This announcement from Schneider Electric originated from the conference in Barcelona that I will be attending in Austin, Texas. It supports a trend we’re seeing of suppliers breaking software into specific-purpose chunks to make it easier for customers to purchase, install, and maintain. The EcoStruxure Plant Performance Advisors suite points toward food and beverage; mining, minerals and metals; oil and gas; water and wastewater; and other industrial enterprises.
These comprise a specialized suite of smart manufacturing apps and digital services, providing easy-to-understand, real-time analytics.
“The digital transformation vision is coming to life for industrial operations,” said Sophie Borgne, senior vice president, Schneider Electric Digital Plant. “Industry 4.0 has embraced digitalization but now must get out of ‘pilot purgatory’ and scale up. Respecting an industrial enterprise’s operational investment, the modular EcoStruxure Plant Performance Advisors make it easy for plants of all sizes—not just big corporations to modernize at a sustainable pace and accelerate their digital transformation in very simple, step by step manner.”
Data-driven Plant Performance Management
Schneider rightly contends that IIoT blurs the line between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) yielding great amounts of data. The Advisors enhance asset optimization, asset performance management, predictive maintenance, and real-time decision-making.
Schneider Electric utilizes digitalization in its own factories. Using technology, including EcoStruxure Plant Performance Advisors, its Smart Factory in Bantam, Indonesia is reporting a 44% reduction in machine downtime in one year. The Schneider Electric Smart Factory in Vaudreil, France also implemented EcoStruxure Plant Performance Advisors, which contributed to:
- 10% reduction in energy consumption
- 25% improvement in plant operations efficiency.
- 20% reduction in maintenance costs.
- 20% reduction in diagnosis and repair time.
EcoStruxure Plant Advisors are fully configurable, off-the-shelf solutions for easy integration into even the most advanced systems. By providing users with a familiar application theme and environment, an efficient plant can create synergies for processes and empower digital operators. This greatly reduces the user learning curve, saving time and money.
Schneider Electric’s modular and scalable EcoStruxure Plant Advisors suite includes:
- EcoStruxure Pumping Performance Advisor is a new digital service for the continuous improvement of water and wastewater pumping assets in 24/7 operations. By addressing challenges such as cost of water, plants can save up to 15% in OPEX through pump optimization.
- EcoStruxure Equipment Efficiency Advisor provides real-time efficiency root cause analysis. It then recommends appropriate action plans for increasing capacity while reducing unscheduled downtime and waste, which often results in immediate 5% to 10% OEE gains.
- EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor uses augmented reality to slash the amount of time a worker spends looking for information to about a tenth of current levels. By superimposing real-time data and virtual objects (point of interest, documentation, procedures) onto cabinets or machines, this “contactless maintenance” model also increases safety. EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor V2.4 is easy to customize; no special platform knowledge is required. Users can also easily add augmented reality into existing procedures and export notes and analysis to share with others.
- EcoStruxure Secure Connect Advisor with embedded cybersecurity provides a digitally secure and simple asset monitoring connection for remote diagnostic and maintenance that reduces plant downtime while saving time and travel costs to maintain critical assets. In some cases, this has resulted in a shortened time to solution from over 7 days to as little as 4 hours.
EcoStruxure is Schneider Electric’s open, interoperable, IoT-enabled system architecture and platform.
I guess I did attend the last GE software conference Minds + Machines. However, the reconstituted and independent GE Digital recently held a user conference where it announced a number of upgrades to its IIoT software. These are firmly within the current trends of connecting and mobility.
The product updates include:
- Predix Essentials, which makes it easier for industrial companies to connect, visualize and analyze their data
- Asset Answers, which helps customers to understand the competitive potential of Asset Performance Management (APM) software
- Webspace 6.0, a new HTML5 interface that seamlessly brings automation data to operators across any mobile device
Predix Essentials is an easy-to-use SaaS solution, helping companies connect to disparate data sources, monitor operations, and leverage edge-to-cloud predictive analytics–reducing time-to-value for operational teams looking to reduce waste, lower costs, and increase performance.
Developed in partnership with a number of customers, including silicon chip manufacturer Intel, Predix Essentials is a natural first step for industrial businesses looking to leverage the power of cloud-based Industrial IoT technologies, providing the connectivity, visualization and analysis capabilities that are the cornerstones of a digital transformation journey, regardless of vertical or maturity.
Suitable for industrial companies of all kinds, Predix Essentials is also the foundation of GE Digital’s APM and OPM application suites, providing core functionality and bridging the entire software portfolio by connecting GE Digital cloud-based solutions to on-premises data from its Automation, MES and Historian solutions.
Identifying Maintenance Strategies
Asset Answers is a benchmarking tool that helps customers quickly import and assess data to better understand how their asset maintenance compares with similar companies in their particular domain, or even against their own internal performance across sites.
With this intelligence, customers can determine where best to invest in updating maintenance regimes or capabilities, and ultimately provide a seamless path to products like APM to manage and optimize assets across their business. Asset Answers is available for many sectors, including power generation, oil and gas and chemicals.
Improving Operator Mobility
Webspace 6.0, a web and mobility solution, brings the full visualization and control capabilities from GE’s iFIX and CIMPLICITY HMI/SCADA software seamlessly across devices, including smartwatches, phones, tablets and desktops.
Offering enhanced encryption and new zero-install HTML5 client, Webspace 6.0 improves the way that operators receive and react to operational insights, whether they are in the field, on the plant floor or at a desk, providing them the flexibility to make informed decisions and share their expertise, regardless of location. By dynamically extending automation solutions, Webspace 6.0 increases information sharing across teams, speeds the right operator actions, and improves agility with real-time visualization and control anywhere, anytime.
“GE Digital continues to release innovations that forge the way for industrial customers working on transforming their operations,” said Pat Byrne, CEO of GE Digital. “By continuing to invest across our portfolio of industrial software, and by making it easier than ever for our customers to unlock the power of the Industrial IoT, GE Digital is strengthening its customers’ ability to become more productive, efficient and safe.”
Predix Essentials, Asset Answers and Webspace 6.0 are generally available today as part of GE Digital’s portfolio of industrial software products covering HMI/SCADA, Historian, Asset Performance Management and Manufacturing Execution System applications. Today’s announcements build on a strong thread of recent investments in product innovations, all designed to solve a broad range of industrial customer challenges, including iFIX 6.0; Historian 7.2, Plant Applications 8.0 and Predix Manufacturing Data Cloud for the manufacturing sector; Grid Analytics for the power transmission and distribution market; and APM Integrity’s Compliance Management for the O&G and Power Generation industries.
Everyone touts Digital Transformation lately. Emerson Automation has been patiently building a Digital Transformation practice through acquisition and development. Executives announced advances at this year’s edition of Emerson Global Users Exchange—my second stop of the Fall Conference Tour. I see Emerson pulling away from many of its automation peers becoming part of a select group of suppliers putting it all together (the others being Siemens, ABB, and Schneider Electric / AVEVA).
I’m going to run through some of the more significant announcements from the press conferences so far this week.
New Digital Transformation Organization
Emerson has established a dedicated organization focused on digital transformation technologies and programs. The Digital Transformation business brings together resources to help manufacturers develop and implement pragmatic digital transformation strategies that deliver industry-leading, or Top Quartile, performance. The $650+ million business combines existing expertise in consulting, project execution, smart sensor technologies, data management and analytics – all part of Emerson’s Plantweb digital ecosystem. The organization will help customers not only establish a clear vision for digital transformation, but also execute and realize measurable results at each step of their journey.
“In a space inundated by confusing promises, Emerson helps customers define and execute a practical and successful path to digital transformation,” said Lal Karsanbhai, executive president of Emerson’s Automation Solutions business. “With our new Digital Transformation business, we are strategically focused on guiding customers to the right strategy, helping them drive improved organizational alignment, and implementing programs that accelerate improved business performance.”
“The industry is at a critical point in the digital transformation journey,” said Stuart Harris, group president for Emerson’s new Digital Transformation business. “Many companies have a vision but struggle to implement practical solutions that deliver results and therefore they are getting frustrated. Other companies are solving specific problems, but not realizing value at scale across the enterprise. Emerson has the technology to provide practical solutions, and the experience to define the best practices and roadmap to help make a broad operational impact.”
Existing and new Emerson resources comprising the business include:
- Operational Certainty Consulting: facility and enterprise-level roadmap strategies and implementation to improve reliability, safety, production and energy utilization metrics
- Operational Analytics: the industry’s most comprehensive portfolio of predictive diagnostics and advanced analytics, providing insights on health and performance of operational assets
- Industry Solutions: deep, industry-specific expertise on solutions to drive key performance indicators
- Pervasive Sensing: the industry’s largest portfolio of smart, easy-to-deploy, connected devices, including wireless instruments
- Project Management: best practices, tools and resources to implement a digital transformation project with confidence
Comprehensive Operational Analytics Portfolio
Emerson’s portfolio of operational analytics focuses on the greatest source of value for industrial manufacturers – the production itself. Operational analytics with embedded domain knowledge can impact and improve performance of simple equipment, complex assets and process units, and entire production plants.
“We recommend addressing the high impact, known problems first,” Zornio said. “By using proven models that make analytics accessible to the personnel responsible for the performance of assets, our customers can act quickly to solve problems faster. For example, Emerson’s solutions can detect and address 80% of the equipment failure modes contributing to production loss in a plant in real-time.”
Additionally, Emerson’s enhanced portfolio includes machine learning and artificial intelligence that can be used to identify new discoveries and deepen insight to impact business performance. These tools provide perspective previously unattainable with traditional analytics.
“With our acquisition of KNet and its integration into our Plantweb Optics asset performance platform, Emerson can provide not only some of the most advanced machine learning and AI tools in the industry, but also the connection to people and workflows, which are critical to digital transformation success,” Zornio said.
Emerson’s portfolio now provides both pre-packaged analytics solutions as well as a complete analytics toolbox for users to develop their own applications. This portfolio is supported by Emerson’s Operational Certainty consulting practice and robust data management capabilities that provide a foundation for analytics success.
AMS Asset Monitor increases visibility and adds predictive analytics
AMS Asset Monitor edge analytics device digitalizes essential asset data and analytics for better operations performance and improved decision making. AMS Asset Monitor provides actionable insights into essential
assets that were previously monitored only with infrequent assessments. The new edge analytics device will connect with Emerson’s Plantweb Optics asset performance platform to provide key operations personnel with instant asset health details for operations and maintenance decision making.
Plants typically monitor the condition of essential assets such as pumps, fans, and heat exchangers only every 30 to 60 days. The longer the gap, the more likely that a defect goes undetected and results in an unexpected failure with significant impact on production, product quality, and plant efficiency. The new AMS Asset Monitor combines easy deployment, embedded logic-based analytics, and intuitive health scoring to make it easier for organizations to monitor and maintain essential assets. For instance, AMS Asset Monitor’s analytics and visualization can help plant personnel effectively plan maintenance during scheduled shutdowns and turnarounds and reduce or eliminate unplanned downtime.
Unlike typical analytics devices that send data to a historian or the cloud to be processed later, AMS Asset Monitor provides analytics at the edge, performing calculations at the device. This device-centered analytics capability reduces the time, complication, and expense of adding analytics to a plant’s assets. Each device collects data continuously and uses embedded logic to identify and diagnose common reliability issues. Individual issues such as imbalance, misalignment, bearing faults, lubrication issues, or fouling are consolidated into an overall asset health score. AMS Asset Monitor then communicates these health scores via a web browser or—when integrated with Plantweb Optics—through real-time persona-based alerts on mobile devices. Plantweb Optics also enables enterprise-wide visibility and expands edge analytics and digital intelligence throughout the organization, keeping personnel aware of essential asset health.
“Plants are always looking for more ways to improve profitability by increasing productivity. Just a percentage point or two in availability can equal millions of dollars per year or more,” said John Turner product manager for online prediction, Emerson. “The AMS Asset Monitor enables personnel across the plant to see the current health of essential assets along with suggested actions to improve asset health. This allows them to make informed decisions to maintain reliability, increase uptime and maximize productivity.”
The AMS Asset Monitor’s small footprint along with wired or wireless Ethernet connectivity make it simple to install. The edge device can support new applications by simply adding new logic-based analytics.
Industrial Wireless Network Solution
Emerson is partnering with Cisco to introduce a next-generation industrial wireless networking solution. The new Emerson Wireless 1410S Gateway with the Cisco Catalyst IW6300 Heavy Duty Series Access Point combines the latest in wireless technology with advanced WirelessHART sensor technology, delivering reliable and highly secure data, even in the harshest industrial environments.
“A secure connection that scales easily is the foundation for every successful IoT deployment.” said Liz Centoni, senior vice president and general manager, IoT at Cisco. “By using the power of the intent-based network, Cisco provides a secure, automated, rock solid infrastructure helping IT and operational teams work together to reduce complexity and improve safety.”
This next-gen wireless access point provides enhanced wi-fi bandwidth necessary for real-time safety monitoring, including Emerson’s Location Awareness and wireless video. These applications enhance personnel safety practices, improve plant security and help ensure environmental compliance. A reliable and fast connection between devices and people streamlines decision making by providing real-time analytics. It also enables a mobile workforce to virtually come together, collaborate and resolve critical issues in a timely manner.
“Products installed in industrial plants need to last for years, even decades,” said Bob Karschnia, vice president of wireless at Emerson. “This kind of longevity was a critical design and engineering requirement to ensure this new wireless access point was future-proofed to meet a rapidly evolving technology landscape.”
Personalized Digital Experience
Emerson‘s new personalized digital experience – MyEmerson–connects people and technology through streamlined work processes and better collaboration. With a MyEmerson online account, users can access digital tools to quickly engineer solutions, manage software and installed assets, access training, collaborate with experts, streamline procurement processes, and improve visibility into buying history and trends.
“Driven by our personal interaction with digital technology, customers have new expectations today about speed and access to information,” said Brad Budde, vice president of digital customer experience, Emerson
Automation Solutions. “Our customers still want access to human expertise, but now expect a great digital experience as well. Combining these two experiences to deliver information immediately and use it to solve problems faster is what drives new business value.”
Digital engineering tools help engineers collaborate, gain confidence in an evolving industry, and streamline time-consuming manual processes. With online sizing, selection, and configuration tools for measurement instrumentation, valves, actuators, fluid control, pneumatic and electrical solutions, engineers can confidently and accurately specify solutions for their unique requirements and process conditions. By employing
digital tools, engineers can configure instrumentation up to 93% faster, typically saving over 100 engineering hours annually.
For procurement professionals, MyEmerson includes access to online purchasing and supplier management resources. Once solutions are selected and configured by engineering counterparts, the information moves seamlessly to the procurement team – eliminating the need for manual handoffs and duplicate entry of model codes. Procurement personnel can then create requisition lists, generate quotes and automatically populate purchase orders. With greater visibility to order status and order history, procurement teams have access to the information they need to drive more efficient processes.
The MyEmerson development roadmap will centralize the management of software, hardware and workforce upskilling. With easier access to technical documentation, easier identification of device location, and the ability to initiate repair, replacement or service as needed, organizations gain maintenance and turnaround planning efficiencies. By moving from manual management of disparate software applications, updates and
licenses, users will be able to actively operate and maintain their software portfolio through a single-entry point. Both hardware and software records will be tightly integrated to relevant training, enabling trackable and accessible information in the same experience.
The concept of digital twins was born from the marriage known as cyber-physical systems. The cyber representation of a product or process was often held digitally within CAD/CAM or PLM systems. These became linked to the physical object through a feedback loop that kept the two in sync.
Digital Twin has moved from the esoteric to mainstream within industrial culture. And digital no longer is consigned to drawing databases, as my recent conversation with Michael Kanellos and Perry Zalvesey of OSIsoft reveals.
They described the process this way, “From devices all the way to buildings and factories, we’re now living in a world where everything is connected. And as these operations become more connected, it’s increasingly important to identify the strongest solution to monitor them. With the introduction of IoT, sensor and even AI technology to industrial operators, there’s been a surge of unfamiliar digital strategies – the latest being digital twins.”
OSIsoft prefers to consider digital twin as a loose term, as it can be either a complete network doppelganger or just a copy of key data streams to narrow in on specific issues. Everyone has their own preference and iteration.
OSIsoft named its digital twin technology the Asset Framework, which allows companies to take a project-by-project approach, creating solutions for each need on a rolling basis.
When one of its customers, DCP Midstream, began deploying OSIsoft’s AF tool it rolled out 12 AF based applications in two months, experiencing a $20-$25 million one-year return.
Application of OSIsoft’s Asset Framework has been strong in the water industry. Zalvesey says that his first work in the area was with modeling processes that were only static models. Today’s digital twins are dynamic. Designers can model the facility and objects within it. Each object has attributes that data are then associated with. Where originally there was a pump object—say we define “Pump 12” and associate data such as temperature and pressure and more. Now with Asset Framework, designers can create a template class “pump” and be able to replicate for as many pumps as a facility contains.
1. Asset Framework is the core digital twin offering. It’s as a relational layer on top of PI that combines all the data streams (temp, pressure, vibration) of an asset into one screen. A lot of people get fancy with the digital twin term but to us it’s a simulation combined with live data.
2. A simple AF template for a pump probably takes a half an hour to build. It can then be replicated ad inifinitum. It’s a drag and drop process. AF is part of PI Server (it was a separate product years ago but combined into it.) Complex ones can take months. Element, a company that OSIsoft helped incubate (and has since culled investment from Kleiner Perkins, GE and others) has built a service called AF accelerator. Basically, they parachute a team of data scientists to study your large assets and then develop automated ways to build AF templates for complete mines or offshore oil platforms. It still takes two months or so but they can streamline a lot of the coding tasks. BP used them.
- DCP. In 2017, the company launched an effort to digitize operations. One of the first steps was using PI to collect the data and use AF to create simple and complex digital twins. DCP has 61 gas plants for instance. Each one has been modeled with AF. Plant managers are show a live feed of current production, idealized production, and the differential in terms of gas produced and revenue. DCP discovered that it could increase production per plant on average $2000-$5000 per day, or millions a year, by giving the plant managers better visibility into current production and market pricing. In year one, it saved $20=$25 million, paying off the entire project (including the cost of building a centralized control center in Colorado and staffing it.) The next year (2018) it saved another $20 million.
- MOL. One of the largest uses of AF. MOL tracks 400,000 data streams and has 21,000+ AF instances based on 300 templates (a single template can be replicated several times.) MOL says that it has added $1 billion EBITDA since 2010 by using its data better. With AF, for instance, they figured out why hydrogen corrosion was exceeding the norm. In some instances, they’ve used advanced analytics—an experiment to see if it could use high sulfur crudes required deep analytics—but most of the time MOL has made its improvements by creating AF templates, studying the phenomena and taking action.
- Colorado Springs. Complete opposite end of big. It’s a small, regional utility.
- Heineken uses AF to model its plants to reduce energy. Aurelian Metals used it to boost gold extraction from ore from 75% to 89%. Michelin saved $4 million because AF let them recover more quickly from a previous outage. Deschutes Brewery meanwhile boosted production by $450K and delayed a plant (per our 2018 meeting.
Moving to sustainable sources of energy to generate electrical power, as Europe has, requires a balancing act. Solar and wind generation provide an imbalance of power since they only operate when proper atmospheric conditions exist—i.e. sunlight or wind. Hydro generation provides a necessary balance, explained Pier-Vittorio Rebba, technology manager power generation for ABB.
But many hydro plants are aging. Management realizes the need to digitalize operations to obtain the best use of Asset Performance Management applications as well as best optimization of plant assets. ABB and its customer Enel Green Power partnered to digitalize operations delivering predictive maintenance solutions that will lower maintenance costs and transform the performance, reliability, and energy efficiency of its hydropower plants throughout Italy.
The three-year contract will enable 33 of Enel Green Power’s hydroelectric plants, comprised of about 100 units, to move from hours-based maintenance to predictive and condition-based maintenance, leveraging the ABB Ability Asset Performance Management solution. With operations in five continents, the Enel Group’s renewable business line, Enel Green Power, is a global leader in the green energy sector, with a managed capacity of more than 43 GW.
“We are privileged to be partnering with Enel Green Power, a digital pioneer, in their move from hours-based to predictive maintenance utilizing ABB Ability technologies for big data, machine learning and advanced analytics,” said Kevin Kosisko, Managing Director, Energy Industries, ABB. “Predictive maintenance and asset performance management must become a key component of plant operators’ strategies to optimize maintenance operations, minimize risk, improve resilience and reduce costs. The results are more competitive electricity rates, in a more sustainable way.”
Collaborating closely since early 2018, the two companies have jointly developed and tested predictive maintenance and advanced solutions (PresAGHO) via a pilot on five Enel plants in Italy and Spain, including Presenzano, a 1,000-megawatt plant near Naples.
The new contract includes digital software solutions and services that will provide analysis of over 190,000 signals and the deployment of about 800 digital asset models, aimed at improving plant operational performance, reducing unplanned failures and enabling more efficient planned maintenance practices through predictive maintenance. The integration is expected to yield savings in fleet maintenance costs and increase plant productivity.
The ABB Ability Collaborative Operations Center for power generation and water will help bring wider benefits of digitalization and engagement, supporting informed decision-making, real-time solutions and cost savings. The center already provides similar digital solutions and advanced applications for more than 700 power plants, water facilities and electric vehicle charging stations globally.
“With personnel retirements resulting in knowledge gaps and more competitive electricity marketplaces, we believe that many power generation customers globally can benefit from this kind of digital transformation around maintenance and operations,” said Mr Kosisko.
I first met Quuppa and saw a demo of its real time locating system at the 2018 Hannover Messe. I have written about it here and here. The company has developed an interesting technology and application.
They wrote about industrial applications picking up, so I asked for an example. Below is a story about defining a problem, sourcing a solution, and then implementing it.
NGK Ceramics is a global specialist in the manufacturing of ceramic substrates used in catalytic converter applications for automotive, truck and off-road vehicles. The US manufacturing facility, located in Mooresville, North Carolina, covers more than 500k square feet with 365 days a year, twenty-four hours a day operations.
The facility was initially designed in 1988 to serve a limited geographical area in the US. However, with the business growing faster than expected and more areas being served by the same production plant, NGK faced a major challenge: how to grow the capacity of the North Carolina industrial plant. Efficiency was clearly the answer. As a first step, ASRS (Automated Storage and Retrieval Systems), together with AGV’s (Automated Guided Vehicles), were introduced to move pallets and materials in the shop floor without human intervention.
Even if this mitigated the problem, it was still not enough to manage high, yet variable, production demands in the long run. As a result, during production peaks, the pallets transporting both raw materials and semi-finished goods were temporarily stored all around the shop floor according to specific procedures. While this addressed the problem of lack of (ASRS) storage space, it introduced a significant new one, the additional time spent finding and moving pallets from one production phase to the next. At least two workers per shift were assigned to this task: just searching for and moving pallets.
In addition to this, at least once a year a complete plant inventory is required to verify all materials stored in the facility, but not yet shipped or sold. During this activity, the entire plant was surveyed, and all pallets were identified and verified against the data registered in the internal ERP system. This activity could take up to one week, with the slow down (if not interruption) of the production activities. Inevitably, any items lost or duplicated created an impact on the bottom line.
To deal with these issues, in 2017 NGK Ceramics decided to explore how solutions based on a Real Time Locating System (RTLS) could help by providing a Digital Twin of the manufacturing plant: the location of every pallet would be tracked continuously and that data would be synchronized with NGK’s MRP systems. This tracking of pallets provides a real-time view of where they are located in the industrial plant, with a number of supporting services to easily and rapidly search them and manage the production cycle.
TRACKING SOLUTION: REQUIREMENTS NGK Ceramics decided to evaluate a number of different scenarios for implementing a RTLS to track the progress of material and semi-finished goods throughout the flow of its manufacturing process. The key requirements to be addressed by the solution were:
• Configurable tracking accuracy: since the industrial plant covers a large area, with different uses of the spaces within the plant (production area vs. stocking areas vs. corridors), the ability to vary the location accuracy of asset tracking was important. In some areas, where the density of pallets is typically high (such as the warehouse) sub-meter accuracy is required in order to easily locate a specific pallet among the many stocked there. On the other hand, a 10 metre accuracy is sufficient in corridors or transit zones, where it is sufficient to track the presence of the pallet in the zone;
• Infrastructure cost: as NGK Ceramics facility is rather large, the number of RTLS antennas required to achieve the desired accuracy was clearly an important variable of the solution to be adopted. This impacted both the cost of the infrastructure as well as the costs related to the cabling (e.g., connectivity and power). Another factor was the cost of the tags to be attached to the pallets. This extended beyond the capital cost to also include the cost of replacing the batteries in the tags.
• Asset search and location functionality : NGK wanted this Digital Twin to be used in a variety of ways, from centralized systems to hand-held devices using a Google maps style red dot metaphor, so how the system was able to process the information and extract actionable knowledge for the final user (the worker in the shop floor) was important. This required addressing issues related to the usability and ergonomics of the system, Machine-2-Machine (M2M) application integration, while delivering on its intended use and the need to facilitate the searching and location of assets.
• Maturity of the solution: an enterprise-ready solution was requested. This refers to the support for active monitoring services of both the platform and the RTLS infrastructure. Any device or software component deployed in the facility needed to be monitored, with notifications sent in case of anomalies in the system. This includes the battery status of the devices/tags used for tracking the pallets.
DIGITISING THE PRODUCTION PROCESS NGK retained the services of Statler Consulting a specialist in the area of beacons and RTLS technologies, and issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) for a solution able to track in real-time the assets in their facility, and to deliver the necessary supporting services for the optimisation and real-time control of their production process. Among the many solutions proposed, ThinkIN was chosen as it proved to be the best match to the requirements identified by NGK. ThinkIN is an innovative IoT platform for real-time tracking, monitoring and control of assets and workforce in industrial environments.
ThinkIN technology is based on Quuppa4 RTLS for the high precision location of assets in the shop floor. Quuppa utilizes a unique combination of Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and the Angle of Arrival (AoA) methodology, as well as advanced location algorithms that have been developed over the course of more than 15 years, to calculate highly accurate, real-time indoor positioning, even in the most demanding environments, including inside warehouses and manufacturing facilities. The low-power system is a reliable, highly-customizable, scalable and costefficient solution for providing an accurate “dot on the map.”
ThinkIN platform provides a comprehensive set of services ranging from real-time support (e.g, asset search and location, alerts and geo-fencing, etc.), to Industrial IoT analytics. It also includes a number of tools to support the active monitoring of the infrastructure (both hardware and software) and a comprehensive set of user interfaces to explore the data collected and used to locate assets in real-time in the shop floor. In terms of tracking technology, Quuppa RTLS provided an optimal trade-off in terms of location accuracy, number of antennas required to cover the NGK facility and maturity of technology.
Overall 95 antennas are used to cover the complete NGK facility, with a location accuracy of approximately one meter in the areas of interest and approximately 5 meters in other areas. Different tag form factors were evaluated. Eventually, a custom Bluetooth Low Energy tag with a slim badge form factor was designed and manufactured in order to optimally align with NGK’s existing manufacturing process. The tag ensures 4+ years of life without battery replacement. Pallets, carrying products or semi-finished goods, are identified by means of their Product Travel Ticket (PTT), which includes all the necessary information about the kind of product manufactured, together with information on production stage ( e.g. forming line, firing in kilns, etc.). At the very beginning of the production process, an RTLS TAG is associated with the pallet Travel Ticket through a mobile application running on a scanner.
The application allows the scanning of both the QR code present on the PTT and the QR code on the TAG. This association creates a Digital Twin of the pallet, which is now tracked in real-time throughout its manufacturing process. The pallets can now be easily located through the ThinkIN mobile service. Additionally, plant-level views allow staff to monitor the status of the pallets across the entire facility, maintaining an always up-to-date inventory of all pallets stocked or moving in the facility.
Starting from ThinkIN open APIs, a dedicated mobile interface was created for an optimal utilisation of data over the shop-floor and to facilitate the work of employees in the search and location of pallets with a specific Travel Ticket. Figure 3: Tracking of assets in NGK facility Additional services delivered through the ThinkIN platform enable the quality control of pallets depending on their production stage, with alerts being triggered if the pallet moves into areas not allowed. To prevent this, a specific geo-localised workflow is imposed on the travel path of pallets depending on their production process. Warnings are raised when the specific workflow is not adhered to.
The project started in 2017 with an initial pilot phase, and is now scaling up to the entire production plant with a possible extension in the coming years to other NGK manufacturing sites. NGK is planning to obtain a return on their investment in a 2 year time frame. Today we are in year two and ThinkIN solution is integrated with the production control system adding value to the manufacturing process by making the pallet searching process more effective.
ThinkIN’s platform has allowed NGK to digitize the shop floor by recreating the plant on screens accessible to all workers. Thanks to the data collected by tags and devices, workers can use the interface to find pallets around the manufacturing plant based on the information of the goods transported by the pallets, such as product type, bench number, kill cycle, and other key criteria for the production routing.
The efficiency of the shop floor was significantly increased thanks to ThinkIN for Industry. In the first year, NGK Ceramics reduced the costs of the wasted time searching for pallets and of the time spent doing the annual inventory. Thanks to the new solution, the inventory is constantly up-to-date. Moreover, the accuracy in tracking reduced the risk of accidents caused by the movement of pallets with forklifts in the shop floor searching for the needed pallet. ThinkIN for Industry, therefore, is a location intelligence technology that by capturing data from the shop floor in a digital platform offers the chance to automate the real world in new ways that can enhance and optimise workflows in the shop floor.