Whatever term you use, Industry 4.0 or the "internet of things," it's all about interconnectivity. But organizing the massive flow of data that can flow from industrial machines can be a challenge.
Custom extruder Teel Plastics Inc. is taking big steps in that process, with an eye toward future artificial intelligence at its operation in Baraboo, Wis.
"Making sense of the data is a multipronged problem," said Owen Gwynne, senior programmer at Teel Plastics. "One, you have to have to have some kind of vision about what you want to be doing with the data. Second, you have to have a way to collect and store the data you want. Three, you have to have some way to process the data. And four, you have to make it so people are able act on it."
Teel is using a combination of internal computing-power expertise, led by Gwynne, and Kepware connectivity software from Portland-based PTC Inc. Gwynne said the company got Kepware about three years ago.
Kepware's internet of things Gateway for KEPServerEX connects Teel's extruders, regardless of the different brand of controllers, such as Allen-Bradley and Siemens, and pulls all the data together through a single web interface, including recipes and setup information for different jobs. That's a key challenge for custom extrusion, where jobs change frequently.
Teel was able to reduce setup times by 30 percent.
"By incorporating the [internet of things] throughout our shop floor, we've been able to take something that previously required memorization and 30 to 40 clicks and bring it down to a single click of a button," Gwynne said. That cuts down on human error.
"Once it allows us to pull that data, it will automatically allow us to log all that information in various ways. It's great to see a stream of data going across your screen, but it's even better to sort out the various information across various databases," he said.
Teel Plastics runs more than 25 extrusion lines and four injection molding machines.
"Kepware gives you very rudimentary control about what you save," Gwynne said. Teel engineers and information technology experts have created the rest of the system.
Gwynne said some suppliers offer complete "off-the-shelf" systems for extrusion, but they can give somewhat "canned" reports. He said it's better to do much of the work in-house if you can, since each manufacturer operates differently and has different types of equipment.