Connectivity the key to plant management

Manufacturers’ Monthly speaks to John Thomson, managing director, Global Automation, to get his thoughts on data management on the factory floor.

In manufacturing, sometimes the people on the shop floor can hold vital information that can be difficult to capture. With the advent of IIoT ready technologies, companies are increasingly reaching the stage where they have installed a wide variety of sensors and are sorting through the best ways to capture this data. Unfortunately, the majority of these companies are still unsure of what they will ultimately do with their data and how they will realise any value from it.

Global Automation specialises in simplifying complex industrial processes through automation and communication technologies.

“At the moment the focus for my company over the next five years is for further growth, more people, innovative products and new technologies. It’s a very exciting time because I see good potential for the markets that we serve,” said John Thomson, managing director of Global Automation.

Thomson said that it’s okay to put all this technology into the factory floor for example with Human Machine Interfaces (HMI). “But unless you want to invest lots of money on significant management software’s for example like a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) system or SCADA software, to get the data back and actually get something meaningful from it, it’s a significant investment because the data needs to be formatted, interpreted and then presented.”

A Swedish company that Global Automation represents in Australia, Beijer Electronics, is promoting its new philosophy of control, connect and then present through their new IIoT enabled product range.

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“Beijer Electronics is a leading innovator in the HMI market and they have manufactured HMI products for big companies like Mitsubishi Electric.  With its new range of HMI panel’s the data at the machine/plant floor can be stored in its internal SQL database for data logged process data, recipes, audit trails and alarming. With its advanced reporting functionality Excel templates with embedded SQL queries can be easily downloaded as part of the HMI application.

This translates to complete finished reports at the factory floor which are easily accessible via USB stick, CF memory card, email and FTP to production management teams. Nobody has to do any more work to them,” he said. “Using the old way of getting raw data into your spreadsheet, somebody has to go in, interpret the data and create a report themselves.”

What’s next for Beijer, getting all this data to the cloud and then present. Present via dashboards and then presented on your own device (BYOD) such as smart phones, tablets and PC’s with HTML5 web-based applications. This the Beijer IIoT suite.

“The IIoT connectivity for the Beijer product will be engineered through a rapid engineering tool called WARP Engineering Studio, its where it all comes together in an intuitive graphical presentation and configuration tool which is simple and quick to use,” said Thomson.

“We think this is not just a revolution but also an evolution. Our marketing pitch in 2018 for the WARP software is the “Automation (R)evolution”.

The road to service offering

Global Automation is a product supplier, but Thomson says they will also be providing services to get to the cloud.

“What I’d like to do as a company is to sort through all the jargon like ‘cloud’ and ‘IIoT’ and give people real solutions and provide tangible solutions to it.”

Education through technology

Thomson thinks that the first step for manufacturers to save money and improve productivity is to understand and be educated on areas where they are not efficient and look for the right solutions in the right places.

“It is not the large manufacturers but small to medium companies that can have got all these inefficiencies on their floor and can’t identify them. Hence, the first step is to identify what they need, educate them about what is out there and understand the best technology that suits their business. Only then can they see value in it and then they’ll go looking for the solution,” said Thomson.