Smart factories just got smarter
The proliferation of data, and the tools technology has given us to make sense of this data, has made sizeable inroads in changing the way many industries operate. In manufacturing, the rise of ‘smart factories’ has re-invented the way factories operate, leveraging data, analytics and ‘connected everything’ to enable unprecedented levels of automation and optimisation.
Now, smart factories are becoming even smarter, as Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, Augmented Reality (AR) and connected everything bring about an environment where self-correction, automatic streamlining and the elimination of expensive prototype development are entirely possible. In fact, it’s not just possible; it’s happening already.
Data drives production
There is a lot of traction around leveraging trend data to influence how manufacturers shape themselves for the future, from identifying consumer behaviour to shape products around them, to achieving zero defects and optimising risk management. However, analysing data to pinpoint trends is simply not feasible to achieve without the aid of data analytics and AI, especially given the sheer volumes of data being produced by a smart factory with myriad connected devices and sensors.
The introduction of self-learning AI bots into the smart factory is playing a large role in the reshaping of smart factories. The bot monitors the entire production line and operation, gathering data from various sensors, machines and devices to teach itself what the parameters of “normal” operations are. Over time, the bot learns the intricacies of the factory and can advise on where to optimise or can even accomplish this without human intervention.
The bot can pick up where and when something requires maintenance, making it easier to know precisely what components need maintenance and helping to reduce the risk of equipment failure. If needed, the bot can interact with a machine to automatically halt a production line and prevent failure. It issues a ticket for repair, creates an inventory list for components and assigns technicians for the repair in a matter of seconds. At the same time, the bot can notify customers or logistics partners of the delay in production and what products are affected to ensure expectations are set. This fast, reactive process saves time and product loss, and quickly becomes proactive as the bot learns patterns and identifies triggers in advance.
The bot also has the ability to identify objects, such as forklifts, and understand their operating parameters, making recommendations for safer routes or pinpointing where the greatest risks are for operation.
The world of augmented reality (AR) offers manufacturers a solution that can save them years in research and development, while also saving money spent on building, testing, re-building and re-testing prototypes.
Offering unparalleled accuracy, AR allows manufacturers to virtually ‘build’ a prototype and trial various materials, looks and feels, and make tweaks without ever making or using a single component. A classic example are the prototypes created for airbuses. Aeroplanes are ‘built’ in AR with different materials and design parameters, and simulations are tested for aerodynamics, resiliency, speed, weather handling capacity and much more. This AR means fortunes are not spent on physically building and testing an entire airbus - something that is costly the first time and can chew through millions of Rands should changes or re-builds be needed. The final, approved AR version becomes the official blueprint for manufacturing.
The biggest concern most manufacturers have when it comes to technologies such as AR, is the impact on specialist skills usually used in the concept phase. However, AR still requires expertise that only humans can provide to design and test the simulation as the engineering principles are still in effect.
When AR is able to produce and test prototypes without physically building anything, and bots are able to augment with machines to optimise production and reduce risk, the results are smarter than ever before.
The entire industry is set to change, spurred on by a connected environment linking every part of a factory together. Shifts will occur in user interaction, shift allocation, warehouse management, route management, risk management and the entire production process.
Ultimately, smarter factories mean that they will be able to deliver what the market needs, faster, with more accuracy and less risk. Smart, right?
Siemens: Providing the First Industrial 5G Router
Across a number of industry sectors, there’s a growing need for both local wireless connectivity and remote access to machines and plants. In both of these cases, communication is, more often than not, over a long distance. Public wireless data networks can be used to enable this connectivity, both nationally and internationally, which makes the new 5G network mainframe an absolutely vital element of remote access and remote servicing solutions as we move into the interconnected age.
Siemens Enables 5G IIoT
The eagerly awaited Scalance MUM856-1, Siemens’ very first industrial 5G router, is officially available to organisations. The device has the ability to connect all local industrial applications to the public 5G, 4G (LTE), and 3G (UMTS) mobile wireless networks ─ allowing companies to embrace the long-awaited Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
The router can be used to remotely monitor and service plants, machines, as well as control elements and other industrial devices via a public 5G network ─ flexibly and with high data rates. Something that has been in incredibly high demand after being teased by the leading network providers for years.
Scalance MUM856-1 at a Glance
- Scalance MUM856-1 connects local industrial applications to public 5G, 4G, and 3G mobile wireless networks
- The router supports future-oriented applications such as remote access via public 5G networks or the connection of mobile devices such as automated guided vehicles in industry
- A robust version in IP65 housing for use outside the control cabinet
- Prototypes of Siemens 5G infrastructure for private networks already in use at several sites
“To ensure the powerful connection of Ethernet-based subnetworks and automation devices, the Scalance MUM856-1 supports Release 15 of the 5G standard. The device offers high bandwidths of up to 1000 Mbps for the downlink and up to 500 Mbps for the uplink – providing high data rates for data-intensive applications such as the remote implementation of firmware updates. Thanks to IPv6 support, the devices can also be implemented in modern communication networks.
Various security functions are included to monitor data traffic and protect against unauthorised access: for example, an integrated firewall and authentication of communication devices and encryption of data transmission via VPN. If there is no available 5G network, the device switches automatically to 4G or 3G networks. The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and autoconfiguration of the devices,” Siemens said.
Preparing for a 5G-oriented Future
Siemens has announced that the new router can also be integrated into private 5G networks. This means that the Scalance MUM856-1 is, essentially, future-proofed when it comes to 5G adaptability; it supports future-oriented applications, including ‘mobile robots in manufacturing, autonomous vehicles in logistics or augmented reality applications for service technicians.’
And, for use on sites where conditions are a little harsher, Siemens has given the router robust IP65 housing ─ it’s “dust tight”, waterproof, and immersion-proofed.
The first release version of the router has an EU radio license; other versions with different licenses are in preparation. “With the Sinema Remote Connect management platform for VPN connections, users can access remote plants or machines easily and securely – even if they are integrated in other networks. The software also offers easy management and auto-configuration of the devices,” Siemens added.