Data is everywhere these days, with the shop floor being no exception. The challenge is to collect and organise this vast amount of data efficiently so that it can be analysed and used for decision-making purposes. Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), while still widely used, lack the flexibility needed for the complex manufacturing organisations of today. These days, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) enables the mass connectivity of machines, sensors and other devices on the shop floor. IIoT platforms, in turn, allow manufacturers to coordinate these connections and to reap the full benefits of this connectivity. In this way, insights can be gathered from a vast multitude of endpoints and visualised in a structured way. With their obvious usefulness, the number of IIoT platform solutions has risen rapidly in the past few years.
According to a 2019 report from PTC on The State of Industrial Internet of Things, operational intelligence is the most important use case for IIoT. If successfully implemented, IIoT can lead to transparency in operations, allowing manufacturers to monitor multiple aspects of production including machine downtime, overall equipment effectiveness, cycle times, etc. Other key use cases are predictive maintenance, asset monitoring and remote service. In this article, we will present the key features and benefits of four IIoT platforms which are designed specifically with manufacturing companies in mind.
For SMEs in the mechanical engineering sector, it can often be difficult getting started with IIoT. This is why Austrian start-up Senseforce have developed an all-in-one IIoT solution specifically for SMEs. Their self-description: “full stack IIoT technology - born in the machine industry.” Special dashboards enable the visualisation and analysis of all machine data. With a plug-and-play approach and user-friendly interface, no special expertise is required to reap the benefits of this platform.
The platform contains several ready-to-use applications including Remote Asset Tracking, Process Optimisation, Digital Twin and OEE Monitor, and low-code functionality eases the creation of personalised apps. Edge computing enables processing of the data as close as possible to the source, and the edge cloud securely routes data to designated cloud links, allowing data to be accessed from anywhere. It is also highly versatile, with the possibility to integrate more than 1,500 3rd party apps. Senseforce already have an impressive list of satisfied customers, including Künz, emco Group and Deutsche Bahn.
With a solution deemed “manufacturing's first Industrial IoT platform for machines”, US start-up MachineMetrics have already turned heads in the manufacturing sector. The plug-and-play solution consists of an edge device which is connected directly to the Ethernet port of the PLC/control and software in the cloud to which data is streamed in real-time. Being cloud-based, manufacturers can access machine data with ease, independent of their location. Furthermore, legacy machines, sensors and other devices can be easily integrated into the system via a web interface. Similar to Senseforce, users have full flexibility to use the already-embedded apps and/or to create their own.
Thanks to a comprehensive overview of data from all connected devices, informed decision-making becomes easier than ever before. Bottlenecks and inefficiencies can be easily pinpointed, and equipment failure can be predicted with 99% accuracy up to 40 minutes in advance. It is also possible to create custom notifications for shop floor data items such as machine conditions and KPIs in order to prompt factory worker action or system automation. The company have already supported a number of manufacturers worldwide with their innovative IIoT platform. For example, they helped Carolina Precision Manufacturing, a CNC Swiss turned parts manufacturer, save over $1.5 million and increase machine utilisation by 20% in their first year of machine monitoring.
3. Oden Technologies
New York based start-up Oden Technologies are an intelligent industrial automation and AI-powered analytics provider. Their aim is to serve manufacturing companies with their sound industry experience and drive them to reach their maximum potential with their IIoT platform and guided analytics. Encouraging manufacturers, small and large, to embrace Industry 4.0 and promising to help them achieve a smart factory setting, this company is passionate about making better products faster, with less waste and attention to sustainability.
Their products focus on Industrial IoT software, predictive analytics and monitoring software, perspective analytics software, and performance manufacturing, offering solutions like predictive quality control, scrap reduction, uptime optimisation and predictive maintenance. Oden Industrial IoT software can provide 10x faster process improvements, a 10%-25% increase in output while maintaining quality, and a 10%-50% improvement in the first-pass yield. The software provides automated insights, interactive dashboards and real-time actionable alerts to achieve operational efficiency.
Braincube is yet another IIoT platform suite with business and expert apps designed for ease of manufacturing. It takes control of the available data and aids in optimising manufacturing companies' processes, focusing on transforming their operations and improving their performance. Braincube not only merges with a company's existing system architecture but also serves as a standalone IIot platform - ready to use, practically supporting operations and company initiatives from day 1. The Braincube Approach, as the company calls it, is a 4 step process - Connect, Manage, Improve, and Transform.
Step 1 involves connecting the customer company data, from any system, in any format available. In Step 2 Braincube automates data cleaning and management, eliminating lengthy and expensive methods to select, extract, and transfer data. Step 3 is where raw data is placed in a structured context and is ready for analysis. The structured context is a Digital Twin, which can be used by a company at any time, for any process, to troubleshoot, innovate, and perform predictive maintenance. Step 4 implies that the transformed data is now available for the 70+ apps provided to visualise trends, monitor problems, and collaborate. The company is currently supporting 250 plus companies across 35 countries, and their customer portfolio includes leading companies like Nestle, Owens Corning and Safran.
The four software companies mentioned above are just some of the many striving hard to offer manufacturing companies the right platform and best application systems to build an infrastructure supporting better plant operations. While the use of IIoT platforms within the context of Industry 4.0 seems to be only growing, it will be interesting to see what approaches mechanical engineering firms use to tap into it.
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