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The Dr. Dolittle of machines

Sept. 25, 2017

Listen to your machines like you communicate with your dog. 

Let’s say you’ve had your dog, Woofgang, for quite a while. You probably know how to

Marc Charest

interpret what Woofy is saying. His behavior tells you if his water bowl is empty, it’s time to go outside, or it’s been too long since the last run.

But sometimes you fail in your interpretation, there’s a communication breakdown, and you come upon the unhappy result on your new Persian carpet. Uh oh!

This is when you wish you were Dr. Dolittle. “Master! I want to go out right now!” would be the message your ears would pick up, giving you the information you need, with enough time to take decisive action.

Dr. Dolittle of machinery

As a manufacturer, imagine if your production equipment could talk, and you could understand what it was saying.

You might hear things like; “Man, I’m doing great!” or “Today I’m not feeling so good. I think I’m about to break down!” or “This is a breeze, I can do more!”

This situation perfectly illustrates the concept and goal of smart manufacturing. And this is the way to enter into the MES world–to make it so that you and your production unit communicate easily.

Of course, it takes a lot of effort to go there. To interconnect with your machinery, you need many tools. But we’re there now. Today we can finally build a language translator that goes on top of a production unit, courtesy of cheap connectors, wireless gears, cloud technology, advanced manufacturing software, smart robots, and so on.

Dr. Dolittle was pure fantasy, but smart manufacturing is not. Once you accept that analogy between Dr. Dolittle and Smart Manufacturing, you can raise your objectives. You can see yourself as working with a production machine that becomes a living creature. The machine and you enter into communication mode. You acquire all the leverage you need to increase productivity and profitability.

How to move to smart manufacturing

You’ll need to identify critical baseline information before you begin your move to smart manufacturing. A good starting point is thinking about OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness) measures. Before you do anything, quantify your plant’s production quality, speed of production and downtime.

Now, begin:

1.  Build a neuronal system

In other words...interconnect everything! This allows your machinery to transmit information through electrical signals; it’s where PLCs, industrial connectors and the IoT come into play.

Today there’s a tremendous range of equipment that connects to an even wider range of electrical devices, often in complex ways. The good news is that industrial connectors are now cheaper than ever, and the IIoT is powering up this possibility daily. No matter how complex a machine or piece of equipment, today’s cost of interconnecting tends to be low.

2.  Build machine memory

As machine information starts to flow in the neuronal system, you want to build machine memory so you can track and save it. This is your OPC and historian layer; these tools will capture and save all information.

3.  Make machine information human-understandable

This is the MES component. It’s as much art as science and could be the basis for a whole series of articles.

4.  Ensure speediness

You’re planning on live communication with the machine. Time is definitely money here; you don’t want your operators to be reacting when it’s too late.

5.  Give your machinery voice and expression

Build your live interface. Remember, the interface’s role is to help your operators make the right action at the right moment. Build user-centric dashboards and reports.

Smart manufacturing is a mindset

Smart manufacturing really is a mindset, one where you promote all actions that can make intelligence emerge from your production equipment. It’s not just about controlling what you’re doing. It’s also about understanding the process and having a never-ending dialogue with it.

And this is where you become Dr. Dolittle.

Marc Charest is an MES consultatnt with Factora