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Matching connectivity with intelligent functionality

Matching connectivity with intelligent functionality

It’s clear that the Industrial Internet of Things can open new doors when it comes to machine monitoring and predictive maintenance, but much remains to be done. Michel Finck of Parker Hannifin examines the picture in relation to machine tools.

As momentum behind Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) continues to build, there is a growing number of smart devices and products that communicate with their environment and provide important information. The advantages of this strategy include the potential to maintain optimum quality production, increase equipment reliability and enhance overall efficiency.

Hydraulics, pneumatics and electromechanical specialists are increasingly partnering with their machine tool customers to ensure the delivery of automation solutions with built-in intelligence, connectivity and control. The aim of these partnerships is to allow the correct and efficient analysis of data collected by machines and factories. Driving this trend is the need for machine tool manufacturers to make their products faster and safer, as well as more precise, repeatable, efficient and, of course, economical. However, there often exists a requirement for considerable investment in different areas where internal skills are limited or non-existent.

Consider the example of a machine tool’s hydraulic functions. All manufacturers that use machine tools would benefit from the ability to schedule preventive maintenance operations to help avoid oil leaks, pipe ruptures and other common faults. Here, the analysis of physical attributes such as pressure, flow and temperature are, to say the least, of acute interest. However, to exploit this data to maximum advantage, the relative interaction of these parameters must be known. 

This is why the engineering skills, experience and expertise of a forward-thinking automation technology specialist is paramount and indispensable. Such suppliers are 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.

For a long time now it has been possible to monitor motion and control equipment on machine tools. That process has normally been about factors such as the position of a hydraulic actuator and whether the gate is opened or closed. Now, things are moving to a whole new level of condition monitoring, to the extent that maintenance personnel can determine whether something out of the ordinary has happened. Every process has a ‘heartbeat’, so the question to ask is has that heartbeat changed over a certain period of time? 

Another good machine tool example relates to the spindle, which is central to machining operations of all types: milling, drilling, boring, turning, grinding and so on. As the machine’s driving force, it is necessary to understand the spindle’s associated physical variables, such as rotational speed, power, torque, temperature and vibration, and how they interact with each other.

Only by fully understanding data in this way is it possible to optimise machine tool performance and increase service life via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). In short, a deep knowledge of hydraulic, pneumatic and electromechanical technology is the basis for the development of predictive and preventive maintenance algorithms. 

The IIoT is therefore not simply about interconnecting different systems of architecture and suppliers, but 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 brawn) and intelligent control (the brains), have the potential to change the way products are manufactured, delivering greater capabilities, more efficient automation and outwardly simpler and easier to use solutions. 

Moving forward, the desire for intelligent control and motion is set to spread across many sectors, including energy generation, life sciences, transportation and a plethora of general industrial automation applications. However, the needs of each are very different. For example, lab-based life science applications often demand precise control, but in a clean environment, while transportation dynos and test rigs typically need less precision but are subjected to longer operational periods in challenging environments. 

Ultimately, the IIoT is about far more than simply sensors; it’s about the need to understand the customer’s application and determine how an interface can be provided within that process to give the company all the information it requires. In this regard, the IIoT is witnessing the dawn of new horizons thanks to closer collaboration between machine tool manufacturers and suppliers of smart products and sub-assemblies. Suppliers such as Parker can add significant value to IIoT projects by leveraging multi-technology expertise and the ability to integrate intelligent functionality into processes. Based on an approach of Big Data that is aggregated and collected in the most efficient manner, Parker is able to analyse and use information in a way that benefits machine tool manufacturers and end users.

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