After spending a week at the recent Hannover Fair, one comes to the inescapable conclusion that most everyone with a stake in the future of fluid power is either embracing the concepts of IoT, or is at least watching as the changes unfold.
We’ve all heard the hype surrounding what’s called the fourth industrial revolution—the age of digitization—that melds information technology with “intelligent” components to ultimately get a better handle on everything from the operating efficiency of a production line to knowing when to swap out an air cylinder. The focus has been on enterprise-level software for cloud computing and advanced analytics; now the emphasis is shifting to the factory-floor.
Scores of Hannover exhibitors offered IoT-ready components like “smart” pumps, valves, cylinders and filters. Aventics, for example, displayed an add-on manifold module that listens to a valve backplane in parallel with the control signals. They use the data to determine the status of components like a shock absorber on a linear drive. “We not only count cycles but measure the acceleration that tells whether the shock should last another 4 million cycles, or if it’s going to fail next week,” said Dieter Michalkowski. “We’re not waiting until breakdown, and we’re not doing it too soon and throwing away good parts.” Maintenance becomes much more predictable and that saves money, he added. “It’s all a part of Industry 4.0, and it will be standard in the future.”
Likewise, Festo’s Motion Terminal can now capture data from production processes and send it to the cloud. “We can track pressures, flows, everything that is measureable and countable, and we use the information to visualize condition monitoring,” said advanced-technology engineer Cynthia Klett. In turn, a dashboard tells the shop floor of problems like component failures and air leaks. “Today, each condition-monitoring dashboard is quite unique to a customer’s application. In 10 years, it will be commonplace,” she said.
Moving forward, Klett cautioned that companies must define where information gets stored, such as in a local database or in a private or public cloud; and whether the OEM, user or a third party has access. Developers also need to think more about the underlying business model, she said. Beyond merely selling hardware, companies might offer predictive-maintenance capabilities, consulting, and related engineering services.
Along those lines, Parker Hannifin’s web-based IoT application will specify user-defined thresholds, monitor equipment, send alerts, and even order replacement parts and schedule repairs, said Michael Aanenson of Exosite, a Parker IoT partner. Beyond that, the system tracks machine operations over time, even down to individual components. That knowledge, in turn, can be used to optimize performance, upgrade designs, reduce power consumption, minimize waste and extend machine life.
“Customers are asking for these types of solutions because there are obvious benefits,” said Aanenson. “Preventing downtime is a major issue, energy efficiency is another. The cost for adding these sensors and a gateway is minor compared to what most of these machines cost to own and operate. These systems usually pay for themselves quickly,” he added.