Over the past few years there has been a lot of talk on how Industrial IoT can change how industries derive more value and new revenue opportunities such that there is little need to outline its value proposition in a general sense. Rather, in this article I wish to focus on a particular industry - the packaging and weighing equipment manufacturers.
Current Problems In The Industry
Just like any other mechanical equipment, packing scales and process weighers are prone to malfunction and inaccuracies due to damage, loss of calibration and many other faults. I have experienced first hand the impact of having a packing scale over-fill. In fact we can do the maths right here. Typical a scale would tip on average 12 times a minute. So if a scale is over-filling say a 10kg bag by only half a kilo, an 8 hour shift would result in losses of over 2 tonnes of product. Under-filling the bags would be just as detrimental as it would result in regulatory fines or loss in production time if the product has to be repacked. The scale has to be as accurate as possible.
Further, if a packaging machine fails it is taken off the production line until it is fixed. Resulting in downtime that could have been prevented had there been measures in place to detect the failure in advance .
It gets worse. Most manufacturers who employ packaging and weighing equipment lack systems that provide detailed descriptive analytics such that decision makers are often reduced to guesswork.
This is mainly due to legacy technology systems that are not interoperable. For example, there is no link between PLCs on packaging equipment and the Manufacturing Execution Systems.
Packaging equipment manufacturers therefore owe it to themselves and their clients to cast a wide net and find new ways of solving these challenges among many others.
An Industrial IoT Solution
Here is the best part. Industrial IoT technologies offer the best possible solution. Industrial IoT can give decision makers the power to step in and halt the process within seconds of detecting a fault such as a scale malfunction or a compromised production run. In short, it offers the opportunity of real-time insights on how things are going not how they went. Below is an on-site architecture illustrating how Industrial IoT can be implemented.
Most of the packing scale indicators in the industry communicate using a custom protocol over a serial link, RS485 or Modbus/RTU. They therefore cannot be connected directly to the internet. An IoT gateway, which could also be software running on a local PC, serves the purpose of converting that protocol into standardised internet protocols such as MQTT or HTTPS for cloud communication.
The data can also be served to external systems such as MES systems using REST or OPC UA. On the cloud front Small data and Big Data analytics can be employed appropriately to produce descriptive, predictive and/or prescriptive analytics. Data from the rest of the plant can also be collected as the context would give the data more value.
Packaging equipment manufacturers can henceforth gain valuable business intelligence insights and also come up with proactive maintenance models.
The Bigger Picture
The above architecture presents the bigger picture. If milling is involved, the process weighing indicators can also be integrated and crucial real-time KPIs such as the Mill Gain/Loss can be made available to shift managers on mobile devices. Packaging and Weighing equipment manufacturers can remotely monitor equipment health in many plants from a central location.
Scale malfunction, communication problems can be sent as alerts to service technicians or plant personnel who are best positioned to respond. Common issues that sometimes require simple device re-initialisation can be diagnosed and resolved remotely instead of technicians travelling hundreds of kilometers to site .
It is getting clear by the day that no industry segment is immune to the change brought forth by Industrial IoT. The technology isn't really about what's new and different, rather it is about looking closely at what reinforces your existing business processes. Companies that start adopting IIoT now will certainly gain a competitive advantage going forward.