BY FRANÇOIS MONETTE, COFOUNDER, COGISCAN
IoM (Internet of Manufacturing) is the application of IoT (Internet of Things) in the manufacturing world. Some refer to a similar concept under the name Industry 4.0. The general idea is to use technology, which may or may not include the internet, to connect all physical items on the manufacturing floor with enterprise systems, from individual production sites to the corporate headquarters. It also includes tracking and controlling physical items and sharing data throughout the supply chain.
The objectives are multiple and include real-time visibility and control, increased productivity and traceability, enabling better decision making and ultimately yielding a higher quality product at a lower cost.
Beyond the buzzwords, manufacturers need a practical approach
The manufacturing industry in general is fairly conservative and rightly so. Production environments are very complex and contain many variables that must be controlled precisely. As a result, it takes a lot of time and effort to implement new assembly lines and new systems. Small deviations can create a large amount of waste or rework very fast. In the manufacturing world IoM and Industry 4.0 represent a long term goal and this is a journey that will consist of several phases.
Technology barriers and challenges
Today our industry struggles to implement these concepts primarily because of the challenges associated with connecting a wide variety of independent systems. Solving this issue requires more than basic connectivity because there is also a significant functionality gap between production equipment, specialized software modules and enterprise systems.
What is needed to achieve full connectivity:
– Connection to SMT machines and associated vendor software
– Connection to other machines (final assembly, box build, plastic metal, etc.)
– Connection to other sources of data including vision systems, barcode and RFID readers and other devices
– Connection to materials (products, components, etc.)
– Connection to people (production operators, supervisors, managers)
– Connection to various types of software applications and enterprise systems (NPI, PLM, MES, ERP, etc.)
Achieving all these different levels of connectivity also imply the following:
– Need to support both new and legacy machines and systems
– Need to support third-party vendors and internal development
– Need to support all industry standards (SMEMA, SECS/GEM, CAMX, ZVEI, OPC, etc.), de-facto standards, and proprietary protocols
– Need to fill functionality gaps between a wide range of systems with various levels of capability
Industry standards vs the need for a middleware solution
Some people believe that the connectivity issue can be solved simply by introducing new industry standards. Although industry standards are an important part of the solution they are not sufficient by themselves. In addition, introducing new standards take time because all stakeholders need to come to an agreement. Such a disruptive change is especially challenging when you consider the heavy investments that many equipment and software vendors have already made over the years to develop and maintain their own interfaces.
A more pragmatic approach, and one that is already available is to use a connectivity middleware such as the Cogiscan TTC platform. This robust and complete platform has been developed over the past 16 years over hundreds of real-life factory implementations. During this period of time a large number of interfaces have been developed to support all the leading machine and software vendors in the industry. Modular application modules including unique and specialized hardware solutions, have been developed to fill functionality gaps between various production systems.[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]
The manufacturing industry in general is fairly conservative and rightly so. Production environments are very complex and contain many variables that must be controlled precisely.[/mk_blockquote]
The machine vendor perspective
There is a wide range of machines vendors in our industry, from large divisions of multinational companies offering complete line solutions to small and medium businesses that serve regional markets with specialized equipment.
Some machine vendors made a strategic decision to focus strictly on their machine software and do not offer any external software application because they do not have the internal expertise and resources to develop and maintain such systems. On the other end of the spectrum some machine vendors commercialize complete MES systems that can support multi-vendor lines.
Some equipment vendors provide their own proprietary interface for third-party software. In other cases, the data is simply made available in a text file or a database. Over the years several industry standards have been created but in the end for several reasons they were not widely adopted. This includes SECS/GEM and CAMX.
There are some initiatives currently underway to introduce new standards for SMT machine connectivity. Based on past experience widespread adoption is questionable and could take years to achieve. In addition, based on past experience, equipment vendors will not make their legacy equipment compatible with new standards because all development resources are assigned to new machines.
Creating a strong and robust interface to collect data from a production machine is not as simple as it may seem. Maintaining these interface is another significant challenge as both the machine software and the MES software are frequently upgraded to introduce new features and technology development. To make matters worse the majority of the machine interfaces currently available are not backward compatible. This means that the interface stops working and must be updated each time that the machine or third-party software gets upgraded.
As a result of this situation some equipment vendors report that up to 20% of their software development resources are tied up with interfaces and integration projects in general.
Machine vendors are also concerned with integrating with other brands and other types of machines. For example, several vendors offer complete line solutions that include other vendor’s machines under OEM reselling agreements. Of course this difficult job becomes mission impossible when a vendor needs to interface with a direct competitors’ machine.
Some forward-looking machine vendors already realized that this connectivity issue is much bigger than they can handle, and complex IT integration projects fall outside of their core competency. As a result, they made the strategic decision to partner with Cogiscan and use the TTC middleware as their connectivity solution. This allowed them to redeploy a significant amount of software development resources to their core product.[mk_blockquote style=”quote-style” font_family=”none” text_size=”12″ align=”left”]
The MES industry is very fragmented, there are several vendors offering a wide range of solutions ranging from highly specialized off the shelf systems to very generic but highly customizable platforms.[/mk_blockquote]
The enterprise software vendor perspective
Although the IoM impacts all levels of IT systems, the real-time data collec
tion and machine connectivity functions typically fall under the scope of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). Other systems that can also benefit from access to this data, include ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), MRP (Material Resource Planning), PLM (Product Lifecycle Management), NPI (New Product Introduction) and APS (Advanced Planning & Scheduling) to name a few.
The MES industry is very fragmented, there are several vendors offering a wide range of solutions ranging from highly specialized off the shelf systems to very generic but highly customizable platforms.
Several MES vendors provide a standard API and they expect their customer or equipment vendors to develop the connection between the machine software and the MES using their proprietary API. This forces equipment vendors to develop and maintain several interfaces which is very costly and time-consuming as discussed in the previous section.
Some MES vendors assign up to 25% of their development resources to develop and maintain interfaces and integration projects. While doing so each MES vendor is basically reinventing the wheel to recreate all the necessary plumbing for data collection that in itself creates no added-value.
Some of the more strategic MES vendors have already realized that partnering with Cogiscan as their data collection and connectivity partner allows them to offer a better and cheaper solution overall. This partnership also allows them to redeploy development resources towards higher-value added application modules, thereby further increasing their competitive edge.
The manufacturers’ perspective
In practice the majority of manufacturers still operate without a single integrated MES. In most cases they use several manufacturing applications, including machine vendor software, that cover specific MES functions. Some of the largest companies use an internally developed solution. Once again the main challenge of internally-developed solutions is the same as third-party MES vendors, how do you connect and collect data from all the different platforms. As a result, many internal systems do not rely on real-time data and thus cannot achieve the expected benefits.
Many leading manufacturers have decided to partner with Cogiscan to enable the connected factory. The main benefit of this approach is to maximize the value of past investments while minimizing any risk of disruption to operations. By integrating with existing machines and systems while filling functionality gaps the Cogiscan platform provides a solid foundation to achieve the benefits of IoM, with minimal costs and delays.
TTC : The enabling technology
Cogiscan is uniquely positioned to offer this universal connectivity middleware in the electronics industry. The company is the clear leader in TTC technology and it has a neutral position which allows open collaboration with all equipment and software vendors.
Since 1999 Cogiscan established very strong partnerships with leading equipment vendors. In many cases this collaboration is primarily focused around the development and support of a series of interfaces with the various machines and software modules provided by the equipment vendor. Many of these vendors also integrate and resell the Cogiscan TTC technology as part of their global offering.
Since Cogiscan does not offer a large integrated MES system it is also able to work with leading MES vendors in the industry. Instead of reinventing the wheel by developing their own set of TTC applications and machine connections these companies can gain a competitive edge by partnering with Cogiscan and focusing their internal development resources on higher level MES functions.
The TTC platform is proven, mature, complete and highly configurable. It has been around over 15 years, it has been implemented in hundreds of customer sites around the world, including very large installations with hundreds of machines. Cogiscan already offers the largest library of machine and software interfaces in the industry and it is committed to maintain and expand its TTC middleware as the de-facto industry standard for connectivity.
The Cogiscan TTC middleware offers a pragmatic approach for manufacturers by seamlessly integrating existing systems from several vendors and internal development. Manufacturers benefit from an open system architecture that will allow them the flexibility to implement any solution at the appropriate time with minimal effort. It is the foundation for the factory of the future, the enabling technology for IoM and Industry 4.0.
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