How to forge a Real-Time Link Between Manufacturing and Actionable Data


Using the technology powering the Industrial Internet of Things, this manufacturing consulting group has begun closely aligning IT and operational technology resources.

Name of Organization: The Aquila Group

Industry: Manufacturing

Location: Sun Prairie, Wisconsin

Opportunity or Challenge Encountered

Manufacturing has been moving headlong into the digital revolution, with numerous industrial-strength systems that help oversee everything from production and the financial underpinnings of the business. These include manufacturing execution systems (MES) and ERP systems that integrate overall equipment effectiveness monitoring.

However, monitoring and analyzing the data points that arise from these environments — uptime, machine utilization, material utilization, and downtime – are still mired in manual processes. To keep tabs on all the data being generated often requires manual data collection and entry on paper forms. This, in turn, is slowing manufacturers’ abilities to embrace digital production, which is essential to competing in today’s global economy.

Such was the opportunity facing The Aquila Group, a consulting group with a range of customers, from smaller manufacturers to large ones such as Eaton Electrical, Kohler, Fiat, Cutler Hammer, Siemens, and Kohler. The company sought ways to link IT capabilities, in real-time, with the operational technology employed by its customers.

How This Opportunity or Challenge was Met

Using the technology powering the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Aquila has begun closely aligning IT and operational technology resources. Employing solutions from Opto 22, Aquila Group developed a software solution that automatically collects machine-level data points for real-time overall equipment effectiveness calculations and then integrates that data directly with demand-pull based MES/ERP software.

[ Related: Custom Manufacturing With IoT Gateways ]

The Aquila Group’s Green Light Monitoring System software interfaces directly with Opto 22 SNAP PAC controllers and I/O to passively monitor electrical points on a machine, the case study relates. A single controller can monitor 25 to 30 different machines. The monitoring system polls the controllers for electrical signal values (analog or digital) and control system variables. It then translates these values into actionable information it records about the machine – such as whether or not the machine is running, how fast it is running, its current uptime and downtime, and other data for real-time overall equipment effectiveness calculations

Overall equipment effectiveness data is integrated into The Aquila Group’s MES/ERP software, Dynamic Machine Management. The system also collects signals and alarms for automatically and manually reporting downtime events, the case study adds. “The log feature can collect downtime reason codes at the work center over a defined time frame, for example five minutes. The operator picks from a company-defined list of codes to indicate the root cause of this non-production event.”

The solution interfaces to most ERP/MRP systems through APIs that enable the software to digitally read in production orders and then electronically distribute work orders directly to shop-floor work centers. “The result is paperless production and work orders, while creating a complete order tracking system. Manufacturers have total visibility and real-time production information over their entire operation, eliminating hours of nonproductive time searching for parts and available shop resources,” the case study adds.

The system also allocates resources in real time. If excess capacity is available at a particular location, other metrics like freight costs are automatically analyzed to figure out where to push the demand. “For example, if a manufacturing line goes down and it’s only a two-hour truck ride to move parts and demand to another facility, it’s a clear choice for production schedulers.”

Benefits from This Initiative

As a result of the implementation, Aquila Group is able to deliver real-time information from shop floor to C-suite, enabling customers to see and control the entire order-to-shipment process and feed this expert-level information back to the main corporate systems, such as SAP.

[ Related: Optimizing Production With RFID ]

In addition, manufacturing operators can monitor any of the control system tags from their smartphones or tablets. They can check real-time production information, see key performance indicators, and view machine-level data on anything from a smartphone to a PC to a smart TV.

For the near future, Aquila Group plans to transition its software systems to expand use of an API included in Opto 22’s SNAP PAC controllers, which will enable its software to communicate directly from the system to a SNAP PAC controller, reading I/O and control variables through a standardized, lightweight interface. The company has also begun to use the Node-RED development environment on the groov Box appliance, with the goal of enabling edge computing and predictive analytics of machine failure, before a production line goes down.

(Source: Opto 22)


About Joe McKendrick

Joe McKendrick is RTInsights Industry Editor and industry analyst focusing on artificial intelligence, digital, cloud and Big Data topics. His work also appears in Forbes an Harvard Business Review. Over the last three years, he served as co-chair for the AI Summit in New York, as well as on the organizing committee for IEEE's International Conferences on Edge Computing. (full bio). Follow him on Twitter @joemckendrick.

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