Mining Manufacturing Data - Leveraging Trapped Data for Results

  • August 31, 2015
  • Real Time Automation, Inc.
  • Real Time Automation, Inc.
  • Feature

By John Rinaldi

Manufacturing data has always been valuable. There just hasn’t been very much of it, and what there was, was like trying to pry the cell phone out of the hands of a teenage girl.

Many moons ago, when I still had a weekly barber visit to attend to, I worked for Kimberly-Clark in Neenah, Wisconsin. One time I set up one of those old “luggable” computers on the factory floor and serially collected registration data for twenty-four hours. I can laugh now at things such as manual intervention every two hours, no timestamps, missing data points, ASCII data that had to be converted. If you were around in 1985, that’s what it was like. Very crude and very painful.

We knew then as we know now that there is a great deal of valuable data from sensors in control and automation systems that can be used to improve operations, lower downtime, and increase equipment life. Back then, we couldn’t get at it. Now we have the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud computing, and big data as tools to improve operations and make better decisions.

As with most emerging technology, vendors are trying to create urgency, telling users they must invest in new technologies now. This is a common phenomenon with new technology and many early adopters get burned buying brand new technology-based solutions that are bleeding edge. Many automation system suppliers are getting on the band wagon, recommending to the management of manufacturing and process plants they need to invest in new automation and controls systems to leverage data. Investing in new control and automation systems is an expensive and disruptive activity, particularly when the majority of the data is already instrumented and sitting in controllers, drives, sensors and other devices in the plant.

There is a far more cost effective and non-disruptive way to acquire and use the data trapped on the plant floor with intelligent gateways that bridge these devices to computing systems using IP and IoT technology.

Intelligent Gateways - High Return On Investment (ROI)

Intelligent gateways are easily deployed to acquire and utilize data from the wide range of control and automation devices with many communications protocols found in a typical plant. This valuable data can be used in a number of productive ways without large disruptive investments. Using intelligent gateways to bridge devices between protocols and media is a more practical, lower cost, and higher ROI strategy than investing in new control and automation systems. Intelligent gateways capture data from all types of devices by interfacing the large number of industry protocols – at last count over fifty – to meet the needs of a wide range of applications, including building automation, industrial, process control, motor drives, power, metering, and sub-metering.

Intelligent industrial gateways are compact, smart, embedded computing devices to bridge protocols that interface sensors, controls, automation, internet, and enterprise computing to reveal data trapped in control and automation systems. These compact self-contained devices serve up web pages for application configuration, including multiuser password security. Intelligent industrial gateways have data refinement functions, including change of state rules, data translation, value scaling, and data format translations to preprocess data for upstream systems. Many intelligent gateways include management-by-exception features based on user configured alarm rules to send email notifications of advisories, alerts, and abnormal situations.


Cell Phone

Intelligent industrial gateways are small, smart, embedded computing devices with about the footprint of a smartphone. Many have a DIN rail mounting option to fit conveniently in industrial, utility, and building automation cabinets.


Intelligent gateways are typically set up using external software, obscure scripting languages or web pages served up by the devices. Having a self-contained gateway that serves up web pages to any browser is the preferred approach. Requiring no external software for configuration, commissioning, and maintenance, they are simple to use, saving time and money. Gateways requiring external software that needs to be loaded in a PC and kept up to date can be cumbersome at best.

Data Refinement & Communications

Intelligent gateways, in addition to bridging information between networks, have data refinement and communications functions, including the ability to perform math functions on data, and email alarms on data change of states. Transporting information from an intelligent gateway to systems that can put it to use can be accomplished in a number of ways, including sending FTP files, serving up XML, pushing data to spreadsheets, and SQL databases.


Intelligent gateways are non-invasive, as opposed to modifying existing programs in industrial and process controllers to extract data and communicate with other systems. In many cases, older controllers do not have the software and hardware to communicate data to asset management and information systems using current computing methods. Changing programs in existing industrial and process controllers to extract data requires adding program code that can disrupt fine-tuned programs developed over time to run production processes and automation.

For example, an intelligent gateway can non-invasively extract information residing in a PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) and communicate with a maintenance management or asset management system.  These gateways can report machine cycles, runtime and other data to preform predictive maintenance without disrupting existing automation and control programs in the controllers and related software. This may be accomplished without stopping production.

Another example is sub-metering energy of machines and processes for accounting to perform sub-billing to departments. Energy traditionally has been considered an overhead cost, and this has led to energy inefficiencies in manufacturing and processes. Intelligent gateways for power meters can interface this information over existing business Ethernet networks directly to accounting systems.

Achieving Goals

Intelligent gateways are a highly cost effective way to provide people in the organization with information that empowers them to make better operating decisions, prioritize investments, and to improve performance. Getting information to the people that need it most can also be used to lower risks that have negative financial and operational impacts on people, processes and profits.

The goal is to acquire information in the most cost effective way to be proactive rather than reactive to achieve desired business outcomes.

Using real data, not simply gut feel or anecdotal information, to improve operations yields superior results. And it’s a whole lot easier and less painful than it was thirty years ago.


John S. Rinaldi is President of Real Time Automation, which provides industrial networking technology to system integrators, machine builders and product designers in a variety of industries. He is the author of four books, including two technology books: Industrial Ethernet and OPC UA: The Basics: An OPC UA Overview For Those Who May Not Have a Degree in Embedded Programming. There are a limited number of free copies for Readers of this article. To request a free copy, visit the “Contact Us” link at

Did you enjoy this great article?

Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..