Contradictory to the common belief that technology necessary for Industry 4.0 is expensive, the Combine and Conquer report by Accenture found that combining technologies such as AR/VR, big data and machine learning can save large businesses an average of £60,000 per employee.
Here, Nick Boughton, sales manager at industrial systems integrator, Boulting Technology, explores the growing trend of plug and play technologies.
Despite Industry 4.0 being far from a new concept, first being coined in 2011 at the Hanover Fair, the long lifespan of industrial machinery and the high perceived costs associated with purchasing smart technologies means manufacturers may still be reluctant to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
A growing trend for many manufacturers looking to ‘smarten’ up their factory and integrate Industry 4.0 technology’s such as remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, is the introduction of plug and play devices. However, with growing concern about vendor lock-in, choosing hardware that is compatible with the existing products within a plant is essential to saving costs in addition to ensuring compatibility.
Plug and play
Plug and play devices are one way of maximising compatibility between new products and existing systems.
A plug and play device or computer bus has a specification that allows for the discovery of a hardware component in a system without physical device configuration or user intervention.
A multitude of IoT functions are now available with plug and play IoT kits. One popular example is the use of sensors that allow for digital condition monitoring for any kind of machinery. A direct physical attachment means they are able to take measurements such as vibration and temperature to facilitate maintenance plans, without any compatibility complications.
Because many manufacturers and developers of industrial automation equipment are producing their own devices to fill this market, it can be difficult for engineers to choose the best solution for their plant and application. As industrial machinery often has a long lifespan, for example a motor control centre can be expected to last for twenty years with the correct maintenance, many plants will be faced with this dilemma each and every time they choose to purchase new equipment.
True plug and play technologies are able to integrate with equipment from all vendors, eliminating any integration headaches and potential issues. They can also deliver a quality and performance that matches plant requirements exactly.
Although the concept of true, open, plug and play technologies might sound idealistic to many, it is a growing trend for many manufacturers of industrial automation solutions, such as intelligent drives and remote monitoring software.
Experienced and independent systems integrators such as Boulting Technology are experts at recommending the best system for a plant’s unique requirements and capabilities. This includes ensuring the seamless integration of plug and play, out-of-the-box systems, while retaining the cybersecurity and tried and tested processes from the existing system.
As plants are constantly being upgraded and technology is evolving, the choice of products, services, software and hardware is becoming ever more complicated. Retrofitting existing systems with new sensors and communication software is therefore becoming more popular each year, as it is often a far cheaper solution. However, even within the retrofitting sector, vendor lock in can be an issue.
The choice to retrofit plug and play technology, which requires less complex integration and user training, can continue to ensure cybersecurity through consistent protocols and firewalls. This is proving to be the best solution for many plants as a means of lowering costs associated with industry 4.0.