Improving resilience with industrial automation
Maintaining plant productivity without any workers being present to operate the machines is a daunting prospect. But, with the present need for plants to be managed both remotely and seamlessly, this challenge is now very real. Although remote working has never been common practice in manufacturing, digital technologies are helping to ease the transition. Here, Stefan Reuther, our Chief Sales Officer, explains how industrial software can help manufacturers stay resilient during times of crisis.
Right now, companies face the challenge of not being able to send workers into the plant. For the average office worker, simple tools like Wi-Fi equipped laptops or online conferencing make it possible to continue business as usual; but the prospect of remote working is a lot more complex for plant managers and employees.
How can plant and facility managers still access all the data management and control capabilities they need — especially given the vast reams of data, and numerous machines and processes, that go into running the average plant? The answer is that, actually, remote plant operations needn’t be difficult in times of crisis, even if this involves supervising a whole plant.
In short, remotely manage plant processes entails bringing all of the data into one place where, ideally, it can be controlled by one worker rather than by a team. This idea pushes the Industry 4.0 concept into new areas. Specifically, new ways of remote working.
As it is, many plant managers overlook the importance of industrial automation software as a way to realize Industry 4.0 practices. Instead, they tend to focus on the hardware aspects like modular systems. Actually, software has a crucial role in interconnecting data between equipment to overcome issues that typically arise from isolated machinery.
Even in a normal plant operating situation, isolated machinery makes it difficult and expensive to implement the best levels of data management and integrity. A time of crisis will make these challenges even greater — especially if, as is the case right now, the scenario requires unprecedented levels of homeworking. So, what can plant managers do to overcome the challenge?
Fortunately, new information technology and operational technology (IT/OT) convergence systems have opened new possibilities and new levels of security in the direct control and complete monitoring of a plant. They also enable easier analysis and secure sharing of data.
One approach is, rather than deploying an expensive plant-wide manufacturing execution system (MES), to instead build a smart software structure. This structure groups machines into logical units, which makes it is possible to keep the intelligence decentralized — as it already was — while also consolidating the information into a single point of truth. Doing this can increase transparency and improve the manager’s and operator’s “bird’s eye” overview of the system, without needing to adapt the software within the machine.
This has been demonstrated by zenon, a software platform that is designed for use with manufacturing and infrastructure equipment. The automation software, developed by our COPA-DATA team, is designed for security, efficiency and user-friendliness and can be applied to running all operating systems within a plant and its critical infrastructure.
Even if plant managers and workers are based from home, their obligations for effective plant management remain the same. This is where automation software is shown to provide benefits in terms of control, efficiency and compliance. With COPA-DATA’s zenon, it is possible to generate line-based user management, audit trails, data acquisition and reporting — which can all help to ensure that a plant stays productive during times of crisis.
Moreover, by using such software in a line execution system, it is possible to operate a complete manufacturing line from a single point of control. In other words, the line can remain productive even without any workers being present to operate the machines. These are among the advantages of intelligent software platforms that many plant managers overlook.
Machine and production outages have huge consequences — be they financial losses, reduced stakeholder confidence or unhappy customers. Ensuring the smooth running of manufacturing plants is essential, but this is heightened when there are fewer people present on site to fix an error. Durable construction, easy operations and robust software are the basic machinery needs that must be supervised. To this end, applications based on COPA-DATA’s zenon software can help ensure that these requirements run in a stable and secure manner.
Requirements for reliable, secure and error-free systems have always been important, but recent events have shone a bright light on the need for seamless, yet also remote, plant management. For manufacturing plants, automation software experts like us can guide companies in implementing digital technologies, while also increasing the security of their data.
With the right industrial software in place, maintaining plant productivity, with less workers being present to operate the machines, needn’t be such a daunting challenge.
This article was also published by Stefan Reuther on LinkedIn.