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Building an Ecosystem for Digital Transformation
While manufacturers can see the promise and potential of smarter, more productive factories where information from machines guides real-time human decision-making, advancing to that future state will take the coordinated efforts of thousands of industry suppliers and their customers.
Since no single vendor can supply all of the solutions needed to transform manufacturing, it is essential that suppliers be able to contribute the widest possible range of technologies and products to the effort. This collaboration also assures continuous innovation as suppliers compete to provide new solutions.
Initiatives like Mitsubishi Electric's e-F@ctory Alliance, which was launched in 2003 and now has more than 7,700 systems installed worldwide, serve as a model for how companies can work together to turn the possibilities of smart factories into reality. Designed to create an ecosystem to enable the digital transformation of manufacturing, the Alliance now has more than 450 member companies globally, working in concert to develop the technologies and support services needed to accomplish that goal.
In this and future e-F@ctory articles, Mitsubishi Electric and its partners in the Alliance will share news on how companies are responding to the challenge of digital transformation, from technological advances to real-world user success stories. You'll also be introduced to the ever-growing number of Alliance partners contributing their expertise and solutions to this challenge. They provide a knowledgeable resource to help more manufacturers begin their own journey to a more productive and profitable future.
The Path Forward
The first step in this journey to smarter manufacturing is the integration of operational and information technologies, which until recently have operated in two different worlds. The goal is to collect, organize and then analyze the raw data from the factory so that it can be turned into information that IT systems can understand. Without proper metadata and time stamps, for example, computers would struggle to find solutions and patterns hidden in raw data.
Harnessing this data is also necessary in order to use new technologies like artificial intelligence, Big Data analytics, the cloud, edge computing, virtual and augmented reality that are powerful enough to make smart manufacturing possible for manufacturers of all sizes.
Typically, the world of IT operates in minutes, days and weeks, while manufacturing processes work in milliseconds and nanoseconds. This means you need to acquire data at totally different rates than most IT systems are used to. With so much data being collected, the network infrastructure is often overloaded. Without sufficient bandwidth, time-crucial data can frequently be lost. Missing key events and data can easily lead to false conclusions and incorrect decision-making.
CC-Link IE TSN is the first open, deterministic industrial Ethernet to combine gigabit bandwidth with time-sensitive networking. It's a major step forward in building a bridge between operational and informational technologies because it can handle all the traffic scheduling challenges of smart factories by leveraging the new IEEE 802.1Q standard for Ethernet TSN enhancements.
Developed by the CC-Link Partners Association (CLPA), CC-Link IE TSN improves visibility into manufacturing operations with real-time data that can be aggregated and analyzed. It also reduces development and support costs because business processes, insights and controls are merged into a single environment.
Cloud and edge computing have a critical role to play in smart factories. The e-F@ctory structure uses edge computing as a layer between the factory floor and IT systems, ensuring operational security. Edge computing enables filtering, timely reaction and system resiliency. While cloud environments are more suitable for analyzing big data and finding patterns, edge devices ensure rapid, real-time response.
Also contributing to the ability to create smarter factories are open software platforms like ICONICS IoTWorX, which makes it possible to unify, analyze and mobilize data in real time across disparate devices. This cutting-edge software delivers a contextualized view of enterprise operations, enabling machine operators and factory managers to quickly identify the root causes of process problems.
Always on Intelligence
Smart manufacturing – the collection, visualization and analysis of data for the optimization of manufacturing operations – requires shifting to a more fully-connected factory made up of an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the devices and systems that can constantly convey machine and process data for real-time decision-making and response. This pervasive, always-on connectivity makes it possible to pull data from across an entire operation and use it to continually improve productivity and profitability.
"2022 will be an inflection point for American manufacturing because the decades-long vision of smart manufacturing is now attainable," says Scott Summerville, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Electric Automation.
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