- By John DeTellem
- April 27, 2021
Modern integrated automation suites provide manufacturers with the means to standardize operations, simplifying production and reducing downtime.
The surge of Industry 4.0 and connected devices is upon the manufacturing sector, creating an abundance of data and opportunities for operational enhancements. Simultaneously, modern machines are enabling high throughput and increasingly efficient production, but keeping up with the pace of progress is a challenge for many manufacturers.
Further complicating matters, various original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) create machines to perform similar tasks, but the procedures for operating these different machines can vary significantly, even on a single plant floor. This creates an excessive need for operator training, and worse, it can cause unplanned downtime due to unexpected or unknown machine behavior.
To address these and other issues, machine builders and manufacturers are leaning progressively more on standardization from engineering to deployment, and on the integrated automation suites that help create consistent machine operational procedures factory-wide. Standardization simplifies business and technical process management, and it empowers operators to meet production goals.
End users demand standardization
Standardization is not a new concept, but there is a reason the topic is gaining traction in recent years. To some degree, all developers use standards when they create automated solutions. However, the level of usefulness to end users varies. Today’s challenge is evolving existing standards to meet complex connected-plant needs.
In times past, a machine builder and automation programmer existed in a bubble where they developed a working standard over time on their own, without collaboration from their end user customer. This created a hodgepodge of machine software, both for real-time control and operator interface.
As the machine builder implemented more systems, the standards matured to some extent, building on methods that worked best. Rarely were end users’ needs the focal point, the focus was instead speeding development and simplifying customization for the machine builder.
This paradigm is changing, however, as end user manufacturers are now aware of the benefits of standardization on their terms, and are requiring machine builders to adjust.
These manufacturers are realizing software programming and other standards help maintain consistency in the operating experience across their enterprises, saving personnel time troubleshooting complicated issues, and leading to higher-quality production.
With the addition of an integrated automation suite, standardization enables parallelization of work steps, reducing total development and commissioning time (Figure 1). An integrated automation suite with modern software tools also increases the quality of the end product by deploying cross-disciplinary quality checks and digital simulations, such as virtual commissioning.
Standardization covers a variety of areas, including:
Data structures and contents.
Operator interface and messages.
In manufacturing, the focus of this article, standardization refers to the adherence to binding rules, intended to improve production efficiency.
In today’s push for digitization in industrial environments, end users are busy retrofitting and updating machines in their factories. This often includes the costly and time-consuming process of manually adapting old PLC and HMI program code for new machines.
Standardization of PLC blocks and HMI graphics in an integrated automation suite can greatly reduce the cost and effort required to migrate to new applications. This type of software stores a library of automation programming objects for reuse throughout an enterprise, conducts automated program tests using simulation, and automatically generates PLC program code and HMI graphics (Figure 2).
Automatic code and graphics generation based on the developer-specified hardware configuration ensures consistency, speeds commissioning, and reduces program errors.
Implementing programming standards
Creating standards for an organization is a large undertaking, and developers must consider several items prior to implementation (Figure 3).
The first major topic is readability. Developers must define a scheme for tag identifiers and enterprise-wide asset identification nomenclature to keep equipment and devices organized.
Next, developers must consider programming and equipment maintenance requirements, and then create libraries capable of versioning in a friendly manner, with equipment templates to aid operations and maintenance personnel in troubleshooting field problems. The programming language should also be determined at this stage. Ladder logic, function block, structured text, and sequential function chart each have advantages and disadvantages for code creation, expansion, and troubleshooting—and one or more of these languages can be used.
Once the programming base is determined, developers must next define interfaces for human interaction with machines, including HMI graphics, alarming and alerting, and historical data visualization and analysis. This is also the point in time where inter-device communication schemes are defined for transferring data around the plant floor efficiently.
Finally, developers must make a plan for automation object reuse, ensuring objects are modular and can be implemented in multiple programs seamlessly. Good standardization practice also requires thorough documentation at this stage so the standards library delivers maximum value for the sponsor.
Standardization of machinery in production lines
In a typical plant environment, a machine interface from one OEM looks different than that from another. Even when two dissimilar machines are integrated and synchronized at an automation level, human visual confusion and incongruent operation between the two can remain. Moreover, differing machines often complicate data exchange routines by requiring unit conversions and other data manipulations when transferring information back and forth.
In a standardized environment where equipment must adhere to an end user’s established requirements, machines from different OEMs communicate more easily because each was built based on plant-wide principals. Additionally, graphical interfaces carry a similar look and feel across the production line, enhancing the operator experience and reducing confusion-induced errors.
Although manufacturing supervisors are interested to some degree with operating procedures in a factory, their primary concerns are total production and costs. Operators, on the other hand, are more likely to take interest in the interfaces and flow of machines, and delve headfirst into sleek tools like data analytics.
The key to enhancing everyone’s experience is giving data to operations staff—once operators buy in to new technologies, human productivity and motivation increases, directly impacting total production to meet the numbers supervisors want to see. Standardization can help immensely in delivering this enhanced user experience because it simplifies operation and reduces stress and proclivity to errors.
A maker of prefab pharmaceutical clean rooms—plagued by outdated controls and automation components, plus time-consuming fabrication cycles—enhanced operational productivity by updating its automation hardware and standardizing on Siemens TIA portfolio of highly integrated components.
Using S7-1500 and ET200SP PLCs, SIMATIC HMI Comfort Panels, SIMATIC WinCC SCADA, and TIA Portal integrated automation development software, the manufacturer’s engineering manager estimated hardware cost savings and programming time reduction of over 50 percent.
The TIA Portal’s graphical interface makes it easy for newly minted developers to assemble projects, and the automation object library facilitates pre-verified code reuse on multiple projects, with minimal testing required. This ensures consistency in operational procedures and graphical interfaces for its end user customers.
Recap of standardization advantages
The advantages of standardization with an integrated automation suite for manufacturers include:
Software becomes more transparent for the users, easing development efforts.
Quality of the software is increased, improving reliability and maintainability.
Errors are significantly reduced because automation programs use enterprise-wide program components proven prior to commissioning.
Expenditures for service and maintenance are reduced.
Diagnostics and troubleshooting are simplified.
Training requirements are minimized.
Data exchange among machines is simple and well-defined.
Documentation is manageable and clearly defines automation component behavior.
Machine HMIs across a plant use consistent graphics, symbols, and terminology to improve the operator experience.
Inclusive standardization processes encourage collaboration and input from all stakeholders to ensure systems work better for everyone. And with all staff members on board for the journey, operational efficiency and profitability increases are bound to follow.
All figures courtesy of Siemens
Did you enjoy this great article?
Check out our free e-newsletters to read more great articles..Subscribe