Complete Digital Factory Integration and the Industrial Internet of Things

May 9, 2016| Fabricating & Metalworking

A collaboration among Mazak, Memex and Cisco, utilizing the MTConnect standard, makes groundbreaking progress toward the total digital integration of factories, where access to real-time manufacturing data is used to improve overall productivity efficiency and responsiveness to customer and market changes.

Tomorrow’s factories will use Multi-Tasking machines, advanced manufacturing cells and robotic automation systems, together with complete digital integration to achieve free-flow data sharing. In such an environment, connectivity of machines and devices allows for enhanced process control, operation monitoring, and analytical capabilities – all within a plant-wide or multi-plant cybersecure network connected to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

The joint efforts of machine tool builder Mazak Corporation (Florence, KY), manufacturing communications platform provider Memex, Inc. (Burlington, ON), and IT leader Cisco® Systems, Inc. (San Jose, CA) achieved a significant leap forward into this environment with the successful digital integration of the Mazak factory, which now accesses and uses real-time manufacturing data to improve overall productivity and agility, along with responsiveness to customer and market changes. This project also resulted in the development of a launch platform, called SmartBox, for an easy and secure entrance into the IIoT.

With this launch platform, Mazak sought to achieve the following project objectives:

  • Create a digitally integrated platform to further improve manufacturing efficiency, particularly in regards to machine utilization and associated downtime.
  • Track machine utilization accurately using Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) as a standard measurement.
  • Produce machine, machine operator and plant productivity analytics, and Key Performance Indicator (KPI) reports that management and production teams can act on.
  • Establish a secure and scalable plant-wide network to connect machines (new and legacy) and other equipment to track OEE.
  • Provide the means to grow the use of sensor technology for monitoring the cutting characteristics of machines, thereby enabling predictive maintenance.

The SmartBox launch platform project incorporates several advanced technologies, one of which was the open, royalty-free MTConnect® manufacturing communications protocol that fosters greater interoperability between manufacturing devices and software. The MTConnect standard provides connectivity and the capability to monitor and then harvest data from the entire production floor: machines, cells, devices, and processes. The standard makes this possible because it’s based on XML and HTTP Internet technology for real-time data sharing.

On the software and hardware side, the full-featured MERLIN manufacturing communications platform from Memex works in tandem with hardware elements that includes the Industrial Ethernet 4000 Series Switch. MERLIN monitors and provides operational metrics and KPI reports on operations, analytics of machines, test stands and other equipment in a manufacturing plant. The software connects to any machine, old or new, using the native MTConnect protocol or hardware adapters for older machines that permit them to communicate via MTConnect. MERLIN software generates numerous operational metrics and standard reports and automatically sends them to a variety of departments, cells and managers. Reports can be generated on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis through an email alert engine, including daily production, quality, constraints, throughput, operator and utilization metrics

MERLIN metrics and reports typically focus on a specific machine and display performance-based gauges and readouts that often resemble automobile speedometers. Other reports use graphs that compare all connected machines and are often based on a variety of critical metrics categories, such as uptime and stoppage.

The Industrial Ethernet 4000 Series Switches from Cisco offer an industrial machine connectivity solution for a secure, scalable way to connect machines to OEE platforms. The all-in-one 4000 switch supports the MTConnect open standard that’s used to track machine operation, utilization, and overall efficiency. It not only connects machines to OEE solutions, but it also provides security and computing capabilities. The switch’s technology resolves the problems typically associated with access, management and scalability so that both IT and manufacturing-operations people can work together to drive machine efficiency and visibility.

By combining MTConnect, MERLIN, and the 4000 switch, the SmartBox provides connectivity of machines and devices for enhanced monitoring and analytical capabilities, along with cybersecurity. The unit mounts to the side of a machine without the need for a direct connection to a machine’s electrical cabinet. With several standard input or connecting ports, this launch platform quickly and easily connects any standard off-the-shelf sensors to the system for machine-data gathering and condition monitoring. One SmartBox can serve several machine tools, along with other associated manufacturing equipment, depending on the application.

The unit offers network isolation that prevents unauthorized access from both directions, meaning to or from the machines and equipment on a network. It also satisfies the critical security concerns of IT departments when connecting legacy equipment to a plant’s main network for the purpose of gathering manufacturing data through the MTConnect protocol. The SmartBox is one of many innovative components in the dynamic iSMART Factory concept that enables complete digital integration of advanced manufacturing cells and systems to achieve free-flow data sharing in terms of process control and analytics. The iSMART Factory concept also incorporates Smooth Technology, a complete process-performance technology platform that represents a key first step towards digital factory integration and includes the various levels of the new Mazatrol Smooth CNC, as well as advanced machine hardware and servo systems.

Of the 65 machines, paint test stands, and other devices connected through MTConnect at the Kentucky factory, the initial complete installation of a machine-monitoring system encompasses SmartBoxes, six horizontal machining centers (HMCs) in an automated flexible manufacturing system, three other HMCs in a similar automated system, and six large bridge-type milling machines. This beta test section of the plant represents a cross-section of equipment and has helped establish a performance benchmark and related training protocols that easily expand across the entire machine-tool manufacturing plant.

Almost as soon as Mazak produced reports on its plant floor, the company experienced a six-percent increase in utilization. Without any other actions taken, these immediate gains resulted from operators simply being aware of how their time management affected machine utilization.

A series of 60 in display monitors presents real-time utilization data in the test section of the plant and cycles through a series of KPI reports that are viewable for short periods of time using MERLIN. The Cisco switch enables network isolation that creates a higher level of cybersecurity for enhanced machine monitoring and analytics. The majority of reports focus on a specific machine, and display performance-based gauges and readouts. Other reports compare all connected machines according to a variety of critical metrics, such as uptime and stoppages by category.

Almost as soon as Mazak produced reports on its plant floor, the company experienced a six percent increase in utilization. Without any other actions taken, these immediate gains resulted from operators simply being aware of how their time management affected machine utilization. To date, efforts to reduce downtime – as based on factory-floor report data – have yielded a more than double-digit percentage improvement in machine utilization for the monitored machines. As a result of this windfall machine capacity, the company reduced operator overtime by 100 hours per month and brought 400 hours per month of previously outsourced work back in house.

Also a first for Mazak, top management, as well as everyone across the company’s shop floor, has access to the same actionable reports and/or monitored data through mobile devices. Shop floor employees now have easy-to-interpret, visual report formats that give them at-a-glance information about how machine tool conditions are influencing efficiency. Bar graphs that summarize activity across several machines simultaneously inform supervisors and managers of trends useful for decision making and long-term planning, such as when additional operator training may be needed. The company is now fully aware of program stops, feed holds, spindle overrides, tool changes, and other reasons why a machine is idle. By analyzing collected data, personnel are able to identify and easily fix such downtime-related inefficiencies to improve overall utilization.

The company has also gained a security strategy for individuals outside its facility network as a result of the network isolation provided through the Cisco technology. Another new advantage is that individuals, such as equipment suppliers, can log on to Mazak’s network and have access to only those machines the company permits through SmartBox technology. But the most significant gain is their capability to perform predictive diagnostics through monitoring sensor packages on machines and other equipment. Instead of having to reconfigure an entire system’s network software (a past requirement for incorporating such sensors), the company now uses predictive diagnostics through a SmartBox, regardless of machine type, model, or age.

The results of the collaboration among Mazak, Memex and Cisco, utilizing the MTConnect standard, represent groundbreaking progress toward the total digital integration of factories, where access to real-time manufacturing data is used to improve overall productivity efficiency and responsiveness to customer and market changes.

Mazak Corporation, 8025 Production Drive, Florence, KY 41042, 859-342-1700,

Memex Inc., 3425 Harvester Road, #105, Burlington, ON L7N 3N1 Canada, 905-635-1540, Fax: 905-631-9640,

Cisco Systems, Inc., 170 West Tasman Drive, San Jose, CA 95134, 800-553-6387,

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