One of my customers back in the 90s established an OEE office and placed an OEE engineer in each plant. OEE, of course is the popular abbreviation for Overall Equipment Effectiveness—a sum of ratios that places a numerical value on “true” productivity. I’ve always harbored some reservations about OEE, especially as a comparative metric, because of the inherent variability of inputs. Automated data collection and modern data base analytics are a solution.
A press release and email conversation with Parsec came my way this week. It sets the stage by pointing to the pressure to increase quality and quantity, while reducing costs, leading manufacturers to seek a deeper understanding of trends and patterns and new ways to drive efficiency. The very nature of OEE is to identify the percentage of manufacturing time that is truly productive. It is the key metric for measuring the performance of an operation, but many companies measure it incorrectly, or don’t measure it at all.
In the latest example of its efforts to help manufacturers maximize performance while reducing costs and complexity, Parsec launched its real-time Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) Performance Management solution.
Most OEE measurement systems capture data from a single source and offer reports that may be visually appealing but actually contain very little substance. Other OEE systems capture lots of data but fail to give operators the necessary tools to act on that data. The TrakSYS OEE Performance Management solution collects and aggregates data from multiple sources, leveraging existing assets, resources and infrastructure, and provides insight into areas of the operation that need improvement with the tools to take action.
“We are challenging manufacturers to go beyond OEE measurement and to begin thinking about performance management,” said Gregory Newman, Parsec vice president of marketing. “Our TrakSYS OEE Performance Management solution pinpoints the root causes of poor performance and closes the loop by providing actionable intelligence and the tools necessary to fix the bottlenecks and improve productivity.”
The Power to Perform
When designing the TrakSYS OEE Performance Management solution, Parsec took into account three key criteria for measuring OEE: Availability, Performance and Quality. Availability, or downtime loss, encompasses changeovers, sanitation/cleaning, breakdowns, startup/shutdown, facility problems, etc. Performance, or speed loss, includes running a production system at a speed lower than the theoretical run rate, and short stop failures such as jams and overloads. Quality, or defect loss, is defined as production and startup rejects, process defects, reduction in yield, and products that need to be reworked to conform to quality standards. As part of the solution, Parsec created a variety of standard dashboards and reports as well as the ability to customize reports through powerful web-based configuration tools.
“Our goal is to empower manufacturers to unlock unseen potential with their existing infrastructure,” added Newman. “Even small tweaks can save a plant millions of dollars each year.”
TrakSYS is an integrated platform that contains all of the functionality of a full manufacturing execution system (MES) in one package. The modular nature of TrakSYS brings flexibility to deploy only the functions that are required, without a major software upgrade. TrakSYS business solutions include OEE, SPC, e-records, maintenance, traceability, workflow, batch processing, sustainability, labor, and more.
Rockwell Automation has announced acquisition of Automation Control Products (ACP), a provider of centralized thin client, remote desktop and server management software. ACP’s two core products, ThinManager and Relevance, provide manufacturing and industry with visual display and software solutions to, as the Rockwell press release put it, “manage information and streamline workflows for a more connected manufacturing environment.”
I met Matt Crandell, ACP CEO, years ago at a trade show touting Linux, as I recall, to a Microsoft crowd. He and his team had developed a thin client technology (“dumb” terminals connected to a server) that brought 1970s and 80s era corporate computing into the modern age. He had good relations with Wonderware but I’ve noticed increasingly strong partnership with Rockwell Automation. This exit was probably the best he could hope for. Congratulations to Matt and the team for a good run and a good exit.
The press release gives us Rockwell’s justification, “This acquisition supports the Rockwell Automation growth strategy to help customers increase global competitiveness through The Connected Enterprise – a vision that connects information across the plant floor to the rest of the enterprise. It is accelerated by the Industrial Internet of Things and advances in technologies, such as data analytics, remote monitoring, and mobility.”
“Today’s plant engineers turn to our technology innovation and domain expertise to help improve their manufacturing quality and reliability while increasing productivity,” said Frank Kulaszewicz, senior vice president of Architecture and Software, Rockwell Automation. “With ACP’s industry-leading products now in our portfolio, we can provide new capabilities for workers as the manufacturing environment becomes more digital and connected.”
ThinManager centralizes the management and visualization of content to every facet of a modern manufacturing operation, from the control room to the end user. It streamlines workflows and allows users to reduce hardware operation and maintenance costs. Relevance extends the ThinManager functionality through proprietary location-based technology, enabling users’ secure mobile access to content and applications from anywhere.
“We are a perfect addition to Rockwell Automation’s industrial automation offerings that aim to increase reliability, productivity and security as well as lower energy and maintenance costs while implementing sustainable technology for leading global manufacturers,” said Matt Crandell, CEO of ACP. “We are confident that our customers will quickly see the value from our two organizations working to address their needs together.”
Plant operators have been isolated in remote control rooms for decades. They tend to lose intimate knowledge of their processes as they monitor computer screens in these isolated rooms. The sounds and smells are gone. Everything is theoretical.
This system has worked. But, is it the best, most efficient, most effective use of human intelligence?
Not likely. Technologies and work processes are joining to allow plant managers to change all this.
Tim Sowell, VP and Fellow at Schneider Electric, recently shared some more of his prescient thoughts on this issue–spurred as usual by conversations with customers.
He asks, “What is the reason why users have been locked to the desk/ control room, why has this transition not happened successfully before? It is simple, the requirement to be monitoring the plant. A traditional control room is the central place alarms, notifications were traditionally piped.”
Diving into what it takes to change, Sowell goes on to say, “The user needs to empowered with situational plant awareness, freed from monitoring, shifting to the experience of exception based notification. As the user roams the plant, the user is still responsible, and aware, and able to make decisions across the plant he is responsible for even if he not in view of that a particular piece of equipment. Driving the requirement for the mobile device the user carries to allow notification, drill thru access to information and ability to collaborate so the dependency to sit in the control room has lifted.”
Two streams join to form a river. Sowell continues, “The second key part of the transformation/ enablement of an edge worker is that their work, tasks and associated materials can transfer with them. As the world moves to planned work, a user may start work task on a PC in the control room, but now move out to execute close action. As the user goes through the different steps, the associated material and actions are at his finders tips. The operational work can be generated , assigned and re directed from all terminal.s and devices.”
The first generation of this thinking formed around the rapid development of mobile devices. Before plant managers and engineers could come to grips with one technology, the next popped up. Instead of careful and prolonged development by industrial technology providers, these devices came directly from consumers. Operators and maintenance techs and engineers brought them from home. Smart phones–the power of a computer tucked into their pockets.
Sowell acknowledges it takes more than a handheld computer. “It requires the transformation to task based integrated operational environment where the ‘edge worker’ is free to move.”
The information must free them to navigate with freedom, no matter the format, no matter where they start an activity, and have access to everything.
“Siri, what’s the weather in Bangor?”
“Alexa, buy some toilet paper.”
“Zelda, check the status of the control loop at P28.”
Operator interface is many years removed from its last significant upgrade. Yes, the Abnormal Situation Management Consortium (led by Honeywell) and Human-Centered Design used by Emerson Process Management and the work of the Center for Operator Performance have all worked on developing more readable and intuitive screens.
But, there is something more revolutionary on the horizon.
A big chunk of time last week on the Gillmor Gang, a technology-oriented video conversation, discussed conversational interfaces. Apple’s Siri has become quite popular. Amazon Echo (Alexa) has gained a large following.
Voice activation for operator interface
Many challenges lie ahead for conversation (or voice) interfaces. Obviously many smart people are working on the technology. This may be a great place for the next industrial automation startup. This or bots. But let’s just concentrate on voice right now.
Especially look at how the technologies of various devices are coming together.
I use the Apple ecosystem, but you could do this in Android.
Right now my MacBook Air, iPad, and iPhone are all interconnected. I shoot a photo on my iPhone and it appears in my Photos app on the other two. If I had an Apple Watch, then I could communicate through my iPhone verbally. It’s all intriguing.
I can hear all the objections, right now. OK, Luddites <grin>, I remember a customer in the early 90s who told me there would never be a wire (other than I/O) connected to a PLC in his plant. So much for predictions. We’re all wired, now.
What have you heard or seen? How close are we? I’ve done a little angel investing, but I don’t have enough money to fund this. But for a great idea…who knows?
Hey Google, take a video.
Apps are so last year. Now the topic of the future appears to be bots and conversational interfaces (Siri, etc.). Many automation and control suppliers have added apps for smart phones. I have a bunch loaded on my iPhone. How many do you have? Do you use them? What if there were another interface?
I’ve run across two articles lately that deal with a coming new interface. Check them out and let me know what you think about these in the context of the next HMI/automation/control/MES generations.
Sam Lessin wrote a good overview at The Information (that is a subscription Website, but as a subscriber I can unlock some articles) “On Bots, Conversational Apps, and Fin.”
Lessin looks at the history of personal computing from shrink wrapped applications to the Web to apps to bots. Another way to look at it is client side to server side to client side and now back to server side. Server side is easier for developers and removes some power from vertical companies.
Lessen also notes a certain “app fatigue” where we have loaded up on apps on our phones only to discover we use only a fraction of them.
I spotted this on Medium–a new “blogging” platform for non-serious bloggers.
It was written by Ryan Block–former editor-in-chief of Engadget, founder of gdgt (both of which sold to AOL), and now a serial entrepreneur.
He looks at human/computer interfaces, “People who’ve been around technology a while have a tendency to think of human-computer interfaces as phases in some kind of a Jobsian linear evolution, starting with encoded punch cards, evolving into command lines, then graphical interfaces, and eventually touch.”
Continuing, “Well, the first step is to stop thinking of human computer interaction as a linear progression. A better metaphor might be to think of interfaces as existing on a scale, ranging from visible to invisible.”
Examples of visible interfaces would include the punchcard, many command line interfaces, and quite a bit of very useful, but ultimately shoddy, pieces of software.
Completely invisible interfaces, on the other hand, would be characterized by frictionless, low cognitive load usage with little to no (apparent) training necessary. Invisibility doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t physically see the interface (although some invisible interfaces may actually be invisible); instead, think of it as a measure of how fast and how much you can forget that the tool is there at all, even while you’re using it.
Examples of interfaces that approach invisibility include many forms of messaging, the Amazon Echo, the proximity-sensing / auto-locking doors on the Tesla Model S, and especially the ship computer in Star Trek (the voice interface, that is — not the LCARS GUI, which highly visible interface. Ahem!).
Conversation-driven product design is still nascent, but messaging-driven products are still represent massive growth and opportunity, expected to grow by another another billion users in the next two years alone.
For the next generation, Snapchat is the interface for communicating with friends visually, iMessage and Messenger is the interface for communicating with friends textually, and Slack is (or soon will be) the interface for communicating with colleagues about work. And that’s to say nothing of the nearly two billion users currently on WhatsApp, WeChat, and Line.
As we move to increasingly invisible interfaces, I believe we’ll see a new class of messaging-centric platforms emerge alongside existing platforms in mobile, cloud, etc.
As with every platform and interface paradigm, messaging has its own unique set of capabilities, limitations, and opportunities. That’s where bots come in. In the context of a conversation, bots are the primary mode for manifesting a machine interface.
Organizations will soon discover — yet again — that teams want to work the way they live, and we all live in messaging. Workflows will be retooled from the bottom-up to optimize around real-time, channel based, searchable, conversational interfaces.
Humans will always be the entities we desire talking to and collaborating with. But in the not too distant future, bots will be how things actually get done.
The consumer boom with mobile devices has not been ignored by production automation companies. Rockwell Automation showed FactoryTalk VantagePoint EMI v 6.0 enabling any digital device to access performance metrics and production data analytics from plant floors and machines.
The VantagePoint v6.0 software now includes VantagePoint mobile, a component that enables users to create displays and interact with data across any HTML5-compliant browser and mobile platforms, such as iOS and Android. Users can now easily log in to the VantagePoint system and automatically view Web-based KPI content that is responsive to the device they are using – from smartphones to tablets to PCs. No user-specific configurations created by network administrators or IT staff are required, enabling manufacturers to quickly on-board more users and deliver value to increase productivity.
“The VantagePoint mobile component instantly detects the type of device being used to access information and adjusts the user experience for that screen,” said Angela Rapko, product manager for FactoryTalk VantagePoint software, Rockwell Automation. “This out-of-the-box solution will enable more users to access valuable operational insight while lowering the cost of delivering that data.”
Another new key capability is the “composer” feature, which allows VantagePoint v6.0 users to browse through data and easily customize content based on individual roles, priorities and viewing preferences. Using the software’s drag-and-drop interactive tools, users can create personalized displays to quickly find the information that is most important to them. The “favorites” capability also allows users to configure KPI data in the visual formats they prefer, from bar graphs to gauges to plant maps. They can then save the data or share it with a group using the VantagePoint mobile component.
“Customers have expressed a big need to drive usage of data across their organization for frictionless productivity,” said Kyle Reissner, mobility platform leader, Rockwell Automation. “With portability in mind, we wanted users to be able to move between devices seamlessly, allowing them to be more responsive and reducing time to solution. The VantagePoint mobile component is now at the core of the FactoryTalk VantagePoint software to deliver this ease of use.”
For OEMs, this streamlined connectivity provides the framework for delivering an information-enabled machine. Plus, they gain the ability to visualize data without the need for custom development.
For system administrators and integrators, improved diagnostics built into the VantagePoint v6.0 software on the server side – as well as more application-centric data sources – allow them to view and display the overall health of the system and specific applications. The VantagePoint v6.0 software also includes improved tag-provider templates to allow anyone initially building the model and applications – whether a system administrator or a customer – to accelerate design and deployment time.
All users will benefit from the flexibility of receiving and applying the VantagePoint software updates without having to uninstall, re-install and, in some cases, re-validate their current application.
“With the VantagePoint mobile framework, we intend to release software updates more frequently, including new display widgets and capabilities,” Reissner said. “We’re focused on eliminating friction, realizing productivity value, and ensuring users are able to do more with fewer barriers.”