An executive from the Industrial Internet Consortium reports on an IIoT test bed he led in China.
Factory automation with limiters and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) form a pretty satisfactory status quo as long as production lines run smoothly and products pass acceptance levels. Nevertheless, some companies are starting to realize that upgrading to a modern Industrial IoT (IIoT) process is unavoidable if they want to stay competitive.
The Manufacturing Quality Management (MQM) Testbed in the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) provides an example of the way forward. The testbed helped upgrade the quality control of Haier’s air-conditioner production process and helped reduce labor on the production line.
The partner that provided the air-conditioner production line to support the testbed was so satisfied with the outcome that it deployed the testbed for its kitchen air-vent production line six months ago. Collaboration on the project convinced the company that an IIoT process reaped improvements.
It is always difficult to have people step outside their comfort zones and embrace modern technologies they are not familiar with. At the beginning of the MQM Testbed, two challenges popped up that almost ruined the project.
First, the developers learned that there was no easy way to stick sensors into a welding station due to the sparks, high temperature and the electrical signal interference caused by the arcs and magnetic field. The team had to change the testbed design, refocusing on the Quality Check station.
Second, an analytic engine with deep learning technologies was modified to replace the experienced QC examiner, but the site manager worried how this would disrupted the production line. Fortunately, the testbed followed the IIC’s reference architecture, so a document from the IIC could map that architecture to the production line.
The analytic engine shown in the platform tier provided a visual assist to help the manager grasp the concept. The MQM process was directly deployed over the QC Station.
Even so, management requested that the installation and testing of the testbed be conducted only after hours. Management did not fully buy into the MQM Testbed until they saw false detection errors were reduced by 45 percent in the first few trial runs with the analytic engine.
The success of the testbed shows countries such as China--the world’s factory for more than two decades--a way to migrate gracefully to smart manufacturing techniques used in developed countries. Just demolishing old plants and building new ones can be expensive and put crews out of work for months.
The MQM Testbed was completed late last year. The final report which details lessons learned through the project will be available in February through the IIC.
--Mitch Tseng is MQM Testbed lead and chair of both the innovation and edge-computing task groups for the Industrial Internet Consortium. He also is a distinguished consultant for Huawei Technologies through Tseng InfoServ, LLC.