machine monitoring for manufacturersMachining Monitoring - The IIoT Starting Line for Manufacturers

Advanced manufacturing technology often starts with machine monitoring. Learn about MTConnect and IoT system providers who have solutions for the new and legacy equipment in your shop.

For manufacturers producing parts and assemblies, machine monitoring a great place to start of your IIoT journey towards becoming a smart factory. As an operations manager or president of a company with CNC’s you have likely been adding equipment over the years and find your shop with a range of types of equipment with variable connectivity possibilities.

It’s not economically feasible for most small manufacturers to replace old equipment very often, so how can a company begin to connect and collect data? You may feel like you’ve got a pretty good handle on spindle utilization for your CNC’s, but how can you be sure? Is there really a good business case for collecting more data? Is it possible to collect and use data from older equipment? How much profit is being left on the table by not performing at company-best levels for a specific part?

These are the kinds of questions shops across the country are facing in light of new IoT technology standardization and increasing pressure to be more productive than ever before. Advanced manufacturing technology companies are rising up to meet the increasing demand for easier, better data collection and connectivity because the business case for data is growing as fast as the data grows. This article addresses the need and some options for manufacturers on that journey, as well an offer for IIoT Automating Solutions to help companies in the Chicago region take that journey.

Big Data for the Business Case or A Business Case for Big Data?

There are two philosophies of the best use of “big data” for advanced manufacturing technology within manufacturing companies. In one, you start with the desired outcome and then build the platform to collect the right data and output it in a way that best supports ROL. The other philosophy to collect the data and develop the business case for its use. In reality, a mix of both will likely give manufacturing innovators the edge.  Machine monitoring for basic data offers the business case that can get you started, and once you get going, new data may provide new insights with ROI that could not have been imagined before you got started.

Know Your Machine Utilization

The business case for knowing uptime is already well-documented. The most basic data that any manufacturer should be collecting from key equipment is how much that equipment is running. For CNC machines, this is spindle utilization. Simply put, if a machine isn’t running, it isn’t making money. New sophisticated equipment like 5-axis, Swiss and other CNC turning centers costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, making it imperative that the equipment runs as much as possible to justify the expense. Advanced manufacturing equipment is designed to run and make parts unattended, but unattended equipment can also stop unexpectedly. It’s now possible to remove the human error part of manually recording this information and see problems before a machine stops running so maintenance can be scheduled. The next new CNC you buy will certainly be capable of telling you uptime as well as a lot of other information, but without the context of the rest of your shop, the value is limited.

Options for Tracking Machine Utilization

Fortunately, there are a number of solutions for getting the basic data on if a machine is running or not, not just for the latest and greatest CNC, but for all the equipment on your shop floor. Your options run from creating your own infrastructure for collecting a lot of data to simple monitoring based on electrical consumption. No matter what solution you choose to start building, they all provide ROI by driving efficiency and productivity from the shop floor to CEO’s office.

MTConnect – Build your own ecosystem for advanced manufacturing data collection, monitoring and analysis

This is a standard employed by machine manufacturers and others to structure data so that it can be output for monitoring or for sophisticated analytics. Most new CNC machines either come with an MTConnect agent or can have an MTConnect agent installed. Over 300 data points are currently capable of being connected and any control that is Windows-based can have the MTConnect agent (software) installed. Various software and hardware providers that you may contract with for specific machine monitoring solutions are MTConnect compatible. Some provide ways to retrofit legacy equipment, so you can collect the same data that you can get off a new CNC machine.

If you choose to begin building your shop floor equipment data collection around this advanced technology, you will be able to build a robust system with many possibilities. It will take IT skills, programming and project management resources, and for most manufacturers, a partnership with a systems integrator to build the infrastructure to plan, implement and grow this new ecosystem of data. The good news is that MTConnect has been around for over 10 years and it’s now clearly the front-runner for standards of connecting equipment and systems on diverse platforms. More and more companies will be providing solutions for this standard as time goes on, so it’s a great foundation for a forward-thinking manufacturer.

Specific Machining Monitoring Solutions Compared

All of these solutions are IoT based. They all collect data, send it to the cloud (sometimes after processing on the Edge), and make the data accessible via any internet connected device.

Amper offers a machine monitoring solution that is simple and does not need to integrate with your current IT system. Simply install a sensor at the electric panel, and Amper’s product learns the electrical signatures of equipment setup and runtime and provides the actual data of equipment use in a simple online format. This system is inexpensive and easy to install since no IT is needed and the age and type of machine don’t matter. It can also include screens at each CNC for operators to input reason for downtime and motivate respond to machine-down alerts quickly. Both real-time and historical data is output on a user-friendly, device-agnostic platform. For a shop with a lot of legacy equipment and a limited budget, this is a great entry into basic machine monitoring.

CIMCO MDC-Max (Manufacturing Data Collection) is a system that collects both machine data like cycle start, cycle stop, part complete from CNC machines and operator events like downtime reasons. It can be set up for basic data collection or advanced with information provided by the operator. Data can be reported in event logs by the operator, machine, and job and visualized in dashboards. Once the data is in the IT system it can be pushed to CAD/CAM software and ERP systems with not only spindle utilization, but cycle times and other data. It supports “live screens” for displaying data on large TV screens which has been shown to motivate employees. CIMCO MDC-Max is part of a suite of products designed just for CNC’s and comes with support for controlling tower stack lights, beacons, sound alarms and other signaling units for visual and audible feedback of machine state.

Machine Metrics offers a solution that collects not only status but modes, alarms, overrides, load, speeds, feeds and more. They support connectivity to MTConnect, Fanuc, Haas, OPC-US, Mitsubishi, Citizen and more. Their built-in diagnostics and reporting tools are advanced and data is accessible via open API’s so it can integrate almost anywhere.  In addition, they have rules and workflow capabilities, so automated actions can be generated. For example, a notification could be sent to an individual if a machine is down for more than 10 minutes or a different employee could be notified when a spindle load exceeds a threshold 5 times in the previous 8 hours. They are pioneers in detecting anomalous behavior by machining learning algorithms making it possible to see when a machine needs preventative maintenance before it stops.

Memex offers a software tool-kit as well as sensors for monitoring not only CNC machines but almost any factory process. They support MTConnect, Fanuc, Focas, Fanuc I/O link to MTConnect, OPC and other software protocols. MTConnect is a software-only connection, but Memex offers Merlin hardware adapters for older machines so they can communicate with MTConnect as well. In addition to collecting the same data as Machine Metrics, sensors can gather things like temperature, humidity, noise level, power consumption and much more. They work with mid-size manufacturers to multi-plant multinational giants like Mazak and Ford to provide data an minimize downtime by improving overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

SensrTrx has manufacturing analytics technology that integrates data already being collected from diverse systems as well as from sensors that can be installed on older equipment. They put the data into context with other things going on, calculate manufacturing KPI's and display it in dashboards. They offer Pareto Charts out of the box to help determine the most common causes of downtime such as end-of-shift cleaning, change over, shortstops and more. Their simple interface allows deep diving into events by reason, average duration, and total duration which helps shops increase OEE.

Building your IIoT plan often starts with machine monitoring for spindle utilization, but it never ends. Once you begin to collect data from your equipment and make it easily accessible and actionable, you will begin to see things in your shop that you may have never imagined.

Companies who have implemented greater visibility into their operations with advanced manufacturing technology like machine monitoring report improved employee engagement. Physiologically, modern society is now programmed to respond to on-screen motivators on their phones. Why not use the same motivators at work with machine monitoring and reporting?

IIoT Automating provides technology consulting to help you make the best investment in machine monitoring technology and can help your team develop an IIoT plan to improve overall equipment effectiveness. We provide systems integration services and project management for these projects for manufacturing companies in the Chicago area. Contact us to get started.

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