By Dr Robin Kent, the Founder and Managing Director of Tangram Technology, UK
In the plastics industry, automation is advancing rapidly where the general concept of Industry 4.0 is fast being implemented to allow data transfer between the plastics processing equipment in many factories. Not only does this promote efficient production cycles, it significantly promotes lower energy consumption.
Large power users globally have recognised the need to adopt more efficient methods to run their daily operations while still producing a product of a high standard. As the cost of electricity coupled with the challenges of implementing an environmental eco-status, business owners have seen the impacts on their bottom line if smarter ways of doing business are not implemented.
The plastics market has adapted over the years, recognising the increasing importance of energy efficiency as a method of reducing the energy demand profile of its product processes. Therefore new technologies such as servo motors and variable speed drives (VSD or inverter) have been implemented to dramatically reduce the energy used in injection moulding and extrusion – two processes involving liquid plastic before it enters another process.
In South Africa, the industry is driving forward innovation to reduce energy use in production and also the energy used in the whole life cycle of the product. A case in point is a South African plastics packaging manufacturer, which has recently reduced its energy usage by 7% by using advanced hydraulic fluid in its processing equipment. Not only did this aid in energy reduction, but it also optimised equipment performance, which reduced unscheduled maintenance, while the hydraulic fluid’s long lifespan cut waste oil disposal costs.
IoT in the ‘smart factory’
The data transfer protocols are rapidly being standardised for all plastics processing equipment. The European Plastics and Rubber Machinery (EUROMAP) association is setting and establishing consistent standards for data transfer between machines and other components of the smart factory. These standards allow consistent data transfer between all machine manufacturers and the ancillaries on an injection moulding cell. The challenge in the future will be to take the existing ‘islands of automation’ to make them smarter and to communicate more with central systems.
EUROMAP is also developing data standards consistent with IEC 62264 (for enterprise-control system integration) and OPC Unified Architecture (a machine to machine communication protocol for industrial automation) to define what and how information is transferred. This provides for a reliable exchange of data in industrial automation in many industries and is set to be the common standard for connecting machines in plastics processing. This type of standard may seem complicated but it is essential that it is specified by purchasers and followed by suppliers.
The alternative is for every supplier to generate their own incompatible system or model. If systems are incompatible and cannot talk to one another then the smart factory will never happen. The result will be ‘islands of intelligence’ that can optimise their own performance but never optimise the complete system and never reach their full potential.
The smart factory needs to exchange data and information throughout the factory and this is only possible with standardised interfaces and communications systems. One of the key issues in the injection moulding field and indeed for any automation project is data security. In automation systems, security is not the same as data security in a standard PC or business network. The protection of personal data is a prime concern for every company and the battle between potential intruders and people or companies is continuously changing as possible exploits are discovered and repaired. Good practice for personal data protection and the operation of computers to protect exploits and machine infection by viruses, ransomware and other malware is widely available.
What is not widely recognised is that it is not only data that must be protected. In the smart factory, it is also the infrastructure and process controllers. System security is concerned with preventing damage not simply to the computer but all the associated equipment in the factory. ESI
Further reading: How you can implement energy saving best practice
An ExxonMobil practical guide to energy saving for injection moulding operations has been produced by Applied Market Information in association with Tangram Technology –‘An Energy Saving Guide for Injection Moulders’.
The report highlights: “In almost every case, the cost of energy required to run a moulding machine over a 10-year period will be greater than its initial purchase cost. This cost gap will only widen as energy prices increase. For this reason, energy assessment must become part of the purchasing process for every new moulding machine.”
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