Embracing Industry 4.0 Starts with Cross-system Integration: Advantech WebAccess Seamlessly Links Upper and Lower Systems
Industry 4.0 is the latest technology hot topic. In simple terms it is: a Cyber Physical System which combines computing, communication and control functions through the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data and Cloud services. This concept can be used in various fields, including production, testing, equipment monitoring, machinery automation, factory service monitoring, energy management, etc. In terms of manufacturing applications, Advantech presents two success stories to demonstrate the utilization of WebAccess as the core method of improving a factory’s current situation. At the same time, system developers integrate a variety of heterogeneous hardware and software with less effort, and end-users can make efficient use of corporate resources, thus boosting production and management efficiency.
Improving Manufacturing Processes and Solving Information Island
When manufactures carry out the process of informatization and digitization, the most common problem is that departments within a company built their own systems with little or no consideration for interoperability. This forms the phenomenon known as Information Islands. For example, manufacturers might deploy Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in headquarters to handle their orders, inventory and other internal business operations while implementing Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) or Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) system for controlling devices in the factory. The failure to integrate both systems results in a lower efficiency when obtaining information, and this lack of information transparency requires more staff to manually perform their jobs or input data to complete the entire production processes. Such an approach is not only labor-intensive and time-consuming, but is also prone to error.
To illustrate how the resource integration problem is solved with ERP and production management systems, Advantech has chosen an automated solvent blending system in the chemical factory as an example. By providing open interfaces (RESTful Web Services, Widget Interfaces and WebAccess APIs), Advantech WebAccess easily transfers all types of data. In other words, the automated solvent blending system, which was installed in production control center, is able to automatically import the exported work orders from the ERP system into the production management system to obtain the corresponding solvent formulation and blend the ingredients to produce the relevant chemicals. Because all production procedures are performed by the system without human intervention, the new operating mode shortens the work flow while saving time and manpower.
The question of how to link the existing Mitsubishi PLCs to gather and analyze real-time data and control production equipment is answered with the hundreds of device drivers provided with Advantech WebAccess. This array of drivers connects a wide range of PLCs, controllers and I/O devices so project developers can integrate the required peripherals in one SCADA system. Secondly, users can directly monitor and control each solvent tank in real time. Advantech WebAccess provides an intuitive and interactive feature to display the status of all integrated devices on screen via dynamic images. Moreover, Advantech WebAccess not only imports but also exports the related data to the system to record all of the production parameters and to calculate the remaining materials and finished products so as to generate a variety of reports or documents. Since the system realizes production information management throughout all shop floors, users are able to conveniently add, delete, modify and inquire any data.
Seamless Integration of MES and SCADA System
In another example, an automotive parts factory planned to improve its production operations and efficiency through an IT management system and industrial control tools due to increasingly tight delivery schedules and much shorter product life cycles. But for the software providers of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), the main issue is how to seamlessly integrate IT systems with industrial control applications to meet the needs of automotive parts factory; especially their engineers who are unfamiliar with the industrial control design making the underlying data acquisition as a big problem. The compatibility of a variety of hardware and software is also a key factor in the successful integration of vertical systems.
Advantech's SCADA solution has such excellent interoperability that it acts as a data gateway between the front-end equipment and MES application. Through collecting and transferring real-time data to a central console, the solution can assist MES to effectively control and monitor industrial equipment and manufacturing processes. And, as previously described, Advantech WebAccess provides many advanced SCADA functions and is an open architecture software platform, allowing system developers to create a user-friendly interface to facilitate on-site operation and remote monitoring and expedite the completion of system development project.
More importantly, Advantech WebAccess is an easy to learn and use software, and a short two-day course is all that’s required to train IT programmers. Benefiting from its openness and standardization, project designers can design the required functions with fewer problems, and can seamlessly integrate MES to reduce the need for expert knowledge of industrial control, and then help the factory optimize its manufacturing processes and implement a real-time, visual and paperless management application.
The Solutions for Saving Time, Effort and Cost
Embracing Industry 4.0 is already a common goal for manufacturers. The aforementioned cases show that Advantech’s feature-rich, standardized and easy-to-use WebAccess software lets system developers collect the required underlying information in an easier manner, and allows the aggregation of upstream and downstream data to solve an enterprises’ problem of Information Islands. After vertical integration, the new operating mode can simplify the original workflow, free users from labor-intensive processes, and increase production efficiency. No matter whether it’s system developers or end users, both can successfully develop or implement the applications that they need, while giving them the flexibility to leverage various resources and enhance their market competitiveness.