Advanced manufacturing technologies, connectivity and analytics are helping factories to become integrated, intelligent, adaptable and efficient, says Japan-based industrial technology multinational Omron South Africa GM and sub-Saharan Africa head Victor Marques.
This global trend is mirrored in South Africa because these advanced controls collect data and generate relevant information in near real time that improve machine performance and accuracy.
“There are no more purely back-office or factory-floor data – just business data. The generation and use of the data underpin more responsive and adaptable manufacturing, and there is growing demand in South Africa for these systems,” says Omron South Africa control and visualisation product manager Driaan Coetzer.
Data is crucial to ensuring the efficient and continuous use of equipment, called overall equipment efficiency, and to create the smart factory of the future using intelligence from data and evaluation to predict maintenance, reduce use of resources and manage waste.
“An example of one aspect that can be controlled, and which is gaining importance in supply chains, is the management and minimisation of waste to reduce costs,” he says.
The model for manufacturing includes not only reactive but also responsive and predictive manufacturing that relies on the accuracy and repeatability of machines that can be adapted by people to produce goods rapidly, efficiently and sustainably.
Customers dictate what happens not only in shops but also in factories and this will even contribute to a change in how we manufacture and produce goods, adds Coetzer.
Process and automation systems are connected to the information technology portions of a business to share data. This is analysed and fed back into the production system and seamlessly integrated into machine automation.
While South Africa has lagged developed countries in creating modern factories, there is a move towards leveraging the smart industrial technologies, especially as these technologies have matured since their introduction, says Coetzer.
Manufacturers in South Africa are demanding new technologies and systems from technology partners, indicating a sustained move towards advanced manufacturing and automation, says Marques.
Omron acquired artificial intelligence (AI) control solutions company Delta Tau. The new capabilities enable Omron to provide robotics, machine automation and intelligent controls, including developing autonomous systems to improve control over individual and collective production processes.
The company also provides machine vision and motion systems to improve use of robots by operators and support greater collaboration between robots and people.
“The AI controller uses the motion control and machine vision systems to improve robotic sensing and train computer-numerical control functionality, which also enhances safety and efficiency in the production process.”
However, Coetzer emphasises that these new systems rely on high levels of data integration.
Omron also provides its input/output (IO) Link solution to allow for better data integration and the development of Internet of Things (IoT) platforms. The IO Link is designed to allow for more data to be drawn from devices and interpreted in the current operational context and, thereby, support more efficient, faster and higher-quality manufacturing, says Omron South Africa sensing and safety product manager Khotso Majoe.
“Only about 10% of production data is ever used. However, this represents an opportunity, and the IO Link solution is specifically designed to support new intelligent manufacturing IoT systems,” he adds.
For example, the solution uses IO device description protocols to gather data from field devices and uses systems, such as electrical distribution system functional inspection, to tell the machine when its power supply degrades and how it should react, either by reducing its frequency, stopping the process, or changing its operating parameters, says Majoe.
Coetzer agrees, adding that there is a key need to transform IO data into information through analysis, visualisation and linking the information to the rest of the business’s information to allow for intelligent production and automation of decisions to avoid machine stoppages and ensure high-quality products are produced.
Omron has acquired companies with key capabilities and it continues to develop these into systems suitable for the changes demanded by its manufacturing clients, including the more intuitive and integrated use of machines by people, he concludes.