In industry automation, we are used to watch the factory floor equipment increasingly getting networked with the central IT department, effectively turning the blue collar district into a peripheral unit of the electronic company brains in their glass box.
Now, as a glimpse at the Metav trade fair in Duesseldorf proves, the factory floor hits back in the sense that the machines tool increasingly are equipped with internal intelligence. The computers embedded in grinding machines and lathes are not only serving IT's needs, reporting machine status to the mainframe and handling requests from there. And they are no longer just controlling the machines internal parameters such as tool position or motor speed.
Increasingly the machines are getting more refined in itself. For instance, some machines at the fair which took place last week were equipped with vibration sensors and the appropriate actors to reduce vibrations caused by movements of work pieces and tools. The machine itself gets smart enough to sense unbalanced masses and counteracts appropriately. Or they are equipped with temperature sensors and, again, aligning fixtures that compensate the work pieces' temperature-induced position changes. All these gadgets aim at improving the accuracy of the process and to save material as well as energy.
This goal requires more processing power, better sensors, and higher bandwidth in the internal and external data paths. Industry experts believe condition monitoring systems for today's machinery hit the limits of the sampling rates and bandwidth electronic systems can provide.
I think this actually bodes well for electronics. Chip architects, sensor designers, embedded software specialists will be needed to achieve all the goals of this machinery's requirements. And a challenge always is something to grow on.