Martyn Williams explains how manufacturers can take steps towards fully automated engineering
Increased demand for customised products and shrinking time-to-market expectations have contributed to the fundamental shift in how products are designed and created. To fulfil today’s demand for smart products and customised design, manufacturers must break away from their outdated, mass manufacturing habits and explore the world of automated engineering.
Traditional manufacturing has undisputable advantages. When all machinery is in one place and functioning correctly, planning is simple and costs can be calculated quickly and easily. The factory operates as one complete facility and as such, thrives as a single unit. In today’s competitive market, however, manufacturers are facing increasing pressures to break this model to compete on both pricing and timing.
By applying automated engineering to the factory floor, companies enable a shift from the traditional manufacturing model to a more flexible production line. This change requires the interconnection of new or existing industrial machinery and the implementation of intelligent control software. A connected production environment enables manufacturers to escape the limitations associated with linear manufacturing operations and allows different machines and processes to communicate and interact seamlessly.
Hardware and software compatibility
Without doubt, the move from “off the shelf” equipment to industrial machinery with customer specific configuration is the basis for flexible and efficient production processes, but the implementation can create challenges when it comes to software engineering.
Manual software configuration is not always a feasible option because it requires an unnecessarily high involvement of technical engineering. This increases the likelihood of error rates, engineering time and can result in spiralling costs. Ideally, the HMI/SCADA software should be able to generate individual projects in an automated manner, without any errors.
HMI/SCADA applications already play a critical role in smart facilities: collecting, feeding and analysing data from the machinery on the factory floor, right up to ERP level. However, to achieve customised production lines, the software should also be capable of automated equipment configuration.
Intelligent HMI/SCADA software that uses automated engineering has benefits for machine builders, system integrators and manufacturers. It means machine builders have more flexibility to configure equipment in accordance with customer requirements, while also saving time and costs on the configuration.
System integrators can use automated engineering to develop their system faster and with less engineering effort than their competitors can. Finally, automated engineering enables manufacturers access to clear visualisation of the production process, giving operators and management real-time insights into their production line performance.
Modularisation is one of the major advantages of automated engineering. By enabling automated communication between separate modules or cells on the factory floor, modularisation allows a number of different manufacturing processes and combinations to take place simultaneously in the facility.
Pharmaceutical manufacturers, for example, could use modularisation to produce a wider variety of packaging options for patients and their respective medicines. Rather than using separate production lines, modularisation allows manufacturers to separate, connect or combine modules and create customised products in one single facility.
What’s more, the automated nature of modularisation significantly reduces the amount of human effort required; both for commissioning new industrial machinery and for making changes to the equipment.
Fulfilling customer demands has always been a priority for manufacturers. With increasing innovations in technology, customer expectations are constantly changing. The way manufacturers design, make, deliver and maintain products has to keep up with customer demands in the era of Industry 4.0 and the Smart Factory. One way of staying ahead of competitors is taking advantage of the benefits automated engineering can offer.
Martyn Williams is with COPA-DATA UK.