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Industry 4.0 is changing the way in which manufactured goods are produced, through the use of automation and data exchange. By incorporating it into your packaging line, you can start to enjoy a range of benefits, from better data management to improved efficiency. Moving to a modern, flexible and smart line will bring the most benefits, but replacing a complete production line might not be a viable option if you’re operating with tight margins. However, even small changes to your existing facilities can significantly boost your efficiency.
Developing data-driven processes
Smart packaging lines can improve traceability, uptime and quality, whilst reducing running costs and your total cost of ownership. Most of the benefits come from having a platform that allows the seamless exchange of data between different devices and the control system. Access to component-level data is a key factor that will help to deliver the benefits of an Industry 4.0 system.
For older equipment, any data that’s available is typically in the form of a binary on/off indication and shows whether a machine, sensor or other component is working or not. There’s a lack of granular information that could provide more details: for instance, that a machine isn’t operating at full capacity due to worn motor bearings or that an optical sensor is dirty.
Capturing this type of data electronically is therefore the first step towards an Industry 4.0 approach. You might need new processes that ensure that the data is logged correctly and not just scribbled on a piece of paper. If the data is already being captured, you might also need some small technical upgrades to the equipment by adding additional sensors, as well as connecting the machine to a higher-level IT domain or analytical software. This can be used to capture operating data and convert analogue information into a digital format. A data communications module can be added to provide remote data capture and control.
Better data capture, better efficiency
Once the basic data capture process is ready, you can start analysing the data to see how efficiently the line is running. This will often also identify potential bottlenecks in the process that would enable you to make further improvements in efficiency. You could also monitor the condition of devices so that you can carry out preventative maintenance.
For example, imagine that a labelling machine on your line has a small fault. The operators know that it needs to be adjusted occasionally to keep it running smoothly. This only takes a minute or two, so they don’t even track it. However, this could eventually have a significant impact on the line’s efficiency.
By having a better understanding of how well your packaging line is running, you can focus your investment on the least efficient parts. This will also enable you to develop a strategy for migrating your lines to smarter, more flexible production.
In today’s markets, product runs tend to be shorter and more diverse. Significant inefficiencies can be caused by lines that were set up for a single product or that take a long time to change to a different product. Retooling a line so that it can support different types of products or automating the changeover can bring significant benefits by keeping existing lines running for longer and reducing the time lost when switching between products.
Speaking the same language
Whether you’re upgrading part of an existing line or building a new one, it’s vital that all of the machines communicate via standard protocols and common data sets. Even a new line is likely to have components from different manufacturers, and these all need to talk the same language.
For example, OPC UA is an open and secure communications standard that’s widely used for Industry 4.0 applications. It offers a platform-independent solution that also includes model-based data handling.
In addition to communicating with each other, equipment on the line also needs to provide standard interfaces for operators. Standards such as PackML define a series of modes and states that provide a common human-machine interface, as well as providing a standard method of conveying important data between machines. At Omron, we’ve been developing the future of manufacturing, in which people and machinery co-operate more closely in order to boost efficiency and increase the flexibility of production lines.
By having data available in a common and easy-to-understand format, operators and production controllers can make more informed decisions about the status of a packaging line. Issues can be identified and fixed more rapidly. More importantly, smart systems can even detect potential issues before they occur, allowing preventative maintenance to be scheduled to ensure that the line keeps running.
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