What does the cloud mean for metal fabrication?

Ironically, metal fabricators use advanced digital control alongside outdated data management. The cloud will help eliminate the paradox.

Modern metal fabricators operate under an interesting paradox. The industry is both saturated with advanced numerical control and also constrained by outdated data management. Manufacturers face increasing pressure to deliver high-quality parts efficiently, on time, and with more customization. Many engineers and manufacturing shop managers have identified the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Industry 4.0 as solutions. But with constant delays and machine maintenance, they still don’t know who’s what, where to start and what it means for them.

In many cases, the cloud is at the heart of the implementation and is the right starting point. Indeed, the cloud is the brain of the operation that provides on-demand availability of computing and system resources, especially data storage, without direct active management by the user. In a sense, the IIoT forms the pathways of the sensory nervous system: the physical components that provide data and Internet access to the cloud. And Industry 4.0 is the full body known as the smart factory, enabling local mass production down to a batch size of one.

So, the question “What does the cloud mean for metal fabrication?” can be rephrased much more powerfully as: “What does unconstrained availability mean for machine control systems and production data?” Compared to the metal fabrication industry, cloud technologies mean that there is a readily available solution to improve on-time delivery, quality and efficiency, and it can be configured and implemented much more easily. than we think.

Migration to the cloud

Many manufacturers embraced cloud computing even before COVID-19, but the pandemic has become an accelerator. For the most part, the stresses, strains, and experiences of the past year were enough to lift any remaining reservations about digital transformation and provide the motivation to begin the migration. At the same time, new technologies such as additive manufacturing and machines as a service are taking hold, and companies have started to embrace reshoring and offshoring. Migrating to the cloud, even in a rapidly changing environment, requires relatively little time and capital investment to achieve significant benefits in terms of product enhancements and business agility.

Metal fabrication has always been focused on continuous improvement, so getting started with cloud computing only requires documenting data already known to influence business. The cloud can be used to analyze everything from the front-end to the back-end of the business. However, migrating to the cloud typically starts with data associated with machines. Sure, the industry has machines ranging from manual to fully digitized, but all can take advantage of the cloud.

Fully integrated digital machines are data-rich, but many low-cost, easy-to-integrate solutions exist for semi-automated and manual machines. For example, a manual machine may be equipped with a power metering device that will support data collection on machine idle time, operating time, downtime, and machine load. ‘tool.

For machines without connected controls, such as older CNC machines that only communicate via a serial interface, or without any communication, such as an older bar loader on a lathe, engineers can easily add a bus coupler or gateway to transmit data from the I/O tier to the cloud.

The importance of data preprocessing

Whether the amount of data to be collected is large or small, it is generally recommended to use local logic to preprocess the data before send it to the cloud. This strategy reduces data transmission and storage requirements; that is, it eliminates unnecessary bandwidth usage and costs. Additionally, local pre-processing enables data unification, making it easier to manage and integrate into analytics solutions.

Again, business leaders usually know which metrics are critical, but rather than moving that information to the cloud, manufacturers should take the time to break it down, using local software to separate the information into changes in performance. specific state they represent.

This may sound difficult, but just as there are readily available systems for collecting data, there are also systems that support local preprocessing of data. Cost-effective industrial PCs are excellent all-purpose platforms that can also serve as edge computing devices. Easy to program and integrate, IPCs capable of withstanding the harsh production environments of metal fabrication provide an industry-leading hardware platform that can run many software platforms, adapting to many different implementation strategies. advanced computing.

Modern manufacturing technology

PC-based industrial machine controllers can pre-process data before sending it to the cloud for further analysis.

The importance of time

Time-stamped data records and basic analytics (including information such as minimum, maximum, and average machine cycle times) will almost immediately improve the ability to make good decisions quickly and maximize business ROI . But the future will reward those who work to create a complete temporal picture of their process and production data.

Processing errors mean missed ship dates and lost profits. Having a complete temporal picture of process and production data will support rapid recoveries from breakdowns and outages. It will also support comprehensive condition monitoring, predictive maintenance, pattern recognition and machine optimization.

These benefits move the discussion beyond spontaneous troubleshooting to what can be accomplished with 24/7 monitoring of a single machine or a fleet of machines. The path to 24/7 monitoring is relatively simple in this context, as the tools that perform these analyzes simply require configuration, not programming, to produce everything from alarms to automatic code generation, to remotely or locally, and to view and share data. on easily configurable dashboards.

Cloud-based analytics improve availability and efficiency

As cloud engagement progresses, the enormous benefits of increased machine availability and efficiency become even more evident. Again, rather than cloud integration being complex, it offers perfect service tools for updating, commissioning and troubleshooting machines.

Data sent by running machines can be compressed into binary streams to save network bandwidth and then transmitted for analytical processing. Analytical processing steps are built using pre-configured toolbox algorithms and can allow analysis of relevant tool life, cycle times, tool efficiency, part counters, overall equipment efficiency and many other key metrics. The outputs of these algorithms can be used as inputs for other algorithms, shared as is, or forwarded to higher-level systems such as enterprise resource planning, machine learning systems, or other management tools. cloud analysis.

Additionally, signal paths can be visualized and analysis results can be graphed to mark significant data points. Data points can then be logically linked to production events to enable rapid identification of product, process or machine inefficiencies from virtually any location.

Cloud-based dashboards support data sharing

The final important point about what the cloud means for metal fabrication is how to access and share data and results. While most have become accustomed to viewing machine data displayed natively on a machine or with programming software, the cloud offers much more freedom in who can see the data and exactly what they can see.

Since the ability to access and share this cloud data offers many possibilities, manufacturers must first consider the necessary metrics. The goal is to tell a story with every indicator, chart, and visual element on the dashboard. All of these are representations of metrics that have been deemed important. The more metrics displayed, the more complete the story. To keep the story concise and relevant, just exercise the flexibility of the dashboard creation software. A well-created dashboard should display useful and actionable information appropriate for the audience with access permission.

As with many other aspects of the cloud, building the right dashboard can seem daunting, but there are plenty of cost-effective and easy-to-use tools available. For example, some platforms incorporate web-based (HTML5) dashboards that can be customized for colors, logos, layouts, sorting sequences, themes, and languages.

Start your cloud onboarding journey

OEM machine builders, small workshops and large manufacturers have heard time and time again that they need to adopt and integrate cloud technologies. However, many still operate within the traditional paradox of metal fabrication: advanced digital control alongside antiquated data management.

It is time to change this dynamic. Those beginning the journey will be the first to benefit from less downtime, higher quality parts, and fewer missed ship dates. Those who don’t can find it very difficult to catch up.

Modern manufacturing technology

Creating one-click dashboards allows engineers to visualize key metrics and tell the full story of the performance of their machines and manufacturing shops.

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