Connected Machines in the Smart Factory

By: Patrick Waurzyniak, Manufacturing Engineering Magazine – October 28, 2015

It seems like everyone is getting into the digital manufacturing game, with smarter software, intelligent machines and über-connected equipment, all part of the huge push toward leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the constant flow of manufacturing Big Data metrics and information coming off the factory floor.

Digital manufacturing itself is not a radically new concept, as the inventive folks at PLM software developers can readily tell you. PLM software from Dassault Systèmes and Siemens PLM can digitally design and layout out factories with virtual commissioning of robots and equipment on the factory floor—without ever touching the physical equivalents on the plant floor.

This week machine tool builder Mazak Corp. (Florence, KY) announced it has teamed up with networking giant Cisco Systems (San Jose, CA) and Memex Inc. (Burlington, ON, Canada), developer of the MERLIN (Manufacturing Execution Realtime Lean Information Network) manufacturing execution system software. Mazak’s new SmartBox platform uses MTConnect technology in a system that features Cisco’s Ethernet switching hardware and Memex’s real-time factory-floor data-monitoring solution to feed a nearly instant flow of manufacturing data to the people that need that critical information the most.

Another interesting development came about last month as manufacturing giant GE joined forces with CAD/CAM and PLM developer PTC (Needham, MA) in an alliance that melds GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite of “smart” software with PTC’s ThingWorx IIoT platform.

GE’s Brilliant Manufacturing Suite (BMS), currently undergoing testing at key customer sites, will bring together disparate systems from the shop floor to enterprise resource planning (ERP) software into a multi-module system with dashboards for manufacturing analytics including OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) metrics.

“The Brilliant Factory integrates engineering and manufacturing design, leverages data to run our factories much more productively, and optimizes the entire supply chain,” said Jamie Miller, GE CIO, in a statement. “This solution gives us the ability to see that data clearly and easily in a format that makes critical decisions possible, so we can increase machine uptime and predict maintenance before it is needed.”

Long-time partners GE and PTC are working together to certify ThingWorx for GE’s Predix ecosystem, a cloud-based Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) software environment for IIoT applications. BMS leverages the ThingWorx technology with GE’s software suite that includes role-based manufacturing dashboards with real-time manufacturing KPIs (key performance indicators); standardized KPI models for all plants, connecting to heterogeneous landscapes; collaboration, alerts, notifications and access to actionable data to make better-informed decisions.

The software suite is part of the new GE Digital group that GE announced Sept. 14 integrating GE’s Software Center, the global IT and commercial software teams, and the industrial security strength of Wurldtech, headed up by Bill Ruh, chief digital officer.