Predictive analytics enable open connectivity, collaboration

For software developer System Insights, open connectivity and collaboration with Rexroth helped create a solution for a manufacturing facility.

By Karl Rapp, Bosch Rexroth Corp. March 30, 2017

Software developer System Insights was tapped by a large power generation equipment company to install its VIMANA software platform in the company’s facility for real time and historical analysis of manufacturing productivity. The solution included monitoring Liechti TurboMill milling machines with Rexroth’s IndraMotion MTX computerized numeric control (CNC) controller. All of the machine tools in the facility were connected to VIMANA using the MTConnect standard.

Controller connected to analytical software through MTConnect adapter

The VIMANA Connect MTConnect Adapter was developed to read the CNC and programmable logic controller (PLC) information and provide data in the format of the open MTConnect standard to communicate with the IndraMotion MTX controller. With VIMANA, a centralized platform for analysis across all its manufacturing equipment, the production and maintenance engineers at the facility would have the ability to consistently track productivity, as well as gain deep insights into the reasons for production disruptions, maintenance events, and quality spills. 

Empowering power plants

The manufacturing company makes steam turbines for power plants that generate electricity. Among the most essential parts of the turbine are the turbine blades/foils. The company mills these turbine blades with the Liechti TurboMill machine. The operation includes more than 70 of these machines, along with many others, connected to the VIMANA dashboard so engineers can view real-time data on the performance of each machine (see Figure 1). 

Harmonizing the data

For the integration of System Insights VIMANA with the IndraMotion MTX controller, the key factor was open connectivity, specifically OPC DA. Because OPC is an interface that doesn’t require dynamic link library (DLL) implementations, Rexroth didn’t have to give System Insights a specific code or have it integrate a code. OPC is a nice open interface. In the end, integration with a partner like System Insights with OPC as a platform was fairly easy. Using MTConnect provided the added benefit of standardizing what the data naming is, what the data format is, and what the data means. Basically, the assigning of information bits, and integers, and real values from controllers into MTConnect allows that translation. OPC and MTConnect interoperability was used to harmonize the data, so the data coming from each machine would be the same. Otherwise, if the data is all different, and has different formatting and attributes, it’s very difficult for a software analysis tool to make sense of it (see Figure 2). 

Collaboration empowered by standards

The project marked the first formal business collaboration between System Insights and Bosch Rexroth. "VIMANA is providing this customer a platform for manufacturing intelligence, integrating with Bosch Rexroth drive and control technology to connect assets and analyze, monitor, and optimize the factory floor for improved operational performance," said Dr. Athulan Vijayaraghavan, founder and chief technology officer for System Insights. The integration with Bosch Rexroth automation technology and the VIMANA Suite enables this customer to leverage its machine data for insight into machine use, maintenance, operator resource optimization, and quality. In addition, open interfaces give System Insights an edge. They can provide solutions to any users, small or large, connecting all the equipment on the same network.

"This factory had various levels of modernization, and open standards are crucial to achieving 100% connected manufacturing," Vijayaraghavan said. "VIMANA Connect provides expanded connectivity to multivendor and legacy factory devices with interoperability of OPC UA and OPC DA to MTConnect. This data is then streamed to the VIMANA servers for advanced analytics generating dashboards for real-time monitoring and proactive management of operational performance. Smart alerts from enriched data communicate potential maintenance or safety problems before they occur, and help identify opportunities to improve productivity." 

Real-time efficiency

Thanks to the collaboration between System Insights and Bosch Rexroth, VIMANA has had a significant impact on production at the manufacturing facility. The operation has seen a demonstrable improvement in machine use, due to operational decisions that are now made based on daily, real-time productivity data. Problem solving reaction time and skills also have improved with the ability to address problem areas on machines and proactively determine maintenance and productivity issues. On a higher level, the new software also helped the company with manufacturing operations corporate initiatives, such as improved visibility and performance. 

Blueprint for Industrie 4.0

The experience of working on a project that involved such a high level of standards-based connectivity and collaboration could serve as a blueprint for niche companies such as System Insights moving toward Industrie 4.0 (see Figure 3). Dr. Vijayaraghavan doesn’t think Industrie 4.0. will be a one-size-fits-all solution. "You’re going to have a plurality of vendors, a plurality of software systems, a plurality of hardware systems, and a plurality of standards. Being able to work across all these systems, interoperating between them, is what’s going to make these systems succeed. Our clients require solutions that provide interoperability, advanced analytics, and enterprise integration so they can improve performance of their shop floors. It’s a very complex ecosystem with complex problems in terms of legacy. Every country is different. Every market is different. Every vertical is different."

Companies such as System Insights have an edge because if they make these open interfaces, they can provide solutions to many users to get all of their equipment on the same network. It’s very rare, except with very large automotive projects, to have one machine builder that supplies 90% of the equipment in the plant.

"For Industrie 4.0 programs to be successful, we need to have collaboration," said Vijayaraghavan. "That’s why standards are important. And, you can’t have only one standard. You have to have multiple standards and be able to interoperate between them. This makes it possible for the end user to bring in a collection of experts to solve different aspects of a problem. Ultimately, it’s a means to an end where you’re looking at better profitability, better productivity, and faster turnaround. So, for those objectives to be maximized, you need to have much tighter interoperability across these Industrie 4.0. systems." This project was a good example of that actually happening.

After the project, System Insights began to offer OPC UA support in its MTConnect adapter. Rexroth offers OPC UA servers in the CNC hardware L45/L65/L75/L85 with 14VRS.

Project profile

Challenge: To improve utilization, productivity, and cost efficiency of Liechti milling machines on the shop floor with the computerized numeric control (CNC) controller IndraMotion MTX.

Solution: Collaboration and integration with System Insights’ VIMANA predictive analytics software platform and open connectivity.

Results: Demonstrable improvement in machine utilization due to operational decisions that are now based on daily real-time productivity data:

  • Improved machine utilization by around 15% in a single cell, saving $500,000 in the first year (see Figure 4)
  • Improved problem solving reaction time and skills
  • Gained ability to proactively determine maintenance and productivity issues.

Karl Rapp is Manager of the Machine Tool Market Segment with Bosch Rexroth. He has worked in the machine tool and automation control market for 30 years, 26 of them with Bosch Rexroth.

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering 
and Plant Engineering

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