“We are going to get to a stage where in a little while, ethernet-enabled machines will be saying, ‘I’m dirty, clean me!’” Molloy told FoodManufacture.co.uk at trade show Anuga FoodTec 2015 in Cologne.
Smart devices with ethernet connections already existed in factories that could feed information on their performance to managers on or off-site, he said. “If I’m an md, I can look at a dashboard of all my plants around the world and I can compare labour and productivity costs [for example] in real time.”
However, that information still had to be sifted and interrogated by these managers using software tools, he added. Advances in technology would enable more and more diagnostics to eventually be carried out at the machine end, with managers issued electronically with specific instructions after that, he claimed.
‘Internet of things’
Molloy said Rockwell Automation, working with Cisco could eventually achieve that goal as part of the development of the so-called ‘internet of things’ through its Connected Enterprise strategy.
At the show, Rockwell was showcasing one of its latest manufacturing execution systems, FactoryTalk Production Centre R10, which can send alerts based on events such as the start of new orders or quality issues. Key personnel could thus be alerted to perform critical tasks via mobile or text.
The company was also demonstrating its Rapid Line integration solution for integrating manufacturing and processing lines. Using a common equipment interface, the system helps users to configure, control and analyse line performance from a standard operator station. This could lower the total cost and time of deploying and optimising manufacturing equipment, Rockwell claimed.
Partnering Cisco, Rockwell aimed to make plant data more easily and quickly available and understandable for managers, said Molloy.
But he warned there were drawbacks to this ease of online data exchange. One of those was that factories were potentially vulnerable to cyber attack. Company bosses and site managers needed to be aware of that, he said.
“We have a range of network-managed devices that hook up to a single ethernet IP network that’s very secure. We can assess what the risk to your operation is and mitigate that.”
Molloy also said plant operators had to be trained up in a new set of skills in order to handle the development of what he termed ‘industry 4.0’, the rise of machines that could send a full range of data to managers remotely.
Rockwell also featured its iTRAK Intelligent Track System at its stand, a modular, scalable linear motor system allowing for independent control of multiple movers on straight or curvilinear paths. It said the solution made rotary driven chains, belts and gears obsolete. Driven by its servo technology, it can automatically realign and reset production for different batch volumes and types of packaging, reducing the need for line changeovers. In addition, the system was extremely compact, reducing the room taken up by similar previous systems by 60%, said Rockwell.