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Advanced Engineering 2021

NEC Birmingham(B40 1NT)

03/11/2021 - 04/11/2021

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Machine delivery: a focal point for innovation

Machine delivery: a focal point for innovation
Is it time to reassess our perceptions and expectations for machine delivery and commissioning? We ask Rockwell Automation Solutions Architect Phil George how machine builders can innovate beyond the machine.

Traditionally, as the last stage in a design and development process that may have taken many months, delivery of the machine is the light at the end of the tunnel for machine builders. Installation and commissioning might not always be a straightforward process, but after the factory acceptance tests there is the hope that delivery and installation will entail little more than a series of almost mechanical processes. So it is perhaps odd to think of delivery as a focal point for innovation.

There are opportunities, though, to innovate beyond the machine - to add value through integration with the production line as a whole and with the wider enterprise, delivering significant benefits for the end user. There is the tantalising possibility of dramatically simplifying commissioning whilst providing the user with far greater levels of detail about production information, maintenance information, energy information and more. There is the opportunity to facilitate manufacturing convergence and enable end users to fully integrate the wider logistics chain whilst gaining greater control and visibility of production processes. And there is the possibility for machine builders to incorporate value-added services built around maintenance, diagnostics and operations.

The concept of delivering innovation rather than simply delivering a machine means taking a somewhat different approach, as Rockwell Automation Solutions Architect Phil George explains: "It's important to think about delivery as part of the wider design process and not simply as a final mechanical step. Once you do that, then you begin to think about innovation beyond the machine, and to bring new ideas to your customers."
The key enabler for delivering innovation is the network technology implemented on the machine, and inevitably that has to focus on Ethernet. But importantly - if the maximum benefits are to be derived - it needs to be standard Ethernet, because so much of the potential for adding value can only be realised when you implement logically segmented networks instead of physically segmented networks, free from the communications bottlenecks and road blocks that gateways represent.

Traditionally automation systems utilised different fieldbus systems around the machine, including different modified variants of Ethernet. Gateways were needed to provide the crucial link between these disparate systems, resulting in physical segmentation of the network which hampers data sharing. "It wasn't that long ago that gateways were seen as an important enabling networking technologies," says George. "So it might seem odd just a couple of years on to think about these same products as representing limiting factors for innovation. But physically segmented networks of this kind could now really hold back the potential locked within every machine design. Even with industrial Ethernet forming the backbone of the communications strategy, if it's not standard, unmodified Ethernet then there will still be the need for gateways in order to integrate the machine with the wider plant, and that will hamper integration while limiting the ability to deliver innovation."

The ideal approach is to simplify the network architecture with one standard, unmodified network rather than dedicated protocols for each application, such as motion, safety, I/O and information, with logical segmentation rather than physical segmentation. Removing any gateways helps machine builders to streamline design and development, build customer-friendly equipment and provide remote monitoring and support capabilities.

The network as an enabling medium
Rockwell Automation's solution for this is EtherNet/IP, an open industrial Ethernet network capable of handling the widest range of applications, including discrete, motion, drives, process and safety control. Designed and established to connect across applications from the end customer's IT infrastructure all the way down to motor level, EtherNet/IP streamlines control and information flow and offers the ideal pathway to a single network architecture. "By standardising on EtherNet/IP, machine builders have one standard network that can lower total costs to design, develop and deliver machines," says George. "It eliminates the risks and boundaries associated with proprietary and dedicated networks, and provides an enabling medium for delivering innovation."

Further, with its strategic alliance with Cisco Systems, Rockwell Automation can also extend opportunities beyond the machine to aid with the convergence of IT and manufacturing. "At the same time, this adoption of standard Ethernet helps to assuage the threat of cyber security, since it means any problems are dealt with globally by a huge mass of researchers and developers," says George. "The same cannot be said for proprietary or modified Ethernet technologies."

So how does all of this help the machine builder to deliver innovation? An immediate benefit is that it can dramatically simplify commissioning. One of the biggest headaches for those tasked with machine integration into the wider automation environment is mapping the various tags that will enable users to drill down into the machine from connected systems. A typical level of machine integration might provide users with a broad overview of the machine operations, but today's components have the ability to provide so much more information. "With a single network technology, users could for example drill down into any variable speed drive on the network and look at energy information," says George. "Conventionally, that's quite a task, but when you don't have a physically segmented network all the complexities of integration are removed and you can easily access every tag on every product. This is really what we mean in manufacturing terms when we talk about the Internet of Things, and it opens up all sorts of possibilities for optimising machine operation - with the potential for machine builders to come up with no end of ideas for enabling customers to get greater visibility into their manufacturing processes."

This level of integration is at the heart of manufacturing convergence, where there is visibility across the complete supply chain - and it's the real enabler for concepts such as mass customisation instead of the old approach of mass production. Further, the standardisation upon open, unmodified Ethernet means customers can access data potentially from anywhere in the world, perhaps taking advantage of the latest developments in the cloud.

Delivering innovation isn't just about customer benefits, either. "The same technology that provides the end user with so much greater visibility can also bring benefits to the machine builder," says George. "With remote connectivity comes the potential for remote diagnostics and remote maintenance: machine builders can drill straight into any automation component on the machine. But there is more, too - an opportunity to think a bit differently. It's estimated that 48% of Ethernet components on the plant floor aren't automation components; they are things like security cameras, access points, etc. So what about, for example, adding a web cam to provide a visual feed for some critical aspect of the machine. All of this could provide a key role in enabling machine builders to fix machine issues without having to leave the office, making it viable for machine builders to add value with a whole new level of services."

We can see, then, that by adopting non-segmented networks built on standard, unmodified Ethernet, machine builders have the potential to redefine expectations for machine integration and innovation. 

Learn more about Rockwell Automation's solutions for machine builders at
Discover why Industrial IP is the future of network connectivity at

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