Next-generation controllers reduce costs, increase productivity

In a challenging economy, it is more critical than ever for plants to increase productivity and deliver cost savings in whatever ways they can. By innovating their processes with new control systems, plant managers can accomplish just that.

03/01/2009


Seemingly buried by the daily doses of economic bad news lies the reality %%MDASSML%% perhaps slightly forgotten %%MDASSML%% that periodic downturns are nothing new to manufacturing industries, where cyclical business patterns have always been a given. Although the severity of the current downturn may be greater than previous downturns, it nonetheless represents a powerful opportunity for manufacturers and equipment suppliers to review new approaches in factory automation to provide benefits in both manufacturing cost and efficiency. From that viewpoint, this downturn is no different than others. While some companies will struggle in the coming months, others will thrive with the appropriate and timely integration of innovation into their existing manufacturing processes.

Economics of automation

The core purpose of industrial automation is to apply technology to increase production flexibility and reduce the cost of ownership in a manufacturing or process facility. In a challenging economy, it is even more critical to deliver cost reductions and focus on increased productivity than when strong economic tailwinds are flooding purchase orders through the front door.

The key to achieving these cost and efficiency gains usually starts with the new generations of high-powered programmable controllers %%MDASSML%% now available at far lower costs than those of just several years ago. These controllers serve as the system nucleus to control distributed I/O, collect data and network with other sub-systems or production cells.

Scalability in a control platform allows a close match of processing performance to machine requirements and eliminates any overkill purchase in controller capability. Scalable control systems can range from very small programmable relays to full-blown, high-end PC-based control systems. The combination of low cost and high performance with built-in Ethernet connectivity makes networking smaller machines and production cells more attractive. Today’s new inexpensive programmable controller/relays are designed to control small to midsize machines that require few I/O points. Common features can include Ethernet connectivity, removable operator displays, easy flow chart programming and I/O expansion modules.

High-end systems

On the other end of the spectrum are high-end PC-based control systems . The software running on them accommodates the ever-increasing need for expanded instruction sets, plus seamless support of Ethernet-based I/O networks such as MODBUS TCP, EtherNet/IP or Profinet. Easy programming, fast and comprehensive debugging and seamless integration into HMI software packages are of the requirements for automating a system or process.

Flow chart control software packages offer advantages such as easy reading of the control logic and faster machine troubleshooting %%MDASSML%% especially during startup %%MDASSML%% due to the simple and intuitive nature of flowchart programs. This makes it easy to see where a program may hang up due to an underlying hardware problem or defective machine part. Execution trails help pinpoint possible causes for downtime faster than with other programming languages.

Open system advantage

Driven by the need to improve quality and increase production flexibility, today’s manufacturers sometimes expect turnkey solutions, where software and hardware are all from the same manufacturer. When possible, this can eliminate incompatibilities between hardware and software and allow for faster programming and machine startup. It can also reduce machine design complexity, troubleshooting time and the risk of downtime and lost production. However, in many cases where a “one-stop-shop” solution might be desired, the market realities necessitate the connection of I/O modules or subsystems from multiple vendors. This holds especially true for larger, more complex automation systems where no one vendor has 100% of the needed components.

Interconnectivity between products from multiple vendors was certainly made easier once standardized fieldbus networks such as Profibus, Interbus or DeviceNet found wide acceptance. The emerging trend to use Ethernet-based communication protocols such as Modbus TCP, EtherNet/IP or Profinet to read and write data to devices now allows an additional standardization on Ethernet as the physical layer.

These networks allow machine builders even more flexibility to meet end user requirements. They can also eliminate the need to redesign the entire machine layout from scratch for another customer because the base I/O structure stays the same regardless of which communication protocol is used. Modular I/O structures allow easy connection to input and output signals %%MDASSML%% regardless of whether they are digital, analog or a special function. Selecting an I/O supplier with a wide and flexible range of modular I/O point configurations, network adaptors and special function modules ensures that a custom configuration can be easily tailored to any application and for any Industrial Ethernet network.

Managing demand for data

Requirements for more data exchange capabilities are driven by ever increasing networking of production cells and increased data volumes. Technologies such as vision systems or sophisticated data logging requirements increase data volume that must be collected and pushed over a network to other parts of the machine or factory. Collected data can be used to better analyze and streamline production processes, improve product quality, provide better diagnostics to increase machine uptime and make the production process more transparent through the use of industrial-grade Ethernet infrastructure components.

Industrial Ethernet switches, Power over Ethernet and wireless products are designed to rugged industrial specifications to ensure reliability under the most adverse conditions. Unmanaged industrial Ethernet switches, which require no configuration, are often ideal for small, simple, isolated networks. Managed switches provide a network with the capability for increased traffic monitoring, control and diagnostics.

By assigning an IP address to a managed switch, it can be used to remotely monitor and administer both the network and the functions of the switch. Managed switches support SNMP for compatibility with IT networks and feature easy Web-based management via a simple Web browser. To build robust redundant and self-healing network connections between corporate networks and the factory floor, many managed switches support higher level functions such as Rapid Spanning Tree Protocol or Fast Ring high speed redundancy, IGMP Snooping & Query , VLAN and port security.

The future will bring even faster network speeds and higher utilization of wireless technologies to exchange data with hard-to-reach components or to eliminate physical cable prone to wear and tear. Wireless technology is also perfectly suited to bridge larger distances to remote sites or between large buildings where physical cabling is cost-prohibitive or virtually impossible.

Ultimately, the combined integration of next generation controllers, software, Ethernet infrastructure and I/O result in a lower cost, more efficient and more powerful solution for the factory floor. While the current economic climate presents a challenge to all businesses, it is worth remembering that delivering such productivity gains and cost reductions has always been the challenge that innovative industrial automation systems are designed to overcome.


Author Information
Greg Dixson is a product marketing manager and Bjoern Falke is a lead product specialist. Both Dixson and Falke work for Phoenix Contact Automation Systems.




Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me