by Leif Juergensen, Director, Customer Projects Program, OEM Segment, Schneider Electric's Industry business unit. This blog originally appeared on the Schneider Electric Blog page on December 16, 2015.
Please be sure to visit the IIC Smart Factory Reception at IMTS Chicago on September 14, 2016, hosted by B&R Industrial Automation and members of the Smart Factory Task Group in booth E-4115, from 4:00-5:30pm.
Far from the menacing stuff of Hollywood sci-fi movies, the reality is that smart machines represent a tremendous advancement for any industry that relies on machine technology.
The term “smart machine” refers to machines that are better connected, more flexible, more efficient and safer. They can respond quickly to new demands and maximize efficiency through intuitive collaboration with their users. A smart machine is also capable of participating in predictive maintenance practices while minimizing its own environmental footprint and total cost of ownership.
The development of smart machines is driven by the needs of end users (not some evil movie villain bent on world domination). By applying the latest technologies to machines, companies can better address consumer market trends such as the expectation of universal connectivity, the ever increasing reliance on mobile devices, and the demand for machinery that is easy to install and use.
The technologies that make all this possible include Ethernet connectivity which enables the integration of networks and improved access to data, mobile technologies for safer, more remote operation of equipment and digitization for low cost development of machine automation simulation programs.
Putting the “smart” in smart machines
Four main characteristics put the “smart” in smart machines:
- Efficiency – Sensors and embedded knowledge enable smart machines to monitor their own components and environment. By providing the most relevant information to operators, manufacturing lines can produce in a more reliable, flexible and efficient manner. In addition, their ability to assess data quickly and in a decentralized fashion means that decision making can be accelerated, reducing backlogs etc.
- Safety & security – These two concerns are priorities for companies today and smart machines are designed with them in mind. They improve the safety of operators and minimize the security risk associated with increased networking.
- Flexibility – Plug-and-work, modularity, and reusable designs are all intrinsic elements to smart machines, making them much more user friendly than their predecessors.
- Connectivity – Direct connection to the broader network via Ethernet means smart machines offer data sharing and production planning capabilities that go far beyond those of traditional standalone machinery and automation. By bridging the information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) gap, they make vital production data available to those who need it most. The digital mobility that they offer also allows operators and engineers newfound flexibility to access data anywhere to diagnose problems etc, speeding up their resolution and reducing downtime.
Technology is always on the move and, as with anything, both machine manufacturers and end users need to embrace the changes or risk being left behind. Smart machines offer users an array of benefits around efficiency, cost reduction, and performance improvements, as well as new ways to interact with staff, from the plant floor to the top floor. Leveraging the new technologies that make all this possible offers adapters the opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition, and in Hollywood terms, that adds up to a happy ending…
Read more from our experts on the future of smart machines in this Schneider Electric white paper: “Understanding Smart Machines: How They Will Shape the Future.”
You can also learn more about “Smart machines” here.