Redefining the Boundaries of Automation

Modern automation systems go beyond the confines of the physical machines on the factory floor. According to Deloitte Insights, smart factories can not only operate within the four walls of a factory but can also connect to a global network of similar production systems, and even to the digital supply network.

Though factories may be distributed rather than centralized, modern industrial operations software provides a centralized environment to rapidly build industrial applications. This can support engineers, managers and staff throughout an industrial business to improve plant operations and act upon information independent of factory location.

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Augmented Reality Tools: A Digital Bridge for the Skill Gap

As a new generation of technicians begins to step up, plant management can no longer rely on workers’ long-nurtured abilities to detect sights and sounds in the field. Those skills will come with time, but to accomplish continual improvements to safety, productivity and efficiency, organizations need to provide field technicians with tools such as augmented reality (AR) to bridge the gap and accelerate skill development. AR is already moving beyond the buzz and delivering value to organizations. The difference between flashy digital transformation technology and practical value to business is in the strategy.

Prepare a strategy to get the most practical value from AR technology. Adopters should look for AR solutions that integrate with existing plant and operations technology (OT) systems that provide three key benefits: situational awareness, IoT data integration and live remote assistance. Building a strategy around these elements helps organizations implement with ease and achieve fast return on investment (ROI) through practical AR applications to their operations.

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How to Improve Electrical Maintenance with Predictive Tests

If you are responsible for managing your plant’s electrical power system and maintenance plan, there are four predictive maintenance tests that should be incorporated into an overall maintenance program. These tests can reduce the need for offline services, improve system performance, reduce the risk of system failure and help optimize budgeted expenditures.

These predictive maintenance tests can be performed while system are online. They are non-destructive, non-invasive and examine electrical equipment under normal operating conditions. Ideally, you should coordinate these tests between planned outages so the resulting data can be used to inform and help prioritize offline service needs.


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Five Tips for Effectively Drawing Electrical Schematics

Every piece of industrial automation will have schematics (we hope!) These drawings communicate design intent from the engineer to the assembler, troubleshooter and person doing maintenance. With pages showing power distribution, input/output (I/O), and safety circuits, a well-organized print set can be invaluable for the life of the equipment. Knowing how important these are, it’s surprising how few resources are available for a professional to learn how to create schematics.

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Five Tips for Selecting the Correct Process Valve for the Job

Many times, the choice of valve type – ball, butterfly, gate, angle seat, or solenoid – rests on installed base or tradition. For example, a water treatment facility tends to use butterfly and gate valves for cost effective throughput. Some applications fall into a gray area where multiple valve types could fulfill the application’s requirements. In these cases, there is not always a right answer or a clear preference for industrial process valve selection.

Below are five tips and tricks to help determine which process valve is most suitable based on a variety of parameters. The comparison between valve types is intended to be a guideline for most general-purpose applications and may not apply to more unique or extreme conditions.

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Improving Machine Performance and Reliability With Predictive Maintenance

Few other industrial environments can match the diverse and difficult operating conditions found across the food and beverage processing industries, which can have an adverse impact on the machinery used on the factory floor and also on overall productivity.

With rising energy and labor costs, there is a need to optimize equipment reliability and to maximize uptimes so many operations are looking to maximize equipment output by extending the mean-time-between-failure and solving challenging application problems.

Reactive maintenance can be up to four times more expensive than planned maintenance, so many operations have moved to preventative maintenance strategies. Instead of carrying out repairs following a failure, regular checks and interventions are scheduled.

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Industrial Controllers: Past, Present, Future

Since the advent of the programmable logic controller (PLC), automation controllers of all kinds have made their way into industrial applications, including programmable automation controllers (PACs) and today’s edge programmable industrial controllers (EPICs). Users have many options in terms of cost, footprint, input/output (I/O) density, fieldbus compatibility, communication, programming options, and processing speed with competition among vendors looking to establish supremacy.

While it’s generally true diversity is healthy for the market, it also can be a source of frustration for engineers and end users. Selecting a control platform is often a long-term investment and carries related overhead like training and support contracts. Decision-makers want the reassurance they are putting their money to work in the right way.

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Should I Use An Edge Controller, PLC, or PAC?

Edge controllers can provide advantages in many applications where traditional industrial controllers have been used. For commercial and industrial computing products, software and hardware development progress proceeds in tandem, with the lead alternating. Sometimes the software complexity and features increase in a way that bumps into processing limitations; then there are times when hardware advances unleash newfound capacity for more sophisticated software.
It is easy to look at today’s traditional operations technology (OT) industrial controller options, represented most often by traditional programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and process automation controllers (PACs), and see them as mature technologies with capable software and fast hardware. The challenge is identifying what comes next.

A few industry trends are pointing the way. Modern consumer and commercial computing experiences are ripe for merging into industrial products. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are becoming commonplace and many are looking at incorporating Industrial IoT (IIoT) devices into automation systems. Digital transformation requires connecting with many data sources, collecting and storing the data, visualizing and analyzing it, enabling optimized operations.

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Identify and Mitigate Robotic Hazards

In July 1984, an automated die-cast system operator died of cardiorespiratory arrest in a robotic accident. The operator got stuck between a steel safety pole and an industrial robot. The worker was an experienced employee trained on robotics for a week prior to this fatal encounter. It was later found he had entered the operating zone of the robot in an unsafe manner despite training, instructions, and warnings. A presence sensing device in such an application could have potentially averted the incident. 

This incident established the need to identify and enforce safeguards and practices to mitigate workplace incidents, especially in robotic process automation (RPA) enabled environments.

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Three Strategy Tips for Optimizing Your Next Energy Assessment

Industry leaders optimize their competitive advantage by committing to periodic reviews of energy usage. Such assessments involve in-depth critical thinking and analysis to mine the depths of the assessment’s opportunities to unlock value with efficiency optimization. A well-run plant often has a laser focus on their primary mission, but can benefit from a fresh set of eyes with a broader focus.

Three energy assessment strategies to consider

When it comes to performing an energy assessment, it might seem overwhelming at first glance. Following these three steps can provide companies a guideline to follow.

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