It’s been a long time since any real revolutionary change occurred in our industry. There have been incremental improvements over the years, to be sure. The late ‘80s and early ‘90s were great for PLC programmers, when there was a race to adopt the new technology. (See our infographic on the history of the PLC.) There was also a surge of HMI interfaces, including software-based platforms. They were good times. But the dust has long since settled, and perhaps even some of the enthusiasm has waned.
The surge in Ethernet adoption, combined with lower hardware costs, is rapidly changing how we interact with “smart” control and power devices. It’s not the old DeviceNet story revisited either. These new devices are embedded with better diagnostics, have their own HTML web interfaces, and are simply easier to start up and integrate. This is a really important point. It’s easier than ever to connect, and the device data is so much easier to work with.
Combined with data collection and organization applications (apps), the options for control and power engineers are exponentially increasing. The degree of freedom for design is almost unbelievable, especially as open systems become the norm. And unlike those DeviceNet days, you can essentially drag and drop what’s in the plant to your phone or tablet.
It’s a great time to be in the electrical industry.
Introducing our eBook on Smart Manufacturing
We have an opportunity to do great things, but getting started has been daunting. Smart Manufacturing, Industrie 4.0 and Connected Enterprise all sound like great ideas to most people in the engineering community. But how do you even begin? Where do you find the time, or better yet, the funding?
That’s just the beginning. This topic gets so big, so fast, that “corporate” inevitably has to get involved. Followed by the automation vendors, and eventually IT and Manufacturing Execution Systems’ (MES) staff has to jump in. Things quickly escalate to “this is too big to get started.”
We are here to tell you that it does not have to be this way. We wrote this guide to help our customers educate themselves and to break up this journey into small, progressive steps.
After interviewing people who work in engineering, Electrical & Instrumentation and similar roles, we discovered three major areas that need to be considered when climbing this mountain:
It’s really hard to see the peak from the valley, but that should not keep you from getting started on this exciting, and frankly necessary, journey. You can begin with small, steady steps forward. We will explore the concept of progression, which is about making small changes as devices are replaced or upgraded. Experimenting at line, machine or cell levels is a great way to “contain” the scope and learn about possibilities.
Ripping out fully functioning components and installing smart systems would be great, but not very practical. As an alternative, we suggest starting with plant goals and exploring where they may need improvement. This usually leads to an opportunity to make system improvements (functional) and to start planning for data requirements. The key is to connect your goals to gaps in information and build your plan from there.
- Limits of authority
This is a big one that none of us can escape. There are some things we can do on our own, and others that require what seems like congressional legislation. This e-book explores methods of improvement that can be pursued at site level and typically without deviating from a corporate engineering standard. We discuss progressive, practical steps that can be taken right now.
It will take several years to fully realize the summit, but it pays to get started now to get ahead. More than likely your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) or MES staff will be coming to you in the future with requests for more data. More importantly, there is a lot of personal accomplishment to be made along the way.
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.
We have worked hard on our latest eBook on Smart Manufacturing. The five-part document offers a practical and actionable approach to implementing smart technology today. Download your copy today!