Rockwell Automation Announcements From Automation Fair at Home

I posted overall thoughts from the opening day of Automation Fair at Home yesterday. It’s not that all is rosy in Milwaukee, but the company keeps making strides forward and yet goes its own way not bothering to emulate any competitors.

Several announcements have accumulated that I thought would fit along with Automation Fair thoughts. We have an acquisition, a partnership, and a new product series.

First, the acquisition. 

Rockwell Automation Acquires Fiix Cloud Software for Maintenance Solutions

Rockwell Automation announced it has entered into an agreement to acquire Fiix, a privately held, AI-enabled computerized maintenance management system (CMMS) company. Fiix, founded in 2008, is headquartered in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Fiix’s cloud-native CMMS creates workflows for the scheduling, organizing, and tracking of equipment maintenance. It connects to business systems and drives data-driven decisions. The company’s revenue grew 70% in 2019 with more than 85% recurring revenue. Fiix has more than 2 million assets under management and creates more than 6 million work orders a year.

“We believe that the future of industrial asset management is performance-based,” said Tessa Myers, vice president, product management, Software & Control, for Rockwell Automation. “With the addition of the Fiix platform and expertise, our customers will benefit from a 360-degree view of integrated data across automation, production, and maintenance, helping them to monitor and improve the performance of their assets and optimize how maintenance work is done.”

James Novak, Fiix CEO, said, “From the beginning, Fiix has been on a mission to connect maintenance and operations teams to the tools, resources, and technology they need to modernize and join the future of maintenance. Joining Rockwell Automation will allow us to help even more companies modernize maintenance and increase asset performance by connecting to industry-leading data, automation, and production systems.”

Fiix will be reported as part of Rockwell Automation’s Software & Control operating segment. The transaction is expected to close by the end of the 2020 calendar year, subject to customary approvals and conditions.

Second, the partnership.

PlantPAx 5.0 Running on ztC Edge by Stratus

Stratus Technologies announced a “Solution in a Box” process control architecture for fast, easy deployment at edge locations that require 2,000 I/O’s or less. The solution runs Rockwell Automation PlantPAx 5.0 software on Stratus ztC Edge. The solution is performance tested, characterized, and validated by Stratus and Rockwell Automation to ensure reliable, rapid deployment by operations teams and systems integrators using a single industrial-grade, panel mounted Edge Computing device.

“Whether it’s control in Water and Wastewater management, Machine Builders innovating for their customers, or managing remote assets in Oil & Gas, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving operational excellence. Enterprises require plant-wide data and control solutions with high availability that can both scale up and scale down based on the use case and location, while being cost effective and easy to implement,” said Dave Rapini, Business Manager for PlantPAx at Rockwell Automation.

The ability to bring mission-critical applications to where they’re needed most via Edge Computing delivers the scale and real-time data acquisition for operational excellence. Stratus’ simple, protected, and automated platform with fault tolerance and zero-touch operation is powering the disaggregation of large process architectures, traditionally deployed at level 3 and 4 of the Purdue model. The combined Stratus and Rockwell Automation “Solution in a Box” architecture provides a flexible approach to scale Industry 4.0 capabilities across a range of environments that was not previously possible.

PlantPAx is a plant wide distributed control system (DCS) that utilizes a common automation platform to integrate both process and discrete control as well as plant-wide information. ztC Edge is an industrial-grade Edge Computing platform that offers built-in redundancy and meets Class 1 Division 2 requirements to operate in hazardous environments. 

Architecture Details

The tested Solution-in-a-Box architecture includes:

  • Rockwell Automation PASS-Consolidated Image 
  • PASS (Process Automation System Server) – FactoryTalk View
  • FactoryTalk AssetCentre
  • FactoryTalk Historian
  • FactoryTalk VantagePoint
  • Rockwell Automation Application Server -OWS – ThinManager remote desktop server (RDS) for remote, mobile, and tablet access 
  • Stratus ztC Edge 110i (single system with a redundant option) – tested in fault tolerant and high availability modes

And thirdly, a new product series.

High-Performance, Scalable Kinetix Integrated Motion Drives

Rockwell Automation’s motion business has expanded its Kinetix line of servo drives with intelligent and scalable solutions.

The new Allen-Bradley Kinetix 5300 servo drive is a fully integrated, CIP Motion solution for global machine builders looking to increase performance and leverage a single-design environment for control and motion. When paired with the new TLP motors, customers get a coordinated platform as they extend the power of the connected enterprise into simple machines, an approach that positions Rockwell Automation to accelerate growth in emerging markets throughout Asia and mature markets in Europe. The new product line, combined with the rest of the Kinetix family, provides a complete range of servo drive offerings from Rockwell Automation for everything from small, standalone machines to large, complex systems. 

The Kinetix 5300 servo drives are designed for diverse machine applications such as electronics assembly, packaging and converting, printing and web (CPW). The new drives also feature capabilities that can help simplify machine design and optimize performance throughout the machine lifecycle. Like other Kinetix integrated motion drives, Kinetix 5300 leverages Studio 5000 as a single design environment. Using a single family of servo drives allows machine builders to program all their drives in this one design environment and reuse code across drives, streamlining the design and commissioning process. Kinetix 5300 native integration with Logix control enables smart tuning capabilities that adjust for changes in inertia and resonances automatically, helping to optimize machine performance and simplify machine maintenance over time. 

“Our expanded portfolio provides machines builders a complete family of scalable servo drives for diverse applications,” said Bill Kegley, director, product management – motion control at Rockwell Automation. “Now with the addition of the Kinetix 5300 to our family of servo drives, we are in a position to deliver truly scalable and intelligent motion solutions that help our customers achieve productivity and sustainability for a wider range of applications.”

[Note: I have been asking for a few years for a working application of CIP Motion at a customer site. If anyone reading this has one, please contact me. If you don’t want mentioned, just say so. In 20 years, I have yet to violate a confidence. But enquiring minds want to know…. Thanks.]

Low Voltage Drives Market Expected to Recover Slowly From the Covid 19 Slowdown

Blake Griffin, an analyst with Interact Analysis which is one market research firm whose methodology I like, has published a blog post reporting on his latest research into the low voltage drives market. Following a sales slow down this year, different regions of the world will see recovery at differing paces.

He also includes an analysis of the role of LV drives in applications such as predictive maintenance. I’ve been long impressed by the amount of motor, and even machine, performance data that may be gleaned from the sensors built into the typical drive. 

Coronavirus

As a company, Interact Analysis is positioned to model the impact of COVID 19. This is because of the MIO Tracker, which tracks and forecasts manufacturing output levels by country at the industry level. We also have a historical dataset to fall back on which reaches back to the 2009 financial crisis – an event that is comparable to Coronavirus in some key ways, and which has helped us to draw some conclusions about the short, medium and long-term effects of COVID 19 on the drives market.

For 2020, the report shows that a combination of COVID-related factors – such as stay at home orders causing a reduction in manufacturing output and demand, as well as factory closures and furloughed workers – will come together to cause a drop in the drives market of over 10%. However, the drop is not as severe as it was in 2009, and there is light at the end of the tunnel. There are strong prospects for a return to growth in 2021 and drives manufacturers and vendors should make their plans with this in mind.

Growth in the LV drives market sits just above that for the output of the manufacturing industry as a whole. This is a long-term trend and it helps lead to some key future conclusions about the drives market in the post-Corona world. Between 2007 and 2019, the underlying growth rate for LV drives was 3.8%; for the period 2020-2024, the forecast CAGR is significantly higher – at 5.3%. The implication is that the market will recover in a similar manner to how it did during the 2010-2014 period.

In terms of recovery to actual 2019 market levels, this is highly variable according to region. The earliest regions to recover to 2019 levels will be China, South Korea, and India – all of which will do so by 2021, and indeed China has already returned largely to normality. Meanwhile, France, Germany and Italy will not recover until 2024. In the case of Germany, this seems counterintuitive given how widely reported it has been that the country has managed the virus itself very well. The problem for Germany is that it is crippled by its heavy reliance on exports, many of which are to far more badly impacted countries. Of the top ten drives regions covered in the report, the UK stands alone as being the single worst impacted region and, even by 2024, will not have recovered to 2019 levels of drives sales.

The Trend for Low Cost Drives

The research shows that the trend for low cost, reduced functionality drives is becoming an ever more important segment of the market. Such drives tended to be cabinet mounted, to be rated at IP20 or lower, and to offer power ratings of 0.1-3.7 kW. Price points can be exceptionally low, with the most keenly priced products – generally 0.4 kW in Asia – coming in at around the $100 mark. The presence of higher regulations and, increasingly, tariffs, in the EMEA and the Americas is not stopping the growth in the low cost drives segment in these regions.

Hitting such a low price point requires advanced functionality such as encoder support, to be stripped out, although some still have additional plug-in options (e.g. for digital communications). ABB and Yaskawa have had low cost products since the mid-2000s, but the trend is being turbocharged by the rapid emergence of Chinese drives vendors onto the global stage, such as INVT and Inovance. While the high-end OEMs may have little use for low cost LV drives, many others report that they are very keen on such products because they can be bulk bought and easily stored to replace faltering drives as needed – helping to minimize production or machine downtime. Observing the behaviour of established vendors is key to determining just how marked the low cost drives trend will be, and seeing leading companies enter the low cost market such as Siemens (with the V20) or Yaskawa (with the GA500) is instructive.

Other Important Trends – Product Substitution and Predictive Maintenance

Other important trends include an increasing move for product substitutes actually displacing LV drives in certain areas. One of these is electronically commutated motors – or ECMs. ECMs are IP55+ rated brushless DC permanent magnet motors – similar to stepper motors. They are increasingly helping companies achieve energy efficiency objectives in high energy usage applications that do not require the computation capabilities an AC drive offers. Some can now achieve IE5 levels of efficiency, leading to dramatic cost savings. Uptake will be most notable in Europe where energy efficiency regulation is the most stringent.

Finally, a word on predictive maintenance… Drive manufacturers should move away from seeing predictive maintenance as a means of extending the life of only the drive itself. Though this is important, a larger consideration is about how to use the drive as a sensor to harvest useful data on motor health, preventing motor breakdowns on fast-moving production lines. A drive can produce data on motor behavior which cannot be produced by the majority of smart sensors. Namely, drives can produce a profile of the electrical behavior of the motor it is controlling. For example, if a motor is under undue stress, its electrical demands will increase.  If this data is used in conjunction with smart sensors, it allows an additional source of data for triangulation which can improve the accuracy of machine learning algorithms. Predictive maintenance is one of the most important up-and-coming industrial trends. Forward-thinking LV drives manufacturers should act now to ensure they capitalise on this.

Virtual Trade Show and Conference

This week I am attending the Festo Virtual Trade Show and Conference . The website provider is the same one as the Danish company I “toured” last week. It is similar to a concept I saw 20 years ago, but modern technology and design have made the experience very good.

I sat in a couple of conference sessions deepening my understanding of the latest in pneumatics and digitization. The discussion of digitizing and motion was good showing examples from OEE and energy savings. I am not a fan of OEE, but many companies seem fixated on it. It is a number–but I learned how the sausage was made 30 years ago and I remain unconvinced of its real utility. However, if you can digitize to calculate OEE, then you have data you could use in better ways for decision making.

I also learned about applications in process and water treatment.

The metaphor is a trade show lobby with doors for the auditorium for conference sessions, the show floor, information booth. Entering the show floor, there are a number of icons representing booths. Click on a booth and you can choose from short video demonstrations, downloadable papers, and product overviews.

You can attend yet today. It’s worth a look to see what perhaps may be a chunk of the future. I miss the energy and serendipity of live events. But this is an efficient way to collect information saving both the exhibitor and me great expense.

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

Revitalizing Manufacturing in Detroit

There are few things I find as exciting as exploring revitalizing manufacturing or production facility. When people and technology come together to make useful products in a clean and safe manner is art to me.

Therefore, I was happy that my Siemens contacts talked me into driving up to Detroit earlier than I planned to tour the Ford Livonia Transmission plant on March 19. I planned to come up for the noon tour at FlexNGate, but the changed plans worked wonderfully.

Ford Powertrain was a customer of mine in the 80s when I worked for a company that designed and built automated machines and then through the 90s when I was a sales engineer solving problems and selling automation and electrical equipment. So, I witnessed the beginnings of the evolution of these manufacturing plants from dark, dirty, smelly, oily, dangerous, loud environments to today’s clean, efficient, professional facilities.

Ford Livonia Transmission Plant

Mike Bastian, Advanced Engineering Manager Ford Powertrain, explained Ford’s journey from 2000 to present to increase use of digital in manufacturing—The Digital Manufacturing Strategy. He told me that since beginning the present system journey in 2008, they were doing IIoT before there was an IIoT.

Ford Livonia Tranmissions

Bob Groden, plant manager, described the journey that began with removing several obsolete lines, gutting the facility, painting and cleaning, and preparing for additional transmission assembly lines. This plant is huge. And he walks it three times a day greeting people and asking how things are going. As he told me, “I get my steps in.”

The three themes include people working together, safety, and quality. An important note: The plant continuously added people over the rebuild time all the while increasing automation. three themes; added people continuously all the while automating the plant. Groden and UAW Local President Keith Miller talk to every new employee class and then follow up with each later on the line.

Jon Guske, manufacturing engineering manager-feasibility, described a system the team built beyond the computer-aided engineering system—discrete event throughput simulation. It can connect to VR to help OEMs understand the process and product before beginning machine design. It even models chip removal in machining processes to improve manufacturing process.

  • Following are pieces of the Digital Manufacturing Strategy as bullet points:
  • Standard Hardware Architecture
  • IP65–removed all the large enclosures in the plant (aside, using Siemens because it could do it; one company went to management and flat out told them that Bastian was wrong, management said don’t ever say he’s wrong; another company gets to the spec via a work-around he didn’t like)
  • Common PLC/CNC
  • Common configuration and programming software
  • Integrated safety
  • Virtual commissioning
  • Obsolescence management (upgrade path)

Network Standard

Ethernet, specifically Profinet—called Control Production Network

  • Software Standard—Ford Automation Software Template
  • Standard function blocks
  • Standard HMI Screens
  • Standard linkages
  • OEMs are trained and must adhere
  • Lean Manufacturing Assistant
  • Process Configuration Management System
  • Condition Monitoring
  • Part Tracking System, extensive use of RFID

I had an opportunity during the tour to talk with Scott King, IT Lead, Advanced Manufacturing Powertrain, Solutions Development. I asked about the mythic IT/OT split and convergence. He basically said, “What split?” He sits with engineering advanced manufacturing lead and they discuss projects and problems daily. Plant projects teams include these roles—IT Solutions, Engineering, Product Lead, Operations. They’ve been working together for six years.

FlexNGate

FlexNGate is a Tier One supplier of stamped metal and injection molded plastic parts. The company has $6.5 B sales, 70 plants, and presence in many countries. It just built a 454,000 sq. ft. plant in burned-out Detroit neighborhood manufacturing parts for Ford Ranger. It is the largest investment in the city of Detroit in 20 years.

There were a couple of determining factors in the plant location. Ford wanted supplier to be local. The city wanted plants to locate in distressed areas that would also hire locally to provide jobs and hope to the area. They pledged 250 jobs, have 350 full time and 250 temporary and the plant is just a year old and still stabilizing processes after the significant production ramp up.

They run the new hires through training from such things as showing up on time every day, following work instructions, safety, and quality.

Two impressive facilities in one day. That’s a pretty good day.

Long Delayed Beckhoff Automation News from SPS

Long Delayed Beckhoff Automation News from SPS

I’m finally catching up on news from past trips. I stopped by the Beckhoff Automation booth at SPS in Nuremberg last November and chatted for about an hour over all the displays. Here is a sampling.

TwinSAFE: modular, scalable and distributed safety applications

The ability to distribute the intelligence of an entire safety application across multiple TwinSAFE Logic-capable I/O modules enables the flexible implementation of increasingly modular architectures that can be adapted to given system requirements even more effectively than before.

It is possible to adapt the TwinSAFE system even more specifically to the individual requirements of a machine concept as well as to a broader spectrum of safety applications. The new I/O components include:

– TwinSAFE EtherCAT Terminal EL1918: digital terminal with eight safe inputs

– TwinSAFE EtherCAT Terminal EL2911: safe potential supply terminal with four safe inputs and one safe output

– TwinSAFE EtherCAT Box EP1957-0022: IP 67-protected digital combi module with eight safe inputs and four safe outputs

System-integrated and inexpensive precision measurement technology for efficient machines and test benches

ELM314x economy line of the EtherCAT measurement modules supplements the established ELM3x0x line with a lower cost 1 ksps class. This simplifies the use of the system-integrated precision measurement technology, which taps significant optimisation and efficiency potentials both in production machines and in inline test benches.

The new ELM314x measurement modules are available in 2, 4, 6 and 8-channel versions. High-precision measurements with an accuracy of 100 ppm are possible – and in a wide temperature range from 10 to 40 °C at that. Each channel of the measurement modules can be set to current or voltage measurements with a sampling rate of up to 1 ksps per channel. Analog signals in the ranges from ±1.25 to ±10 V, 0 to10 V, ±20 mA or 0/4 to 20 mA can be processed.

Typical application examples include part geometry measurement on the fly, as well as fast, but highly precise weighing procedures, e.g. in bottling plants. In general, the ELM314x EtherCAT measurement modules are ideal for recording data from 10 V/20 mA sensors and forfeeding real-time information directly back into the process.

CX7000 Embedded PC

The CX7000 Embedded PC opens up the convenience and efficiency of the TwinCAT 3 software environment to compact controllers. This enhances the scalability of PC-based control technology from Beckhoff – ranging from mini-PLCs to many-core Industrial PCs. An advanced 400 MHz processor and built-in configurable I/Os mean the Embedded PC delivers an optimum price/performance ratio.

Equipped with an ARM Cortex-M7 processor (32 bit, 400 MHz), the CX7000 Embedded PC makes considerably higher processing power available in the low-cost, compact controller segment. Furthermore, all the advantages of the TwinCAT 3 software generation can be utilised, while an extremely compact design with dimensions of just 49 x 100 x 72 mm ensures optimum scalability of PC-based control for small controller applications that typically require minimum footprint.

With multi-functional I/O channels directly integrated, the CX7000 assures excellent value for money:

  • 8 digital inputs, 24 V DC, 3 ms filter, type 3
  • 4 digital outputs, 24 V DC, 0.5 A, 1-wire technology

These integrated multi-functional I/Os can be configured for other operating modes via TwinCAT 3, enabling the option to use fast counting or processing of analog values:

  • counter mode: 1 x 100 kHz digital counter input, 1 x digital input as up/down counter, 2 x digital counter outputs
  • incremental encoder mode: 2 x digital inputs for 100 kHz encoder signal, 2 x digital encoder outputs
  • analog signal mode: 2 x digital inputs configured as analog inputs 0…10 V, 12 bit
  • PWM signal mode: 2 x digital outputs configured for PWM signal

EtherCAT G

The technology expansion EtherCAT G takes the high EtherCAT performance to the next level by delivering the Gigabit Ethernet speeds needed to support highly data-intensive applications. The latest technology expansion is not only compatible with the globally established 100 Mbit/s EtherCAT standard, but also provides the same familiar ease of use. In addition, the new branch controller model for EtherCAT G enables efficient operation of multiple network segments in parallel.

EtherCAT G supports standard Ethernet transmission rates of 1 Gbit/s; its EtherCAT G10 counterpart, already introduced as a proof-of-concept technology study, is even faster with data rates of 10 Gbit/s. The sharp increase in transmission rates beyond the standard 100 Mbit/s provided by EtherCAT significantly increases the possible data throughput. With propagation delay times through devices as a limiting factor on the one hand, but boosted by the newly introduced branch model on the other, EtherCAT G can deliver a two-to-sevenfold performance increase, depending on the application.

Hans Beckhoff, the company’s Managing Director comments: “EtherCAT G and G10 raise performance to entirely new levels that will enable our customers to build the best, highest-performing machinery in the world! EtherCAT G and G10 are not meant to replace the highly successful EtherCAT standard based on 100 Mbit/s Ethernet. The new performance levels are intended as system-compatible expansions.”

XPlanar: Flying Motion

Beckhoff is opening up new avenues in machine design with XPlanar. This is made possible by planar movers that float freely above arbitrarily arranged planar tiles and enable extremely flexible, precise and highly dynamic positioning. For machine builders this results in maximum flexibility and simplification in the design of machines and plants.

The XPlanar system combines the individual arrangement of planar tiles with the multi-dimensional positioning capability of the planar movers floating above them. The movers can be moved jerk-freeand contact-free in two dimensions at up to 4 m/s with 2 g acceleration and 50 µm positioning repeatability – and noiselessly and without abrasion.

The planar motor system is highly scalable to suit individual needs and considerably simplifies the design of machines and plants. Due to the maximum flexibility in mover positioning and the very high dynamics it is possible, for example, to divide product flows very simply and individually, so that previously necessary robots or inflexible mechanical devices can be efficiently replaced. The contact-free mover travel also eliminates wear, emissions and the carryover of contaminations.

The collision-free and synchronised movement of several movers with automatic path optimisation are further features provided by the TwinCAT automation software. The movement of several movers together in a group, for example, allows the maximum payload to be increased.

Project Work and IMTS Update

I haven’t been here for a while. I do project work (when I can get it), and every late summer/early fall my for 30 years has been assigning referees to soccer matches. This year western Ohio has witnessed more rain than I remember. My rain gauge showed 11 inches from last Wednesday evening until early Sunday. (I know compared to the hurricane coming, that’s nothing. But if the rain from the hurricane hits us as it often does, then we will have standing water everywhere.)

Since Thursday, I’ve spent 8 hours or more a day reassigning referees to rescheduled games. Looks like things are calming down.

I drove up to IMTS in Chicago Monday morning. Walked 10 miles Monday and Tuesday, saw lots of people, got some industry gossip…and saw some cool technology.

In brief:

  • Sat in an OPC Foundation briefing—many good things are happing with the Foundation and OPC UA adoption and extension.
  • 3D printing has really come of age already as a production-ready technology. I saw many cool demonstrations. If you are manufacturing piece parts with complex geometries, you had better check this out.
  • Collaborative robots (Universal was everywhere) including Universal and Rethink Robotics are gaining acceptance and broadening the idea of applications.
  • Intelligent end of arm tooling for these robots is growing—I talked with OnRobot among others.
  • Marrying robotic technology to factory autonomous vehicles is a growing category. I’ve interviewed MiR a few times.
  • I talked with a developer with Energid who sells a SDK for robotics. If you need to design multi-axis motion coordinated motion, check it out.

I will do more in-depth later. Just taking a lunch break on the way back home.