If titles were being considered for the plastics industry in 2018, it is fair to categorize it as the year of “smart everything”. In fact, it has seen a fair bit of transformation this year both in technology and capabilities but also the mindset or direction of plastics processing in general.
From many of the industry exchanges we experienced at the beginning of the year, the comments posed were often hovering around the tenuous question of “should we or shouldn’t we invest and investigate” in any, or some of the IIoT manufacturing technologies being touted. Since then, I think it’s safe to say that more than enough software, hardware and technology has been showcased this year across the industry (and even from our own corner) to change that question and subsequent mindset.
The should or shouldn’t you question is definitely one we’ve discussed at length here on the MBlog In fact, previously we have focused more on what to consider before diving into the world of intelligent or smart factories and IIot solutions. But now that a large portion of the industry is anxiously looking at the numerous upsides to smart manufacturing the questions are undoubtedly different.
So let’s say for argument sake that you’ve decided to take the plunge into a more connected and data driven manufacturing operation. What’s next? Or better yet, what should you expect from implementing such a system.
While not all platforms and systems are the same and neither are their claims there are some consistent features and benefits that you should be able to use to compare and contrast. Aside from the general comparisons, be sure to look at the following 5 considerations to make sure your IIoT (Industry 4.0) solution can help you actualize on that investment.
- Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE)
Calculating OEE is imperative for plastics processing and manufacturing. Understanding it and being able to adjust your business and processes based on that calculation is even more critical. Having a system that informs is great, but then allowing you to adjust and moderate is even better. Look beyond the hype in this area for systems that will enable and inform you to be more productive while providing insight into root causes and issues that could decrease effectiveness.
- Connectivity without Compromising Security
Actively monitoring plastics machinery is critical to its optimal output and longevity. And yet despite the best of efforts technical problems can and do occur. So finding a system that can help monitor and expedite repairs is extremely important. However, you won’t be able to see and be aware of such activities unless you are connected. A suite of web browser and smartphone applications that provides real time machine data and advanced analytics to maximize your machine’s output is the best way to go about managing and staying connected. The task of monitoring a machine over the cloud is not new, but the task of making sure the management of that machine is done securely is imperative. Make sure your potential system provides a secure connection for remote monitoring and access to equipment. The best solutions utilize a hardware and software technology combination to maximize security. On top of that, the more robust systems include a Virtual Private Network (VPN), firewall along with other trusted protocols.
- To Predict or Not to Predict – Preventative or Predictive
This could honestly be considered the holy grail of plastics processing at the moment. Many machine, mold maker, and auxiliary manufacturers touted a number of claims in and around the various ways they were either inching towards true preventative or predictive maintenance or that they had already achieved it for one small section of their process, at least before NPE 2018. However, at the time very few were willing to state that they were able to provide a true predictive model for their entire machine or process. Now that we are in the latter months of the 2018 calendar year, it’s clear that a few companies have inched closer to that ability. However, be careful about guarantees in this area.
- Technical Support
Qualified support is critical for any service, let alone an IIoT SaaS. Make sure your service provider can provide the technical service you need, when you need it. Check to see what levels of service is offered, be it an onsite or remote service support. Depending on what type of connectivity you get for your machinery, the better services in the industry are able to not only remote in to your system (with your permission of course) and assess the machine’s current state and review the data stream provided by the machine to assess and diagnose the problem.
- Data & Reporting
Manufacturers, molders, and plastics processors need data. Our businesses are fueled more and more by this data. Your machines of course are an endless fountain of such data. But while you need this data, so too does your customer. Make sure your potential service provider can help you not only collect the data, but make sense of it to better inform your processes but also that of your customer.