Smart manufacturing comes in many forms

The idea of smart manufacturing and smart machines has taken on many forms at IMTS 2018. Whether it’s machines, operations or general philosophy, there are many ways to be smart, but it does come with challenges. Which forms of smart manufacturing will help you?

By Chris Vavra, CFE Media September 12, 2018

The push for smart manufacturing and increased automation is taking on many different forms at IMTS 2018 at McCormick Place in Chicago. From vehicles to machines to robots—and sometimes a combination of these—the products used on the plant floor are getting smarter. Some of the developments, such as a self-driving lift truck, offer major benefits for a manufacturing industry that is often changing and taking on new forms.

"The way manufacturers do business is constantly changing. Those who adapt have the competitive advantage. Those that don’t risk falling behind or risk going out of business." said John Schlemmer, chief operating officer (COO), JAAS Systems Ltd. in his presentation "Trends in Manufacturing — 2018."

Being smart, though, isn’t enough for companies looking to improve their bottom line and return on investment (ROI). Knowing the product, their setting on the plant floor, and knowing when and acting to make changes is just as important as creating the appearance of a "smart" manufacturing facility. While technology applications can challenge manufacturers, solutions and ideas displayed and presented at IMTS 2018 shows many possible answers to being smarter. The only wrong answer is not doing anything. 

Self-driving lift truck for material handling operations

The Otto Omega self-driving lift truck from Otto Motors, which is making its debut at IMTS in the East hall, is an example of using technology to make manufacturing operations smarter and safer. It is designed to react to real-time changes on the factory floor and move around obstacles to prevent disruptions in operations.

"We wanted to take appropriate steps to ensure safety," said Matt Rendall, CEO of Otto Motors, at a press event on Tuesday. "We want to be sure that our machine can move pallets through busy factories without disruption."

The concept of a self-driving lift truck is not that different from what has been seen with self-driving vehicles.

"We want to get the vehicle to the right place at the right time every time," Rendall said.

The Omega is designed to achieve this with laser scanners and cameras that take accurate pictures of its surroundings several times a second. It also has safety scanners to prevent the robot from hitting people. While this might seem like a lot of hardware, Rendall demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to adapt while walking near the robot during the presentation.

Rendall said the goal is to provide products that result in minimal or even zero downtime and being able to adapt on the fly. In today’s manufacturing world, it is not enough to be smart. It is vital to keep operations moving without planned or unplanned interruption interruptions. 

Intelligent connected devices for reducing downtime

Jeremy King, a product marketing manager for Bimba, had similar thoughts during his presentation "The role of intelligent connected devices in reducing downtime and improving efficiency throughout a machine’s lifecycle." His approach, while focused more on machine parts such as vacuum cups and actuators, nonetheless is representative of manufacturing’s general efforts to improve efficiency and reduce downtime whenever possible.

"It’s easy to focus on high-priced items when thinking about breakdowns," he said, referring to a robot and a tooling machine. "It’s the small-time items like the actuator and the suction cup, however, are likely to wear down first. That’s where the unpredicted downtime comes from."

For King, who deals with vacuum pumps that move objects around, the cost might not seem so bad. It might be a slight delay because an object wasn’t picked up or it might have dropped. These delays, though, while perhaps not significant by themselves, do add up. He referred to a situation with a client where a slowdown led to a conveyor breaking two weeks later because the gear in the conveyor overcompensated because of an initial slowdown.

King said using sensors to analyze performance and anticipate how certain items can help determine what needs to be fixed before it becomes a problem. This can, King said, not only reduce downtime, but it can help maximize the life of the components in use to save money long-term. Performing spot checks or doing continuous monitoring on the product can also help.

"Continuous monitoring is better than spot checks, but it is more expensive," King said. "It provides more real-time information to help detect problems sooner to reduce downtime."

The key, King said, is to turn the information into a diagnostic tool to make better decisions in real time. And it starts with checking on the status of a few cheap products that might seem interchangeable. While they may be in terms of initial cost, they play a large role in how companies use smart manufacturing through sensors and real-time information to prevent even larger breakdowns and challenges. 

Keeping smart manufacturing costs down

Smart manufacturing has brought a lot of initiatives such as Industrie 4.0, Made in China 2025, and others. Tomer Goldenberg, director of marketing and strategy for Elmo Motion Control, said all these programs boil down to the same thing in his presentation "The paradox of Smart Manufacturing."

"It’s all about making the manufacturing process better than it already is," he said. According to Goldenberg, there are four areas being improved by smart manufacturing:

  • Flexibility: These include rapid design and production changes as well as more customizable products.
  • Efficiency: Higher throughput, shorter time to market (TTM), higher operation simplicity, and less downtime.
  • Quality: This includes greater reliability and a higher yield.
  • Technology: Cutting-edge development that are mandatory for production to produce advanced and better products.

There is no question about the overall benefits when improving these four areas, but therein, said Goldenberg, lies the paradox: Improving value costs money. So the question is: How do manufacturers improve efficiency and value while reducing costs?

The answer, said Goldenberg, is technology. Improved technology can help lower costs and improve the other areas benefiting from smart manufacturing.

Goldenberg highlighted a case study involving a manufacturer that needed to keep up with rising market demand by increasing their production. They made improvements in their machines and robotics, but now they needed to find ways to use technology to improve overall production. Goldenberg said this was accomplished in three ways:

  • Smarter controls that provided minimal TTM with simplified implementation.
  • Efficient motion control that reduced wasted energy and movement.
  • Functional safety, which shifted the responsibility to the servo drive to improve machine functionality while simplifying operations and safety.

Goldenberg emphasized the final point, saying, "Safety, more than ever, is an integral part of today’s smart factory."

A smart manufacturing team, with the right knowledge and information at their core, will be working alongside smart machines and technologies in the new and better age of manufacturing.

IMTS 2018 breaks attendance, space records

IMTS 2018 has broken all previous records for largest show. Visitor registration reached 122,636 on Tuesday, eclipsing the old record by nearly 1,000 visitors. Other records for IMTS 2018 include 1,424,232 sq. ft. of exhibit space and 2,123 booths representing 2,563 exhibiting companies.

Previous historical highs were 1,415,848 sq. ft. of exhibit space at IMTS 2000; 2,407 exhibiting companies at IMTS 2016, 1,475 booths at IMTS 2014 and 121,764 visitors at IMTS 1998.

Chris Vavra, production editor, CFE Media,