Jorge Izquierdo, Vice President, Market Development, PMMI

by Jorge Izquierdo

As consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs) continually work to maximize uptime, modern machinery communications will play an integral role in advancing the production line. And as computer, mobile and wireless technologies continue to evolve, the options available for machinery communications are becoming more intelligent, providing real-time data that helps CPGs and other manufacturers meet and exceed their production goals.

Whether that data is transferred internally, between machines or outside the production line, machinery communications have evolved beyond the traditional one-to-one connection. Elaborate networks connect software applications and hardware devices throughout the plant to maximize uptime and collect meaningful data for measuring and optimizing overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).

PMMI’s recent study, “Machinery Communications – Trends and Challenges,” explores the expectations and drivers behind advancements in these technologies as end-users demand solutions that work together to prevent downtime, track and diagnose slowdowns and interruptions, and increasingly, auto-correct problems on the line.

Most individual machines consist of five major parts that must communicate with each other to maintain or enhance efficiency: the logic controller, visualization, Input/Output (I/O) and sensors, motion system and safety system equipment. Internal communications refers to communications between these five equipment groups. Machine-to-machine (M2M) technology supports wired or wireless communications.

The sheer volume and variety of communication protocols, technologies and legacy equipment makes M2M integration the toughest area for manufacturers to master. Additionally, widespread implementation of standardized programming structures, such as PackML, is hampered due to a lack of education.

Meanwhile, 84% of surveyed packaging professionals reported that they currently use or are moving towards Ethernet-based fieldbus protocols. Benefits include: greater bandwidth, enhanced real-time data reporting speed, support for multiple protocols and integration of legacy plant networks for easier data exchange.

Though Ethernet technology shares the generic name of fieldbus, fundamental differences in data transfer methods of these real-time network control systems can present challenges in achieving connectivity between machines. To clear this hurdle, packagers use multiple communication protocols such as Ethernet/IP, ProfiNet, EtherCAT, and Modbus. Packaging engineers should remain flexible in selecting hardware or software as they continue to move towards Ethernet solutions. Considering best-in-class hardware or software can make achieving optimal operating efficiency and connectivity easier than adhering to a standardization policy alone.

According to the study, 42% of participants viewed end-users as being the driving force behind changes in machinery communications due to their need to achieve OEE and uptime, reduce cost and continually innovate. Some 22% of respondents said they look to the automation technology suppliers as the drivers behind the advanced functionalities that will give them the competitive edge and 36% said that end users, automation technology suppliers and OEMs have worked together to bring about such changes.

No matter where the change is coming from, the area of machinery communications technology continues to grow.  That growth will be evident at PACK EXPO Las Vegas 2011 (September 26-28; Las Vegas Convention Center) where packaging equipment suppliers will showcase the latest advancements in internal, M2M and external innovations. Discounted registration is currently available F&BP