With a production line requiring tens to hundreds of workers for daily operations, manufactures see automated production and man-machine collaboration as innovative ways to increase production efficiency while cutting labor costs.
Robotic Automation Propels Manufacturing Transformation
From traditional to electronics manufacturing, many companies are eager to introduce robots to lower the demand for labor which may drastically shift based on orders. With a production line requiring tens to hundreds of workers for daily operations, manufactures see automated production and man-machine collaboration as ways to ensure productivity and increase production efficiency.
A robotic production line involves more than just robots. Issues like system integration, machine-to-machine communication, and information integration must be thoroughly considered to equip a robotic production line with capabilities of actuation controls, sensing, data processing, and operational intelligence. This facilitates smart manufacturing based on IoT, smart robots and cyber-physical systems, and big data technologies.
EtherCAT Helps Implement Robotic Production Lines
"Robotic production lines take meticulous designs of robotic movement and distributed control schemes so that all connected equipment and peripheral devices, including robots, can be orchestrated to meet manufacturers' high expectations of speedy and precise execution," said Joe Lin, GM of IoT Automation Solutions Business Group, NEXCOM.
A company's packaging lines for wet wipe, for instance, may require 12 to 15 workers each while 8 are deployed to perform detail-oriented resealable packing tasks. To increase production efficiency while cutting labor costs, the company turned to NEXCOM for advice. In response, NEXCOM designed an automated system comprised of delta robots and EtherCAT master stations to coordinate PLCs, conveyers, sensors, gluing, and labeling equipment all together. The automated system is expected to reduce manpower requirement by about thirty percent and to increase productivity to up to 1.5 packages per second. The company is planning to replicate this model to other assembly lines for different products in order to duplicate the success.
According to Lin, a production line consists of multiple control nodes ranging from robots and machinery to conveyers. To ensure smooth coordination, EtherCAT master stations amass and fine-tune control variables during operations. With communication jitter measured in microseconds these nodes can be adjusted instantly while motion cycle is shortened. This results in an increase in overall productivity.
Production Visibility Enhanced with Communication & Information Integration
Automatic production lines are also vital for electronics manufacturers. Different from conventional manufacturers, electronic manufacturers experience automation obstacles such as failing data interoperability caused by diverse PLC systems. While making adjustments on a single production line is feasible, plant-wide data collection relies on time-consuming, manual transcription.
IoT gateways thus become crucial to automatic production lines as they transcode fieldbus protocols and unify each system. These gateways break PLCs' protocol barriers so that data can be exchanged. Having process parameters and manufacturing information in hand paves the way for not only on-site and remote monitoring but also big data analysis and decision making.
NEXCOM has developed EtherCAT Master interfaces which are highly interoperable with over sixty PLCs, EtherCAT actuators, I/O and other slave devices from numerous brands. Partnered with local and international firms for integrations with robots, fieldbus communication, control software, and HMI platform, NEXCOM provides last-mile solutions to Industrial IoT. With integration capabilities, NEXCOM has won favors from traditional and electronic contract manufacturers.
To encourage development in robotic applications, NEXCOM recently unveiled the Robot Package, providing 6-axis robots along with an open control platform. Different from proprietary systems, this platform enables manufacturers to leverage field know-how by writing control algorithms for their own man-machine coordination.