The New Year is a time for change. Yet as we move from 2015 to 2016, one sentiment will remain constant: efficiency drives the manufacturing line. Over the course of 2015, we witnessed wireless and space-saving technologies take big strides to strengthen production on the factory floor. Three trends in particular — cloud-based operations, wireless switches and sensors and space-saving panels — increased industrial efficiency by monitoring output, conserving valuable time and energy, heightening protection and, as a result, positively impacting the bottom line. Looking ahead to 2016, the benefits and advantages of these three technologies will only become more relevant. Consider the points below for maximizing productivity and profitability in the next 365 days and beyond:
Remote operations via the cloud
Regardless of industry or application, cloud-connected machinery equips facilities and personnel with the accuracy modern-day engineering demands. By managing the production line with real-time, Internet-connected controllers, engineers and managers are able to better regulate equipment, make necessary changes and access data almost instantly whether they are inches or miles away from the factory floor.
Cloud manufacturing increases the efficiency, flexibility, safety and practicality of operations in any industry, be it reconfiguring steps along an assembly line, controlling liquid levels, adjusting physical parts or allowing workers to maintain safe distances, all from a remote tablet or PC. Moreover, the cloud empowers engineers to do their jobs better. It provides them with the system updates they need to make immediate adjustments and properly manage floor operations.
Additionally, cloud connectivity can offer workers increased flexibility and help them take the necessary safety precautions. Plant managers overseeing several production lines can intuitively switch between them, change output levels and reprogram schedules via the cloud without having to make physical adjustments out on the line. Furthermore, cloud manufacturing enables managers to virtually diagnose and correct issues remotely. This betters a company’s ability to regulate their resources, instead of dispatching engineers into potentially unwarranted or dangerous environments.
Wireless switches and sensors
While still a developing industrial application, wireless technologies and innovations became more widely adopted in 2015. By tapping into the IoT wireless devices are automating the production line, minimizing the margin for error, boosting long term productivity and cutting costs. In particular, proximity sensors, push button switches and limit switches have emerged as critical components for today’s wireless manufacturing space.
For example, push button sensors can control multiple lines and fine-tune specific segments on the go without needing to be plugged in. Working hand-in-hand, limit switches and proximity sensors keep operations running as they should. Proximity sensors along the conveyor belt prevent materials from moving off of their intended path and can even redirect them if necessary. Limit switches take that concept a step further by shutting down the entire machine even if one piece of product is moved out of place. These devices isolate system operations into parts so plant managers have greater insight into each segment of production to more precisely control processes.
Concerns about cost continue to deter wireless from reaching its full potential in industrial maintenance and plant operations. Though facilities with a dated or custom factory floor setup may face higher initial costs when switching to wireless, the transition will help companies reduce maintenance costs in the long run. For example, pushbutton and limit switch hardwired to equipment depreciate and break over time and can be costly to replace. An independent switch is much less costly to maintain. Wireless compatibility not only alleviates some of the financial burden but also prepares facilities to incorporate new wireless and IoT-enabled technologies as they become available.
Space-saving practices for control panels
Space is hard to come by on the manufacturing floor, especially when it comes to control panels. Poor space-saving practices often accumulate to produce a domino effect of problems. For example, facility managers are often forced to overcrowd one specific area with as much machinery as possible. This, in turn, tasks equipment designers with the difficult challenge of shrinking the physical size of each apparatus, which causes controls engineers to construct smaller panels or fit more equipment into an already full space. Since smaller control panels present challenges like adequate thermal management and cable separation, reconsidering the design of a panel is a critical next step in improving functionality and boosting efficiency.
By taking advantage of empty space, evenly distributing energy and thoroughly planning factory floor designs, MRO and industrial engineers can achieve greater operational flexibility while still meeting regulations.
Remote cloud manufacturing, wireless devices and space-conscious panels are increasingly gaining momentum. They had a great impact on industrial operations in 2015, and their benefits will continue to be felt in the New Year and beyond. Especially when integrated together, these three advancements can carry manufacturing into the modern age.
Danny Weiss is Senior Product Manager at Newark element14.