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Manufacturing Tech Tools You Need Now

Manufacturing Tech Tools You Need Now

New manufacturing is faster, smarter, easier, and more efficient. Advanced manufacturing -- or manufacturing 4.0 -- or the IIoT -- or Smart Connected Everything -- was on display during Pacific Design & Manufacturing in Anaheim, Calif. last week. Design News took to the show floor and asked manufacturing vendors what their customers are demanding in this new manufacturing world. The answers were clear -- manufacturing has entered a new age that includes widespread connectivity, HMI that is hot with iPad-like functions, and everything smaller, lighter, and less expensive.

Cheaper motion and systems over components

When it comes to motion, downward pressure on price is the leading trend. "We're seeing inexpensive motion. The industry has gotten so good, you can purchase motion solutions for a fraction of what they used to cost," John Artman, VP of sales at Bishop-Wisecarver Group told Design News. "Small companies can automate now. They couldn't five years ago. Controls companies are coming out with cool stuff for small companies. We're seeing small robots from companies like Rethink Robotics and Universal Robots."

In the past, manufacturers often bought equipment piece-by-piece, much to the consternation of vendors who thought in terms of unified systems. Now apparently, the manufacturer gets it. "People are talking systems now, not components. The word is getting out there -- finally -- that the customer needs a whole system with machine-to-machine communication," Robert Trask, senior system architect at Beckhoff told us. "People are looking at PackML for the M2M, the medical guys especially."

Embedded solutions and RFID tracking

Motors now bring their own intelligence, thanks in part to the growing maker movement. "Things are easier to do now. CNC [computer numerical control] apps are inexpensive. We're seeing smart motors with embedded solutions," said Mike Everman, CTO of Bell-Everman. "There is more intelligence for the user. The advances are driven by the maker movement. The programming is being solved by the enthusiasts from the 3D printing world who are using homemade routers."

RFID technology may have spurted during the Wal-Mart mandate, but the smart version of these tags is now helping manufacturers with track and trace. "The RFID product line is growing fast. RFID is being used for industrial apps, parts tracking, tool tracking, and data history," said Don Eichman, product manager in the Network and Interface Division at TURCK. "They're tracking components along an auto line, and they're also tracking maintenance history. The RFID tag contains the car's service history, so the dealer can check the life of the car to see if there are any recalls or repairs."

Fewer cables and snazzy HMI

Gone are the days of 80 wires coming from 80 different directions. One cable now carries both data and power -- once unheard of because power zapped the data. Thanks goes to advanced shielding. "There are fewer connectors, fewer cables. Years ago it was ladder logic with 80 contacts. That's replaced with Ethernet and it's less discrete," said Jack Gayara, senior product manager at Lapp Group. "The products we were selling 10 years ago are not selling any longer. Now we're doing modular set-ups to build to customer needs. It's more custom-built, with power and data on the same cable. The cable is heavily insulated so the power and data can be in the same cable."

The young engineer coming into the plant doesn't want to see the old ruggedized tiny screen with digits only. Welcome to the world of rich data and swipe-friendly touchscreens that look like video games. "People want more than traditional manufacturing. They want modern interfaces -- a pad with machine instructions," Peter Fischbach, industry sector manager at Bosch Rexroth told Design News. "Information on the interface reduces training. We put barcodes on machines, so when you get there with your mobile pad, you can scan the barcode and get instructions for the machine. You don't need to know what's in the machine. You can control motion without knowing how to use a motion controller."

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 15 years, 12 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine, Chile Pepper.

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