The power of collaboration between machines, people and teams
Published on 01 October, 2019 in Flexible Manufacturing
With today’s rapid advances in technology, the manufacturing sector needs to be increasingly agile, ready to adapt to changing demands. Production lines must be more flexible, so that they can cope with shorter production runs, more varied products and tight deadlines. So how can manufacturers address these challenges? The solution lies in more advanced, interconnected and intelligent systems that can be programmed to handle a range of tasks.
This in turn brings new challenges, such as how to programme these devices without having to learn many different systems and programming languages. At the same time, development teams are often dispersed around the world and solutions developed for one factory need to be duplicated at different locations, each with a specific set of requirements, standards and local regulations. Managing code across different teams and locations can be very challenging.
This is why at Omron, we’ve developed Sysmac Studio, which offers fully integrated development environments (IDEs) for configuration, programming, monitoring and 3D simulations. Our system also has tools for managing code versions to enable collaborative development and operation.
Sysmac’s capabilities are integrated within a simple interface that allows engineers to manage vision, motion, control, safety and robotics in one system. The Sysmac Studio Team Edition also incorporates a distributed version control system. This allows multiple co-developers to work on the same project, with easy project comparison and efficient handling of machine versions. We use Git, the most popular open source distributed control system, which allows development teams to choose any Git-based cloud web repository.
Collaboration between machines
Production lines have many different machines, each performing a specific task or set of tasks before the product moves to the next stage in the process. Each machine has its own control system for programming and operation, with different manufacturers using different communications and operating protocols. Consequently, getting these machines to talk to each other is a challenge.
Fortunately, standards such as the OPC-UA communication protocol provide a cross-platform unified architecture for industrial automation. Companies are now building more communications functionality into their devices. This will allow them to communicate with each other, transferring data in real time to keep production lines running optimally, with greater flexibility and efficiency.
Collaboration between teams
This increased flexibility is helped by the fact that virtually all production line machines are now online, so new instructions to change the production can easily be downloaded. Software can be updated remotely and bug fixes can be rolled out to all connected devices. However, there are still some challenges. Although the communications might be standardised, some machines still use their own operating languages and control systems.
Sysmac overcomes this issue by providing a standardised and seamless interface. This enables programmers to programme a complete manufacturing or production line, with the software translating the instructions into the specific code for each machine. An integrated approach give programmers easy access to all aspects of process management, including vision, motion, control, safety and robotics – all in a single system with a standardised, easy-to-use graphical interface.
Sysmac takes this a step further, as Git ensures efficient project management and the easy comparison of different versions. This boosts productivity by supporting co-operative and efficient co-development by teams from different sites, who can work on the same project simultaneously.
Engineers can work on a local version of a project with full control over its source code. Improvements and modifications made to the code can then be merged with a remote server so that other teams can access it. This means that projects are fully traceable, and it’s easy to compare and manage machines and projects. Code changes can be identified so that the engineers don’t waste time solving a problem that’s already been solved by another team. Every Git directory on every computer contains a complete update history with full version tracking abilities, independent of network access or a central server.
Collaboration between people and machines
Collaboration also makes it easy for operators to perform process monitoring and control. Machines need to be intuitive and easy to operate. User interfaces must be simple, consistent and intuitive to use, so that even less skilled operators can quickly familiarise themselves with the controls.
Sysmac achieves this by providing a standardised user interface. This ensures that machine or system information is always presented consistently and is understandable by anyone familiar with the interface, irrespective of the machine they are using.
Ultimately, whether collaboration is between remote teams working on the next version of the software, between operators and their machines, or between machines, it can deliver significant benefits for production and manufacturing lines. These range from better control over software to clearer communication of process information. Collaboration also boosts efficiency; reduces duplicated work for programmers; and minimises expensive production line downtime.
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