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As the digitalisation process increasingly gains ground in plastic processing, a key issue for processors everywhere is what to do about older machinery that functions perfectly well but lacks the digital power required today.
An important element of Industry 4.0 is the ability to apply digitalisation to the production environment by adding more intelligence into the existing process. While converters often assume that effective implementation can only be achieved with expensive upgrades of existing production lines, this is not necessarily the case, said Howard Forryan, Product Market Specialist at Harting UK, speaking to Plastics News Europe at the recent PDM event in Telford, UK.
Harting, a Germany-based family-owned connectivity & networks solutions company with offices and production plants around the world, has come up with a digital retrofit approach that makes it possible to “smarten” up existing processes for minimal cost over a short period of time, resulting in a fast return on investment and immediate productivity gains.
According to Forryan, digital retrofit provides four different ways to improve production processes, increase cost savings and extend the lifetime of different types of machinery: legacy machine protocol conversion; condition monitoring / energy measurement; asset management; and predictive maintenance.
“Central machine monitoring and process optimisation offer the best way to ensure that production lines and their various parts operate more effectively and economically. Many machines in well-established production lines, which may be between 15 and 30 years old, can still perform their main functional tasks successfully,” he said.
“But they are much less efficient than newer machine, as they lack the computing power, memory capacity, and the ability to communicate with their modern equivalents that are all required today.”
Injection moulding machines with the Euromap 15 protocol, for example, cannot be directly connected to a Manufacturing Execution System without expensive annual custom software licensing charges, and in many cases still require time-consuming individual programming by an operator.
“MICA Euromap 15” variant converts the legacy Euromap 15 TCP/IP machine operating communications protocol into OPC UA.
Harting has developed an edge computing device in the form of a digitally retrofittable IP67 package with Linux-based open-source software, called MICA (Modular Industrial Computing Architecture).
Specifically for injection moulding machines, the company has developed the “MICA Euromap 15” variant, which converts the legacy Euromap 15 TCP/IP machine operating communications protocol into OPC UA. In addition, it offers the potential to provide IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) web enablement and access to “Cloud” services for Big Data analysis or virtualisation, via an optional downloadable MQTT container.
As a result, the “MICA Euromap 15” provides a customisable interface to the plant MES/ERP, configurable with any specific operational software.
Forryan said that Harting UK first implemented the devices across its own in-house production injection moulding lines. Integrating IIoT/MES accessing edge computing devices directly with legacy machine allowed machine process parameters to be remotely monitored and modified more quickly via centralised factory control stations, reducing downtime and enabling manpower to be much more effectively employed. Machine operators could even monitor and affect the process of the production line from off-site, via a smartphone or suitable tablet device. “The return-on-investment payback period was 6-12 months,” he asserted.