Entry Into the Industrial Digitalization

4 Tools for Digital Production

6. August 2021, 7:00 Uhr | Ute Häußler
Digitalisierung Industrie 4.0 IIoT MES Checklisten Digital
Getting started in industrial digitization with simple tools: These four tools help you get started in digital production.
© iTac Software

Connecting machines and systems on the shopfloor has never been as simple and at the same time as complex as it is today. Small tools can act as digital first responders to help master the complexity in brownfield plants and getting started in the digitally controlled production.

Digitalisierung Industrie 4.0 IIoT MES Checklisten Digital
The mobile checklist tool is designed to eliminate time-consuming paper lists in production and make processes faster and more reliable.
© iTac Software

Checklist Plug-in for Paperless Production

Goodbye paper and pencil: Most production checklists are still created by hand when a plant is started or during initial production, but electronic, dynamic checklist systems are indispensable for smooth and modern production processes. The completely paperless Checklist Manager from MES manufacturer iTAC Software, a subsidiary of machinery and equipment manufacturer Dürr, supports manufacturers in electronically recording checks and evaluating the results.

Production managers can create and maintain multiple checklists with the new tool; the software runs on both desktop PCs and mobile devices. The checking process before a machine is started can thus be carried out seamlessly, electronically and, above all, easily customized. Factors such as »check ambient temperature«, »are all tools installed?« and »have all safety measures been activated?« can be digitally checked off by the worker and centrally reviewed by all responsible parties.

How often a check should run can be freely defined for each list, e.g. daily, monthly, annually, or even at the beginning and end of each shift. In addition to the common functions »done/not done«, »okay/not okay«, the iTAC checklist module can also distinguish between the types »numeric«, »decision«, »selection« or »text«. The digital checklist tool has a very low dependency on the MES. With the help of seamless integration into the workbench, manufacturers can incorporate the checklist results into their process interlocking.

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Digitalisierung Industrie 4.0 IIoT
With the low-code platform Actyx, machines and devices at the edge can communicate decentrally and without a cloud connection on the shopfloor.
© Actyx

Digitize Entire Factories in Just a Few Eeeks

The low-code platform Actyx promises a completely decentralized edge system without any servers in the cloud and thus simple and, above all, fast digitization in industry and production. Via the locally running software of the Munich-based startup of the same name, machines and devices exchange information on the store floor directly with each other via WLAN, LAN and soon also Bluetooth or ZigBee.  The machine data processed at the edge can thus be exchanged directly with other machines without major latencies and used for real-time analyses. 

Actyx co-founder Maximilian Fischer says: »Without a network and without a cloud, there are no dependencies - our platform thus ensures greater reliability, speed and higher performance at the Edge.« The integration is expected to be productive in a few weeks and runs via low code; customers can assign their own IT to do it or use integrators. Use cases from scaffolding, steel production and the chemical industry are already showing rapid digitization success in classic, previously purely analog production operations.

»Digitization is not easy, that would be a lie. Understanding factories and the complex processes involved is difficult,« admits Fischer. »With Actyx, programming can start directly without lengthy specifications, including on-site testing and the perpetual loop of 'What's missing?, "What's needed?". This eliminates the high, preparatory engineering effort; it's agile programming on-the-fly.« According to Fischer, between 10 and 25 percent more efficient processes are possible, depending on the operational implementation. »The machine world is still completely analog, we are talking about first experiences here. 20 percent sounds incredible, but that's just the beginning.«

Digitalisierung Industrie 4.0 IIoT Cloud
UniCloud, a no-code IIoT platform for manufacturers, requires no programming skills or expertise from cloud professionals.
© Spectra

IIoT Platform for Unitronics PLC

Spectra, the industrial PC and automation expert, has launched a cloud for automation engineers that does not require any coding at all. As an online portal, UniCloud offers the option of visualizing, storing and analyzing all process data that is processed at any location on Unitronics controllers. The ease of commissioning and digitization is supported by the simple configuration of the IIoT application, which requires no programming knowledge or expertise from cloud professionals. Using »click and select«, fabricators can create a cloud application tailored to the specific needs of their own store floor, allowing them to present, manage and process machine data online. 

For immediate use and analysis of current, historical or aggregated data from one or more machines, clear dashboards can be created via the fairly straightforward configuration of pre-built graphs, tables, maps, etc. UniCloud is secure! End-to-end (E2E) protection ensures end-to-end data access security, up to and including the assignment of user roles with defined access rights. Other built-in protections include Encrypted REST APIs over TLS, MQTT X.509 authentication, anti-virus and Web Application Firewall (WAF) rules.

All UniStream, Samba and Vision series PLC models can be connected to UniCloud. Both in new installations and in existing running installations, without the need for program changes. UniCloud subscriptions are available in different packages, depending on the amount of data and the update rate, which can be selected between ten seconds and five minutes. According to Spectra, UniCloud is free of charge for the first three months and can be tested extensively for one's own digitization projects via simple registration, without any functional restrictions.

Digitalisierung Industrie 4.0 IIoT Datenbank Cloud NoSQL
Objectbox.io is a NoSQL database focused on object-oriented IIoT development and efficient edge computing. 
© objectbox.io

Micro Database for IIoT Edge Synchronization

Edge to edge or edge to cloud: There can be any number of different devices on the shopfloor, from sensors to brownfield to greenfield, with or without an Internet connection. At the same time, there are various employee devices such as tablets or smartphones, central computers and the cloud. In order to extract value from the data, different data must be aggregated in raw form or available as a result in different locations, i.e., synchronized efficiently and selectively. With special edge databases, even smaller companies and SMEs can implement edge projects quickly and cost-effectively. The German startup ObjectBox makes the core of its NoSQL database available free of charge via GitHub.

The Munich-based company's micro database has a very small footprint of only about 1 MB and runs high-performance on devices with limited resources, such as a Raspberry Pi Zero or an ECU. While relational databases with rows and columns first have to be translated into the developer languages C++ or Java, which are common in object-oriented IIoT development, objectbox.io, as a NoSQL database, works inherently with the object approach and stores objects in bits and bytes. The small software stack for the store floor can execute the four main operations create, read, update, delete about ten times faster than alternatives and manages 100,000 operations per second even on small devices. For this, ObjectBox requires only low single-digit CPU power and a few MB of RAM. In the overall system, the saved CPU, memory and power can be used for smaller hardware. The database, which is designed for maximum data security, is also suitable for retrofitting; with the edge computing tool, Industry 4.0 applications can work significantly faster and more reliably. The offline availability and speed enable real-time control with low latencies. The combination of edge data and efficient sync protocol helps to reduce cloud costs significantly. 

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iTAC Software AG, Spectra GmbH & Co. KG