Momentum behind Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is continuing with a growing number of smart device/product manufacturers developing sensors that communicate wirelessly with the outside world. Benefits include maintaining or improving quality production through machine monitoring, increasing process efficiency and enhancing equipment reliability through predictive maintenance.
There is a growing trend for hydraulics, pneumatics and electromechanical specialists, like Parker, to partner with their machine tool customers to deliver automation solutions with built-in intelligence, connectivity, and control.
Driving this trend is the desire of machine tool manufacturers to differentiate their products by being more efficient, faster, safer and more precise. However, there often exists a requirement for considerable investment in different areas where internal skills are sometimes limited or even non-existent.
In the case of a hydraulic-based machine tool, for example, manufacturers can benefit from the ability to schedule preventive maintenance operations to help avoid oil leaks, pipe ruptures, and other common faults. This necessitates the collection and analysis of physical attributes such as pressure, flow, and temperature. Then, to exploit this data to maximum advantage and use, the relative interaction of these parameters must be known; this is something that specialists such as Parker are best placed to advise and support.
Suppliers of automation and motion control technologies are busy rethinking their product development processes to add intelligent functions through sensing, connectivity via the internet and control through remote human-initiated or automatic inputs. These factors are important because they can elevate a simple automation process achieved through traditional ‘dumb’ mechanics, to a highly efficient, optimised application which can be managed remotely from the other side of the world if necessary.
Condition monitoring is transitioning to a whole new level, to the extent that maintenance personnel can determine whether something out of the ordinary has happened – in real-time if necessary. Every process has a ‘heartbeat’, so the challenge is to continually monitor that and ask the question: has that heartbeat changed over a certain period of time and is there a potential issue?
Only by collecting and then fully understanding data is it possible to optimise machine tool performance, minimise downtime and increase service life via the IIoT. Deep knowledge of hydraulic, pneumatic and electro-mechanical technology is the basis for the development of predictive and preventive maintenance algorithms.
The IIoT is not simply about interconnecting different systems of architecture, but also making the machine more effective at communicating through the deployment of intelligent functionality that simplifies data interpretation. The opportunities offered by the successful integration of actuators and motors (the muscle) and intelligent control (the brains), is changing the way products are manufactured, delivering enhanced capabilities, more efficient automation and simpler and easier to use production solutions.
The IIoT is about far more than sensors, it concerns the need to understand a customer’s application and determine how an interface can be provided within that process to give the company all the information it requires. This is best enabled by closer collaboration between machine tool manufacturers and suppliers of smart products and sub-assemblies who can integrate intelligent functionality into processes.
Article contributed by Michel Finck, market development manager, Electromechanical & Drives Division Europe.