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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What ‘Heartbleed’ means for factory automation

Posted: April 15th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


With the discover of the Heartbleed bug last week, the perception of a secure internet was shattered. Many of the services and products that we use every day are vulnerable to hackers. Luckily, companies like Google have been working to make sure that the data stored on servers is safe. While servers with openSSL are being fixed, many of the internet connected hardware devices that make up the Internet of Things won’t be.

…unlike the Yahoos and Googles, which have already upgraded to the fixed version of OpenSSL, the infrastructure of the web is even less secure. It will be significantly harder to stop the bleeding in hardware devices, experts say, and in many cases will never be patched at all.

Anything from industry IT equipment to home automation systems are vulnerable: wireless routers, cable boxes, security cameras, and an array of smart gadgets.

This could lead to trouble for automated factory equipment that is internet connected.

OpenSSL is widely used in software that connects these devices to the network. In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Jonathan Sander from STEALTHbits Technologies compared the cryptographic library to an engine part that’s in every kind of vehicle that comes off the production line, from a golf cart to a scooter. If a devices was shipped out before Heartbleed was discovered Tuesday, it’s vulnerable to attack, and unless its software is designed to receive regular updates, it will probably stay exposed for a very long time.

The good news is that companies like Cisco and Juniper are testing equipment for the Heartbleed vulnerability. The bad news is that not everyone is, and many companies won’t perform upgrades to close those vulnerabilities. Automated factories have been adding internet connected devices to their manufacturing processes and these devices should be tested for the Heartbleed bug, and upgraded if they are vulnerable.

Check out this link to learn more about the Heartbleed bug and its effect on the Internet of Things.


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Creating parts from scratch to gain insights into factory automation

Posted: April 8th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


In the age of automation, manufacturers are getting further and further away from the manufacturing process and relying on machines and computers to produce their products. Toyota is trying to bring itself closer to the production process in order to better understand their production needs.

Inside Toyota Motor Corp.’s oldest plant, there’s a corner where humans have taken over from robots in thwacking glowing lumps of metal into crankshafts. This is Mitsuru Kawai’s vision of the future.

Toyota’s next step forward is counterintuitive in an age of automation: Humans are taking the place of machines in plants across Japan so workers can develop new skills and figure out ways to improve production lines and the car-building process.

The idea is that by using machines to automate production tasks, there is separation from the manufacturing process which can keep it from changing or evolving as needs or technologies change.

“Fully automated machines don’t evolve on their own,” said Takahiro Fujimoto, a professor at the University of Tokyo’s Manufacturing Management Research Center. “Mechanization itself doesn’t harm, but sticking to a specific mechanization may lead to omission of kaizen and improvement.”

By becoming more familiar with the manual processes of production, Toyota believes their overall manufacturing process can become more efficient and create higher quality products. Going back to basics could be the key to a better automation process.

Read more about going back to basics in manufacturing.


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Factory automation’s benefit of being connected

Posted: April 1st, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


The 21st century brought about many technological advances to factory automation, from basics like internet connectivity all the way to remote data collection and production control. Since the beginning of automation, with robots performing never-changing repetitive and dangerous tasks, automation technology has been changing, new tasks being automated, new technologies being added, and more information being collected – to be used to inform the next generation of automation.

“These internet-enabled, intelligent devices and the explosion of data they produce could transform manufacturing operations and the factory as we know it today. “In the future, production components will directly communicate with the manufacturing execution system and send out instructions to downstream processes,” says Mirko Bäcker, marketing director EMEA, Tecnomatix, Siemens PLM Software. “The system will then be able to respond more quickly and make adjustments based on the data it has received. In this way, it will become more intelligent, networked and connected. We believe that cyber physical systems will serve as an innovation engine for the future of manufacturing.”

The new software, HMIs, and wirelessly-enabled machines are all geared toward making an automated factory that is smarter and more agile, one that requires little or no human presence.

This includes less down time for machines as manufacturers will be able to remotely diagnose the problems. “When companies use smart, connected machines, they can manufacture with far greater detail and intelligence, and then use the information to be more productive,” says Comstock. “For example, it will be possible to easily schedule thousands of machines across multiple locations remotely, from a central hub. Under this type of scenario, machines could self-diagnose and order spare parts autonomously within a fully connected system.

The ultimate automated system, it can be expected, would be one that can analyze the production data it collects by itself in order to make adjustments to the process or even request preventative maintenance to ensure that production continues without major or unexpected interruptions. This future may still be a way off, but it is surely on its way and it will ensure a prosperous future for the manufacturing industry.

Read more about factory automation’s technology here.


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A portable assembly line makes factory automation more practical

Posted: March 25th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


Coming out of the last recession, companies that had invested heavily into new automation technologies beforehand are less willing to invest again in new technology. However, there is new automation technology that would make new investment worthwhile: the portable assembly line.

It uses battery-free automated guided vehicles (AGVs) with inductive power transfer (IPT) to create a virtually invisible conveyance that is quickly relocated or rerouted. It allows every operation to be independent of the others, which improves efficiency and also gives a clearer picture of the true cost of automated and manual processes at each station.

As an example of how such AGV systems are being applied, we recently worked with a construction vehicle manufacturer that recently moved production back to the United States from Japan. Traditionally, a company like this would have selected chain based conveyance anchored to the building, requiring thousands of pounds of steel track that is scrapped whenever the line is changed. Instead of this more typical approach, the company wanted something that could be rerouted quickly without wasting tons of steel and investing in tons more.

While there is, of course, a significant investment to be made into any new factory automation, installing a portable – a movable and rearrangeable – automated factory would better accommodate any changes in the product and production process.

Read more about the portable assembly line here.


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Automation’s flexibility a benefit to large-scale manufacturing

Posted: March 18th, 2014 | By: Eagle Tech


In manufacturing, automation has existed for several decades as a tool for performing repetitive tasks. Today, though, automation can be a great benefit to production, allowing for flexibility and increased efficiency.

It is through the subtle flexibility of large-scale automation that allows the economy of scope to excel against the economy of scale. Technologies are being developed to allow a variety of parts to be produced through a single system or by a single machine. It is through these changes in large-scale automation that will move a company from the economy of scale into the economy of scope.

Today’s factory automation can perform complicated tasks as well as respond to changes in the production process as they occur.

Up until the 1990s, robots were simple machines that would mostly repeat a single task. But increasing capabilities in computing, sensing, and motion control have brought to fore robots that can do multiple complex tasks. Some can even decide which tasks to do and in which order, based upon live-floor stimuli.

This flexibility and responsiveness of 21st century factory automation is a benefit to today’s manufacturers. It allows for more lean manufacturing, cost savings, and faster changeover when parts or processes change.

Large-scale automation comes from combining robots and machine tools into a flexible system. And designing large-scale automation creates more efficient and elegant manufacturing processes. These processes do not just complete one single task but can perform various tasks within the same setup, with a focus on greater customization for what best fits the customer.

Read more about the benefits of automation on ThomasNet’s Industry Market Trends.


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