The IIoT’s role in smart manufacturing
Thanks to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) companies are digitally transforming business strategies and processes to better serve customers and be more competitive in a global environment.
- Smart manufacturing is about smart people using smart technology.
- Industry 4.0 gives manufacturers the tools to make smart and informed decisions more quickly.
- Benefits include improved work quality, traceability, data collection and digital execution.
The fourth industrial revolution is turning manufacturing back into an economic powerhouse and changing the way manufacturing enterprises run their businesses. Called Industry 4.0, digital transformation or smart manufacturing, it’s a new golden age of manufacturing where companies are digitally transforming their business strategies and processes to better serve their customers and be more competitive in a global environment.
In taking the smart manufacturing route, companies can rethink, redesign, and rebuild their business, manufacturing, and digital processes, streamlining them in ways never before possible. Also, and perhaps most importantly, smart manufacturing allows companies to better empower teams, especially manufacturing teams, transforming them from low-cost, low-skilled workers into highly skilled and trained knowledge workers.
Supporting this transformation are a myriad of smart manufacturing technologies, like artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, digital twins, digital threads, Big Data, predictive analytics, collaborative robots (cobots), manufacturing execution systems (MES), new identification systems and others.
These technologies are coming together from many disparate sources, so it’s not as if some mastermind designed them from the top down to support the needs of the fourth industrial revolution. These technologies are helping define what smart manufacturing really means – smart people using smart technology to do something better, faster and cheaper.
Underneath all these smart technologies lies a firm foundation – the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It’s almost impossible to do anything meaningful in smart manufacturing without the IIoT playing a major role; thus, the IIoT has almost become synonymous with smart manufacturing.
How technologies support Industry 4.0
Let’s look at a real-world example to better understand the IIoT’s role and how it ties these technologies together to support Industry 4.0. This example is a generalization of a chemical compounding process, which might typically be seen in any pharmaceutical or specialty chemical or other process manufacturing operation.
Digital execution starts with getting key information on orders, operations, bills of materials, and recipes from the enterprise resource planning (ERP), system. Once this information is obtained, and the order is ready to be executed, the information must be distributed to the various people and equipment who are going to execute the operations.
The IIoT is the backbone that distributes this information. In our compounding process example, which means the IIoT sends the orders, operations, materials and recipes to the automatic raw material handling systems, the manual weighing systems, the individual batch compounding systems, the weighing and packing systems and the quality assurance systems.
The IIoT first checks the status of the various pieces of equipment to ensure they are ready to begin the next operation. It provides each piece of equipment, and each operator, with the right information at the right time to do their jobs. And, throughout the process, the IIoT continually checks on the equipment status to ensure the operation is proceeding as specified.
Digital work instructions
Digital work instructions provide the right materials to the people to support the various operations they must perform. These materials may be documents, drawings, process instructions, operating procedures, procedure manuals, and such, down to individual step-by-step processes and instructions.
Step-by-step processes are significant in most compounding operations to ensure and document each step is performed correctly.
This conglomerate of work instructions often comes from a wide variety of sources. The IIoT will retrieve the work instructions from these disparate sources and provide them to the operators as they are needed, so each operator has the right work instructions when they need them to do their jobs.
Throughout the process, the IIoT continually checks on these step-by-step processes to ensure each step is executed correctly and completely. The IIoT reports the status of the steps, when they are completed, and so on back to the system of record as each step is being executed.
Digital traceability is all about tracking and tracing – forward and backward – the materials that go into each batch of product that is compounded and packed out.
The IIoT performs a multi-faceted job here by connecting different pieces of information together to form a complex whole. The IIoT must match up the order and the operation with the specific materials required in the bill of materials (BOM) and then add in the batch number or the batch and lot number of the material. Any missing or incorrect data likely means the batch must be scrapped. Getting the information, and making sure it is correct and complete, is crucial for the IIoT.
Digital traceability goes beyond orders, materials, lots and batches. It also means matching up the batches to the equipment that was used, the operators who ran the equipment, the quality checks that were performed on the batch, the cleaning that was performed before the batch, and any maintenance that may have been performed before the batch. The IIoT matches up all this to provide a complete traceability map of everything, and everyone, that had anything to do with the batch.
Digital quality starts with performing the required quality checks on the batch to ensure the batch meets the specified quality characteristics. Quality checks are typically performed in a variety of locations including on-line, at-line, near-line, local lab, and remote lab. The IIoT gets this information on quality characteristics and includes it with the information on the order, operations, materials, batch and lot.
In many cases, these quality checks include a complete assay of the product verifying the ingredients and quality characteristics are correct. If there’s anything out of specification, even a little bit, an adjustment must be made to the batch. The IIoT distributes the adjustment, in the form of adjustments to the bill of materials and adjustments to the recipe components, to the various people and equipment that require the adjustments.
After the adjustments are made there’s another assay that must be performed with the results collected by the IIoT. When the batch is within specification, it may be released. The IIoT distributes that release notification to the appropriate people and processes, and the batch is released to move downstream.
Throughout this process, the IIoT is performing data collection from a wide variety of systems, equipment, and devices. The IIoT is collecting data from the automatic raw material handling systems, the manual weighing systems, multiple individual scales and scale systems, the individual batch compounding systems, the multiple weighing and packing systems and the various quality assurance systems.
The IIoT forms the backbone for collecting and distributing this information to the various systems of record, databases, and such, where it’s used.
Smart technology support
In a typical compounding process manufacturing solution, the IIoT supports many other smart manufacturing technologies. For example, the IIoT provides the analytics solution with vast amounts of data required for descriptive, diagnostic, predictive and prescriptive analytics.
The IIoT also is the backbone that supports the extensive data collection required to support digital twins and digital threads. It also supports augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and expert capture systems. For Big Data, any artificial intelligence (AI) applications, such as machine learning (ML), also require large amounts of data, which the IIoT can provide manufacturers.
A smart manufacturing future
It’s easy to see how the IIoT is the foundation for smart manufacturing and why the IIoT and smart manufacturing are practically synonymous. It’s almost impossible to do anything in smart manufacturing without the IIoT.
Smart manufacturing is about smart people using smart technology. With a strong IIoT foundation, this smart industrial revolution is helping manufacturers change the way they run their businesses for the better.
John Clemons is a consultant for Maverick Technologies, a leading platform-independent automation solutions provider and Rockwell Automation. Garrett Clemons is a pharmaceutical MES consultant at Rockwell Automation. Maverick Technologies is a CFE Media and Technology content partner. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media and Technology, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Keywords: smart manufacturing, Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things
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