications, but these are being addressed alongside its adoption into manufacturing facilities because of its ease of interoperability.
Automation and control protocols differ significantly from standard Ethernet implementations. But major control system manufacturers now incorporate versions of Ethernet networks and higher-level Ethernet-related protocols in their product offerings.
Today, “industrial Ethernet” is being promoted with several different proprietary designs. More than 20 different protocols compete in various segments of this rapidly growing market, each offering adaptations to meet different real-time and cost challenges.
Read more at Automation World.
Posted: May 14th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Launched during Australia’s National Manufacturing Week, a CSIRO whitepaper discusses the usefulness of assistive manufacturing robot technologies.
The paper outlines how current tools available to manufacturers are built for high volume mass-manufacturing, but that new economic drivers require manufacturers to focus more on low-volume, highly customised and high value-add products.
Known as Lightweight Assistive Manufacturing Solutions, these new systems are designed to enhance the workers skills, actions and tasks, not to replace them. They include virtual reality headsets, smart robots which can be taught to multi-task and tele-supervised robots which can be controlled over the internet.
These change in manufacturing technologies point to the changing needs of the market and the dynamic nature of the manufacturing industry.
A virtual headset called ReMote is one system being trialled by industry. Using a head-mounted camera the wearer (worker) is able to beam what they can see to anyone (expert/helper) in a remote location. The helper is then able to project their hand gestures onto whatever the worker is looking at and virtually show them how to fix an issue or conduct a repair.
Systems like ReMote have been designed with safety in mind and allow workers to operate in hazardous environments and safely execute complex tasks.
“Our focus has been on creating systems which can help people and businesses work safer and smarter. Our consultation with industry has shown that safety, flexibility and affordability are the three drivers for Australian industry,” says Dr Kambouris.
Read more at Nanowerk News.
Posted: May 7th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Biomedical Engineering students at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a robotic arm that can find objects by touch.
In a paper published this month in the International Journal of Robotics Research, the Georgia Tech group described a robot arm that was able to reach into a cluttered environment and use “touch,” along with computer vision, to complete exacting tasks.
The Georgia Tech researchers have produced a robot arm that can reach and then use software to control its sense of touch, making it possible to find specific objects in a collection or area.
Dr. Kemp said the researchers were able to achieve success, both with a robot and with digital simulations, after a relatively small series of attempts, and using a simple set of primitive robot behaviors.
The algorithms used gave the arm qualities that seemed to mimic human behavior. For example, the robot was able to bend, compress and slide objects. Also, given parameters designed to limit how hard it could press on an object, the arm was able to pivot around objects automatically.
The arm was designed to essentially have “springs” at its joints, making it “compliant,” a term roboticists use to define components that are more flexible and less precise than conventional robotic mechanisms. Compliance has become increasingly important as a new generation of safer robots has emerged.
While the development of this technology is primarily aimed at robots working in a “human” environment–an environment filled with clutter to sift through–it could have incredible applications in the world of factory automation. With the ability to choose an object by touch, robots will not be as limited by human error as the can be currently. Manufacturing error could be reduced by the robot since it would be able to tell whether it has picked up the correct part, increasing efficiency in the factory.
To read more about robots with a sense of touch, head over to the New York Times.
Posted: April 30th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
The industrial landscape has had three major shifts over its history, each with a fundamental change in how work got done. Conversations taking place in manufacturing in Germany are currently talking about a fourth fundamental change in manufacturing labelled “Industry 4.0.”
Industry 1.0 was based on the introduction of mechanical production equipment driven by water and steam power, he said. Industry 2.0 was based on mass production achieved by division of labor and the use of electrical energy. Industry 3.0 was based on the use of electronics and IT to further automate production, Russwurm said. Industry 4.0 was based on the use of cyber-physical systems.
The conversation centered around Industrial 4.0 debates the necessity of individuals and the “cyber-physical system”.
“Cyber-physical systems” was defined by the think tank contracted by the German government, Russwurm said. Actually, James Truchard, president and CEO of National Instruments (www.ni.com), promulgated this concept in a presentation in 2006. Those familiar with NI know about its founding concept of a “virtual instrument”; that is, doing instrumentation in software. In this case, he was referring to a virtual representation of a manufacturing process in software. Think simulation, for example.
If this sounds like a lot of automation and computerization, it is. But Russwurm, formerly head of human resources for Siemens, responded that humans will always have a place in manufacturing. “Humans conceptualize, design the product and determine production rules and parameters. CPS (or virtual manufacturing) simulates and compares production options on the basis of instructions, then proposes compliant ‘optimal’ production paths. Step 5 is selection of an optimal production path and implementation of product.”
This represents a shift from rigid, centralized factory control systems to decentralized intelligence. “Tasks that are currently still performed by a central master computer will be taken over by components,” predicted Peter Post, head of corporate research & program strategy at Festo. “These will network with one another in an intelligent way, carry out their own configuration with minimal effort and independently meet the varying requirements of production orders.”
The shift to Industry 4.0 hasn’t quite taken place yet, but it is on its way. However, while industrial automation continues to increase in ability and efficiency, people will still be involved in the manufacturing process in one way or another.
To read more on Industry 4.0, visit Automation World.
Posted: April 23rd, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Opto 22 recently announced a new mobile monitoring and control system called ‘groov.’
When you want to control a packaging machine or monitor tank levels at the far side of the plant, enjoying the convenience of a smartphone or tablet computer at home makes the long walk to a tethered HMI feel like you’re hitching your wagon to a horse to buy groceries. The increasing use of modern Web browsers and mobile operating systems, however, is allowing the development of industrial-strength wireless monitoring and control applications to make the jump to lightspeed.
I saw a great example of this recently during a briefing on Opto 22’s (www.groov.com) groov platform—an industrially hardened network appliance and associated HMI/SCADA build and view software.
This control system is the result of several years of research and determination by Benson Hougland, vice president of marketing and development at Opto 22.
Hougland gathered a 4G radio, router and other off-the-shelf components, followed iOS and Android app-development guidelines, and worked with other Opto 22 engineers to create groov.
The end result, groov, can connect to different machines on the same network, monitor their performance, and control their operations all from the screen of a smartphone or tablet.
Read more about ‘groov’ at automation world.
Posted: April 16th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems have been widely used in manufacturing over the last decade, but more recently as front offices have become more connected with the manufacturing shop floors, EPRs have been implemented as a way to better monitor business operations as a whole.
[A]s ERP systems became more affordable and expanded throughout much of the manufacturing industry, an interesting thing happened. The factory floor and the front office became directly connected. This happened largely so that front office systems like ERP could access shop floor data to deliver greater levels of business intelligence and enable better decision-making throughout the company. Beyond the software and operational implications of this trend, the conversion to Ethernet as the de facto factory floor networking option was another huge result of the manufacturing industry’s adoption of ERP.
Now, as more companies look to invest in technologies after sitting on the sidelines during the recession, a new trend appears to be developing that could have just as big an impact on factory floor engineers and operators as the initial wave of enterprise systems did nearly 20 years ago.
With the increased interconnectedness of manufacturing businesses, the use of ERPs could extend to the entire supply chain, increasing efficiency in manufacturing.
By democratizing access to information across all levels of a company, cloud technologies are already changing manufacturing. It looks like the biggest changes will come as the cloud enables more players in the supply chain to take part in optimizing the manufacturing process.
To read the article, go to http://www.automationworld.com/cloud-based-erp%E2%80%99s-potential-impact-automation
Posted: April 9th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
With the recent onslaught of cyber-attacks against institutions and infrastructure, President Obama has ordered the NIST to address the threat. The Automation Federation, complying with a request by the NIST, participated in the first NIST meeting for developing a national cybersecurity program.
At the request of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), representatives from the Automation Federation on Wednesday of this week were invited to participate in the first NIST meeting for developing a national cybersecurity program called for by President Barack Obama.
The Wednesday meeting, held at the office of the United States Department of Commerce offices in Washington, DC, is an important step in establishing the Cybersecurity Framework within President Obama’s Executive Order announced in his State of the Union address to confront the growing threat of cyberattacks on our nation’s critical infrastructure. The Cybersecurity Framework will include “standards, methodologies, procedures, and processes that align policy, business, and technological approaches to address cyber risks,” and “help owners and operators of critical infrastructure identify, assess, and manage cyber risk.”
With the increase in automation technologies being used in manufacturing and their interconnectivity and control taking place online, more of our infrastructure is vulnerable than ever. By creating standards by which to operate by, our automation and digital infrastructure will be easier to defend against disruptions and attacks.
To read more about the NIST meeting and standards visit http://www.isa.org/Template.cfm?Section=Press_Releases5&template=/TaggedPage/DetailDisplay.cfm&ContentID=92941
Posted: April 2nd, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
California automation company, Automation GT, is leading the way in automation options for companies bringing manufacturing from overseas back to the US.
Simon Grant, Automation GT’s CEO and President, says the re-shoring issue has become more prevalent in during early and mid-2012. Even though most of the industry has been aware of the trend, Grant says only recently has there been a “re-awakening” of the capital budgets among his company’s Fortune 100 customers. And while a post-Great Recession economy might give major corporations more flexibility in which to consider the prospect of bringing jobs back to America, it’s not the only reason to pursue the business case.
There are the typical reasons that a manufacturer considers re-shoring, which Grant says circle around “labor cost and conditions, compliance, intellectual property and time to market.” With labor costs in China rapidly rising, more companies are starting to realize that the total cost of ownership of a given product is not quite as compelling for the off-shore side. The total cost of ownership equation now includes time in freight, which can swing wildly due to delays and weather conditions. Add in unfavorable tax-and-duty situations, and the price outlook gets even worse.
There are currently many reasons why on-shoring is beneficial, but the proximity of production to consumers to better react to customer demands.
“In a time when consumer expectations for superior goods and services continue to grow, operating closer to the demand allows companies to reduce lead times and keep up with the market’s incessantly changing demands.”
Posted: March 26th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
Two years ago, Foxconn announced that it would be phasing in up to 3 million industrial robots in an effort to reduce its labor costs. In the last year, it has started this process.
Foxconn has managed to deploy significant numbers of its new robotic workers. Over the course of last year, Foxconn managed to install 30,000-50,000 new robots in its factories, and is aiming for 300,000 more by 2014.
Because of the changing economy in China, and the fall in price for automation technology, American companies have been “reshoring” their production back the the United States. However, with Chinese companies also investing in automation technology, China may mitigate prohibitive labor costs.
Posted: March 19th, 2013 | By: Eagle Tech
The year-end total for manufacturing technology orders reached around $5.7 billion in 2012, up from 2011’s totals.
Orders totaled almost $500 million in December. Though this is down more than 9% from the $550 million reported in December 2011, it gives 2012 a year-end total of $5.7 billion, up 2.6% compared with 2011.
Douglas Woods, AMT’s president, points to a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing. “This also shows the resilience of the industry in the face of GDP contraction in the fourth quarter, along with fiscal and political concerns that have been overshadowing much of the general economy.”
While there was an overall rise in orders in 2012, some parts of the US increased more than others.
Regionally, it was the South that showed the greatest rise in manufacturing technology orders in 2012 — the full-year total up more than 12% over 2011. The Midwest saw only a negligible gain of 1% over the previous year. Most regions, however, tell similar stories: historical rises in year-end totals despite December numbers being down from December 2011. Only the Western region saw a year-over-year rise in December, with almost 7% higher numbers than December 2011.