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A smart factory that builds digital efficiency

Alex@PLCnextTeam 26 October 2022 5 min. read
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Digitalization is getting more and more important for the value chain in merely any company. Especially in the production industry the trend goes towards finding ways of connecting analogue devices with the digital world. The more data a company can collect and evaluate regarding their manufacturing processes, the more quickly they can react in case some sort of malfunction occurs or optimize any aspect of the setup if necessary. It is key to collect as much information as possible while still maintaining all processes running. So, ideally the data collection happens in a minimal invasive fashion. Studies have shown that it takes only about 3-5 % of I/O-data for the company to be able to make smart decisions that ultimately increase the efficiency of the entire production process.

Some manufacturers are worried that the collection and analysis of their process data might be too time constraining and complicated. Plus, some of them are concerned about the security of their highly confidential company insider information (Cyber Security). Another aspect to consider is whether all equipment used in the data collection and evaluation is CE certified. Luckily, there are solutions out there that address all these worries and concerns.

A factory dedicated to making other factories more efficient

The PLCnext Factory

The PLCnext Factory is a production site for electronics in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. The site is specialized in manufacturing products for automation, safety-applications, and network security technology. As part of making the manufacturing processes more and more digital at this facility, a PLCnext Control was installed into a Data Collection Box. In form of Edge Computing this unit collects and analyzes data right at the control unit. This helps making data-based decisions very quickly and coherently, which ultimately help optimizing the production process. The big advantage of edge computing is that the data collection and analysis happen directly at the point of production so that there is no time lost for transferring and/or evaluating the information at a remote computing unit for example via a cloud.

An efficient acquisition of data is essential to achieving complete transparency in the production process to make production more sustainable and efficient. The Data Collection Box from Phoenix Contact was developed precisely for this purpose. It can be implemented to collect extensive energy and process data without influencing or disrupting ongoing operations.

Since the data is collected, analyzed, and processed right there at the point of origin, there is no risk of a security breach. Because the data does not need to be transferred (let alone wirelessly) it is much less likely that any confidential information will be stolen or corrupted. Also, the data box offered by Phoenix Contact is fully CE certified and thus perfectly suitable for any manufacturing facility. Because the box can be installed externally at the control, there is not even an additional auditing necessary.

Including existing analogue devices into digital setups

When digitalizing existing production facilities or machines, it may become a challenge to include older analogue devices into the digital setup. Fortunately, with PLCnext Technology retrofit installations of already existing devices are not a problem. Thanks to the modular and compact design, both greenfield and brownfield applications can be easily implemented with the different versions of the box.

The data that is being collected at the box or edge device can be analyzed, evaluated, or visualized in multiple ways, depending on the specific needs of the actual setting. There are countless options for further processing the acquired data, for example by uploading it into an external cloud server. The user forum at this PLCnext Community website is an informal network of users and developers from around the world, who are all working with PLCnext Technology. They offer great insights and valuable advice on finding just the right apps and codes for any distinct requirement or infrastructure. One of the advantages of PLCnext Control is their compatibility with merely any software app and code language available.

Employee checking data at machine

Shifting production processes into the digital era

Getting production sites ready for the era of digitalization is not only an engineering but also a managerial matter. While manufacturing facilities used to be designed for long-term usage and often entail highly complex infrastructures, the trend now is towards more adaptable and agile setups. It makes more and more sense to establish modular production architectures that function independently with both its various analogue devices but also software applications. The goal is to ultimately have all processes running as smoothly and efficiently as possible. Data acquisition and evaluation plays an integral part in making the production processes even more efficient. Thanks to their openness for all current codes and apps as well as their readiness to retrofit existing devices, the PLCnext Technology Ecosystems are a smart solution for moving production processes into the digital world.

Alex @PLCnextTeam
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