Listening to the Voice of the Machine

Parker Hannifin serves the food packaging and process machine builders with its integrated process automation solutions. Now, thanks to the IIoT platform called the “Voice of the Machine” motion control technologies become part of a digital ecosystem enabling predictive maintenance capabilities.

by Manuel Finotto

The food and beverage sector has long made use of highly automated machinery with some of the most advanced technology available on the market. However, automated production processes and technologies are currently going through a period of transformation thanks to the availability of new technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing and cyber-physical systems. As a result, the availability of new solutions and Industry 4.0 paradigms are impacting this sector.
Although connected automation and robotics are expected to gain mass adoption in the food and beverage industry in the next few years, many companies are still in the proof-of-concept stage. They are making investments towards digitization because they understand the potential, but demonstrating the value proposition is not always straightforward. The automation industry is also grappling with the implementation of IIoT, and although the end result will profoundly change the industrial landscape, the actual transition process will be incremental and, in some cases, challenging.

Digitalization is among the current trends and challenges
By linking the physical world to a digital counterpart, IIoT has ushered in a new era of efficiency, growth and information, providing companies with a clear vision of critical assets and production processes. What previously required analogue equipment and inefficient procedures can now be achieved with an increasing number of digital and cloud-based solutions. Adding intelligence into these machines offers manufacturers the ability to implement a predictive maintenance strategy, i.e. the ability to anticipate problems and plan ahead rather than react to emergency maintenance needs. Predictive maintenance is widely recognised as the way forward in many areas, and not just in industrial automation. A study conducted by Accenture and GE found that predictive maintenance resulted in a 30 percent reduction in maintenance costs and a cut of up to 70 percent in production line downtime caused by equipment failures. In addition to the IoT and ‘big data’ megatrends and the push towards the so-called fourth “industrial revolution”, there are a number of other trends shaping the future of modern food and beverage manufacturing. Consumer health consciousness first of all. The demand for natural, gluten-free and dairy-free foods is reshaping the industry. Now, more than ever, manufacturers need to increase the flexibility of their production lines to accommodate frequent recipe, packaging and label switches. More stringent food safety regulations are another major issue. Requirements for food hygiene mean that both machine builders and component suppliers must seek out dedicated solutions in order to comply with these regulations. Motion control applications in the food and beverage industry are characterised by high performance requirements. The competitive need to increase the speed of production, now fast approaching the limits of physics, is another demand that machine builders must face. Last but not least cost reduction and efficiency. The need to optimise and simplify machines for greater production efficiency and consequent cost reductions is resulting in manufacturing trends such as compact solutions, decentralised architectures and the use of fieldbus to simplify wiring.
The combination of all these elements poses a major challenge to motion control solutions manufacturers because the focus will increasingly shift from the components to the supplier’s consulting ability to provide solutions ranging from the physical system to the digital sphere to create so-called ‘cyber-physical’ realities.

A digital ecosystem to enhance predictive maintenance capabilities
The term automation can refer to a variety of process technologies; ranging from production line sensors and actuators to robotic pneumatic valve stations capable of delivering micro-accuracy. The most widely used automation technologies in the food and beverage sector are electromechanical and pneumatic technologies.
When it comes to building predictive maintenance capabilities, a significant amount of data needs to be collected from sensors and then processed. In order for a production line to be truly versatile, this decision support data is vital to allow for quick adjustments and line rebalancing.
The challenge usually focuses on production efficiency, rather than pure performance, and fortunately new digital technologies and unprecedented levels of Internet connectivity are providing the tools to make this a reality. A common myth about the implementation of new automation technologies is that the entire production line needs to be replaced, but it is probably much more advisable to deploy the equipment first in one area and then roll it out elsewhere in planned phases. Using this scalable approach will break up the costs as well as help demonstrate the value of the project in the pilot area.

Bridging the skills gap: a critical issue for packaging companies
A shortage of skills is among some of the more critical issues that most concern packaging companies. In this respect, manufacturers of automation systems are a key player; not only in just helping users to build plants, but also to exploit the enabling technologies of the intelligent factory. Automation manufacturers that recognise the importance of developing Industry 4.0 skills will offer structured programmes to support their partners and customers with the evolution of new technologies.
Parker Hannifin, the global leader in motion and control technologies, has been serving
food packaging and process machine builders for many years with motion controllers/PLCs, electric drives and brushless motors, electromechanical actuators, linear motors, pneumatic control technologies and their actuators, offering standard, customised products and complete systems or subsystems.
Thanks to the new IIoT Parker platform called the ‘Voice of the Machine’, all these technologies and products become part of a digital ecosystem. The ecosystem includes support and training for Parker’s global network of more than 13,000 distributors throughout 97 countries. The ‘Voice of the Machine’ represents components and machines digitally using the Discrete IoT/Functional Module concept.
Parker devices are also offered with an I/O-link interface – this is an open, economical and powerful communication protocol allowing simple, scalable point-to-point communications between sensors or actuators and the controller. The main benefits of using I/O-Link are evident during the plant’s normal operating activities. With multiple and easily extensible sensing points, I/O-Link provides accurate data on the machine and then communicates them in real time, allowing processes to be monitored closely.
It is important to bear in mind that the key to the next industrial revolution will lay not just in technologically advanced products, but also in the expertise and skills that must be developed alongside them. By combining decades of experience in industrial automation and new Industry 4.0 technologies, Parker is an example of an organisation able to help customers upgrade their existing machinery in line with IIoT paradigms. This will help pave the way for the paradigms of Industry 4.0 and lay the foundation for a new generation of highly efficient and profitable production processes.