Industrial automation and smart manufacturing options continue to improve, expand, and impress. New technology solutions offer interesting ways to better control and optimize operations on the factory floor. Among them are innovations designed to increase safety, enhance process control, facilitate edge computing, and manage motion.
This article is part of our monthly Technology Toolbox column. Read more from Sheila Kennedy.
Automation safety solutions that leverage the CIP Safety over EtherNet/IP protocol increase access to diagnostic data, improve productivity, and simplify wiring. Two new products with this capability include the Allen-Bradley SafeZone 3 laser scanner and the Allen-Bradley 450L GuardShield safety light curtain, both from Rockwell Automation. Connectivity is provided through The Connected Enterprise.
This new way to understand safety not only helps keep people and processes safe, but also significantly expands productivity, says Lee Lane, vice president and general manager of Rockwell Automation’s Sensing, Safety & Industrial Components Business. “Traditional safety devices provide little or no data. Smart safety devices provide better visibility into operations and help users understand process states, environmental conditions, and other factors that affect safety and productivity,” Lee explains.
Automation oversight improves with a cohesive point of view. Ignition Perspective from Inductive Automation lets users see and control factory floor processes from their desktop, industrial display, or mobile device. The platform is scalable to support single applications as well as enterprise-wide systems. Newer features enable web deployment without a third-party web browser, streamlined HMI design and chart generation, and support for multi-factor authentication and single sign-on for additional security.
With Ignition Perspective, users can “easily create their own industrial applications that deploy to mobile and desktop devices in a highly configurable, low-code, interactive design environment,” observes Carl Gould, director of software engineering for Inductive Automation.
Advance process control (APC) alternatives also continue to improve. For instance, while multivariable model predictive control (MPC) is well-established, proven technology, “these applications have typically been difficult for operating companies to maintain and sustain over the long term,” says Brian Burgio, APC program manager at KBC, a Yokogawa company.
Consequently, Yokogawa and Shell jointly developed the Platform for Advanced Control and Estimation (PACE), which integrates data collection, controller, and estimator development to enable rapid design, deployment, and maintenance of multivariable control applications. Air Liquide recently selected PACE as its MPC platform following evaluation and testing in applications such as its air separation units.
- Read "1 Platform for Advanced Control and Estimation (PACE), plays a key role in Air Liquide's drive for Operational Excellence"
AI-PC from Tignis merges artificial intelligence with process control. Compared to APC and multivariable process control (MPC), which apply the same logic continually until someone manually intervenes, AI-PC uses machine learning to automate continuous improvement of the control algorithm.
In addition to intelligent feedback control, the technology supports real-time feedforward and predictive control. “The controllers run physical simulations at extremely high speeds. Instead of one question every 15 minutes, AI-PC can ask 1,000 questions a second, enabling it to simulate and predict thousands of futures as part of the control loop,” says Jon Herlocker, president and CEO of Tignis.
Controlled computing power
In connected, data-intensive environments such as automation, edge computing can accelerate access to actionable insights. ztC Edge from Stratus Technologies is a highly automated, secure computing platform that moves computing from centralized data centers and brings it closer to plant-floor data. Its zero-touch design allows it to run without human monitoring, maintenance, repairs, or support. Built-in virtualization supports consolidation of multiple applications on a single platform.
Designed for industrial edge environments, ztC Edge can be deployed in the control room, control panel, or even within the machine, says Barry Dellecese, senior director of product management at Stratus Technologies. “Its self-monitoring and self-protecting features make it suitable for unmanned stations or remote, decentralized locations with limited resources,” he adds.
Automated moving parts require specialized design. Continental is currently testing how the autonomous automated guided vehicles (aAGV) it developed can increase the efficiency of its own production. Designed to transport loads weighing more than a ton, the industrial transport robots will first be rolled out worldwide for production at Continental and later offered outside of Continental.
Linear actuators from Nook Industries are used in countless applications and configurations, from simple positioning tasks to highly complex multi-axis systems and custom-designed automation solutions. An interesting application for remote sites leverages electric linear actuators in solar trailers, providing a green alternative to traditional fossil-fuel generators. The actuators for the mobile solar power generator supply linear motion for the solar tracking equipment.