Ifm’s Freddie Coertze tells Food & Beverage Industry News the importance of empowering businesses trying to digitalise systems, and how the IIoT-Toolkit can help.
Stepping into the world of Industry 4.0 can be harrowing for businesses that don’t know where, or how, to start with digitalisation. With the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) developing in volume and complexity since the 1960s, it becomes increasingly difficult for companies, especially those with limited funding to know the right way to digitalise.
“It’s difficult to start. There’s so many vendors that sometimes you don’t really know what you want until you’ve got some data,” said Freddie Coertze, Australia’s ifm product manager of industrial communications National IoT Business Manager. Coertze also specialises in leading and growing IO-Link technology with ifm itself being one of the world’s largest sensor and automation companies.
“We take an approach where we tell clients they should start small with just a starter kit, pick one area, and from there, make decisions based on the outcomes,” said Coertze.
That’s why the introduction of ifm efector’s IIoT-Toolkit is so important: simplifying digitalisation and empowering customers to be able to take control of their data and invest in predictive maintenance. In a sense, it’s allowing businesses to dip their toe in before fully immersing in process of automation.
How it works
The toolkit empowers customers through combining data from the information technology level with the operational technology level.
“The advantages are actually owning that information and the solution,” said Coertze.
“The biggest problem in the industry is because you have these two worlds – IT has been by themselves for so long and you’ve got operation technology running side-by -side with the production line, but you need information from both ends. We see this as the bridge between those two worlds to then get the data from either side and then make better decisions.”
The toolkit utilises four main technologies to help identify production issues: IO-Link, Image processing, RFID and identification and vibration monitoring.
The IO-Link provides consistent diagnostic information on the machine and its processes, while ifm’s software in the IIoT toolkit is able to sort and convert all this sensory data from the machines into qualified digital information.
Simple plug-ins that come as part of the toolkit allow clients to access the data and make decisions based on the information they receive.
The IIoT-Toolkit’s software, such as Sensor2Cloud, is able to automatically collect and directly send information to the cloud. Thus, the toolkit enables a flow of information that is constantly being sorted and logged.
“We are really driving qualified data rather than just gathering information,” said Coertze.
“That’s why all of our units, like the IO link and our vibration units, actually pre-process that raw data before it is converted into the qualified information that you can send to your data collector. We just want to make sure it’s the right information in there that makes sense.”
With all this digital information being received from the machinery, the toolkit is able to create virtual factories in the cloud.
The consistent stream of qualified information helps clients understand the best functioning of their production line that introduces intuitive data for on time decision making for production and machine maintenance.
According to Coertze, a key benefit of digitalising through the IIoT-Toolkit is the ability to identify conditions to predict machine condition and failures.
“We want to move away from having to take the machine apart every six weeks and do something with it, basically only acting when the condition is deteriorating. That’s why we feel like predictive maintenance is part of making more informed decisions. In the long run this prevents breakdowns, increases efficiency and decreases downtime,” he said.
“We try help customers move to predictive maintenance.”
Being able to detect damage early can also lead to avoiding unwanted spares, said Coertze.
“[It means] you don’t need to keep spares of that machine around. It would be easier to order the spares when the machine is working, or about to fail, so you have time to act. Of course, that will increase efficiency, because you don’t need to stop the machine,” he said.
Using the IIoT-Toolkit also gives the obvious benefit of owning the data.
“That means that they (the client) don’t need people to program a lot of things in the background,” said Coertze.
“The biggest problem we have is most customers start with engineering teams, and these engineering teams don’t really have access to the IT side of the companies.”
The problem is slow to get solved as every action the engineering team does requires approval by the IT teams, or requires an IT member to come in.
“Now they can just buy this kit and it comes with a PC and they can start and stop working on something,” said Coertze.
“Because we need to empower the customer, or engineering team, to build a business case. Then they can say: We’ve chosen this area in the business, we’ve got some data, we’ve got something to show, then we can get funding.”
With the help of ifm, the toolkit enables end-users to run with the process themselves, which makes it easier to begin the digitalisation process.
Part of customer empowerment is creating solutions specific to the companies individualised needs. This includes making integration easy and being able to scale up the technology.
While a solution or process might work for the company next door, it might not necessarily work for everyone.
“You’ve got to customise it to that extent, and that’s why we feel customers need to own the solution,” said Coertze.
“The customer basically says, ‘Look, what issue have we got?’ If it’s vibration or any type of sensing, for example, then we will configure that unit for them and then they will place the order,” said Coertze.
“We get the solution delivered, (they) plug it in and log in online and start logging information.”
By owning the data and the understanding the particular problem, clients are able to tailor solutions specific to the business. It’s also very handy, said Coertze, when there is no technical staff onboard.
A key issue with transitioning into Industry 4.0 is the cost of investment.
“We saw that the small to medium customers would not normally have IT teams in house. For example, microbreweries – they would not necessarily have the ability to put software on site,” said Coertze.
“That’s why the kit was initially developed: because it is really low in entry level pricing, so they don’t need capital for it they don’t need a lot of funding to start with the solution,” said Coertze.
“Other suppliers will go ‘Yes let’s digitalise everything’ but that’s not the message. That will cost millions, and they’ll (the customer) go ‘I don’t even know where we want to start.’
“You’ll see the way we set up our software is that they can really maintain it themselves, and it’s really self-taught. If you play around on the site, you can figure yourself out and you don’t really need a lot of training,” said Coertze.
“I get a lot of customers are stuck in that mindset, ‘It’s too difficult for me, I don’t know what to do’. I think this (toolkit) is all about unlocking them to start with something.”