Information and product flexibility at IMTS

The rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is forcing companies to streamline their operations while keeping them secure. Companies are also looking, through this, to remain flexible and broaden their operations.

By Chris Vavra, CFE Media September 11, 2018

IMTS 2018 officially opened its doors Monday at McCormick Place in Chicago with a plethora of machining and automation products designed to help companies of all shapes and sizes. The biennial event’s motto is "Where dreamers and doers connect."

Many of the companies on the shop floor aim to achieve just that with an emphasis on multi-faceted production. It’s not enough anymore to have a great product that can do one task very well. That product must be able to accomplish many tasks and work in tandem with the other products on the plant floor to achieve maximum efficiency with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) leading the charge. 

Collaboration and safety taking on many forms

Mitsubishi Electric isn’t just demonstrating their new products on the show floor; they’re asking for feedback, particularly with their collaborative robot, to help make it better as they plan for an early 2019 launch.

"We’re taking the feedback from the industrial to know what we can do to make the robot better than the competition," said Scott Strache, product manager, Mitsubishi Electric.

Their collaborative robot, which is still in development, is designed to connect with tablets and other human-machine interfaces (HMIs) to transmit information can then be transmitted to the user to give them information in real time. And it’s not just robots. Just about everything on display in the Mitsubishi booth was designed to provide useful information to the user.

"We want our machines and controllers to be capable of connecting to a manufacturing execution system (MES) so it can be transmitted to the cloud and show the data on the floor," Strache said. "We want more info on a whole solution and not just need."

Gathering information into a single source has been a constant theme during the show. Companies are trying to streamline everything in their operations from the machine to the input/output (I/O) to the controller and transmitting that data to the cloud. While the name rarely came up, this is certainly a byproduct of companies rushing to take advantage of the IIoT, which offers the potential of taking all this disparate data and making it useful to manufacturers.

"Everyone," Strache said, "is going to higher-level data. It’s not just about pulling info out of the controllers, but they’re looking for easy ways to get it to the cloud and then to applications."

The information transmitted doesn’t have to be widespread and composed of several different items. It can be something as simple as a sensor transmitting data to a controller, which was what Humanistic Robotics, Inc. (HRI) was demonstrating in the East hall.

"We’re focused on industrial safety over wireless," said Doug Riffle, director of sales at HRI.

To ensure safe wireless transmission, the company has developed a system called SafetySense, which allows the information transmitted from sensor to controller and back again to be sent securely.

"It helps prevents drops," Riffle said. "That’s important because with wireless there’s going to be some transmitted loss and we’re trying to create a system that’s safe and definable for the user." 

Flexibility on the plant floor

Open and secure information isn’t the only priority on the plant floor. Flexibility is key, as well. On the second floor of the East hall, the Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR) freely roamed the floor space. They were able to swerve around humans and other objects with relative ease.

That kind of adaptive thinking and flexibility is something users are looking for, according to Niels Jul Jacobsen, chief strategy officer (CSO), Mobile Industrial Robots (MiR).

"We’re about the people on the shop floor," he said. "The ones who know what is happening."

Güdel vice president Joseph Campbell, whose company comes at the problem from a different perspective with gantries, agrees with that sentiment.

"We’ve positioned ourselves as work envelope experts and we’re working to help the integrators," he said. "For us, we provide less customization, more standardization, but more flexibility."

This approach for their gantry products works well given that Güdel deals in some very precise and specific industries such as aerospace. Within that realm, Campbell said the company has been able to provide assistance in seemingly mundane tasks such as painting and coating.

"For us, we want to provide a situation where the company needs one machine instead of two and giving that machine or robot flexibility," Campbell said. 

Companies expanding their existing base

SEW Eurodrive mostly produces servo drives and has built their product and customer base around that identity. However, the company isn’t content to just providing the servo drives for users. They’ve started using their own products in their product line of gantry robots and automatic guided vehicles (AGVs), which were on full display in their booth.

Jason Oakley, an electric product and application engineer, said the company is using what they have in new ways to expand their base, and it seems to be working.

"A lot of people when they visit don’t know we were doing this and this is a good chance for us. It really seems to be helping people realize what we can do," Oakley said.

Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,

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