Making the Connection for the Smart Factory

The Internet of Things (IoT) has changed the way we use technology. Machines are collecting information about themselves and their environment and sharing it with each other to create a network of autonomous devices. These devices are using data to make decisions without human intervention.

Many of us are already familiar with the IoT, using smartphones to control everything from the lights and doors in our homes to the appliances and temperature systems. However, the true potential for the Internet of Things can be found in the industrial environment. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is transforming the factory.


The Smart Factory

The purpose of the IIoT is to bring every element of the manufacturing process together so that it works as a single entity known as the smart factory. In the traditional factory, each part of the manufacturing process was separate -- from the receipt of raw materials through production and finally to the dispatch of completed goods. Each machine on the production line was independent, and the process was managed from a high level. The factory was organized to be very efficient at one task, but not flexible enough to accommodate changes easily.

The smart factory provides the flexibility that traditional factories cannot. The IIoT allows each machine to collect data about its own function and status, which is then shared with the entire network. Not only does this sharing of information allow the efficient operation of the factory, but it also allows any potential problems to be identified so that action can be taken to minimize disruption.

With the advent of the IIoT, all the machines in the factory are connected, sharing data both with each other and with the wider network. Information has become a critical raw material within the smart factory.

Industrial Automation and the IIoT

Industrial automation is vital to the modern production line. From simple motors to complex robots, many manufacturing processes take advantage of the latest technology to reduce the need for human input. This automation equipment has become even more important in the smart factory.

This latest generation of industrial automation equipment plays an active role in how IIoT has changed the manufacturing environment. The IIoT depends on feedback from the sensors that monitor their performance. This information is shared with the control level to understand how the machine is functioning.

Monitoring the performance of individual machines also brings with it advantages when the time comes to carry out maintenance of the production line. With a wide range of parameters being recorded, including from temperature and energy consumption, the data provides early warning of any upcoming maintenance requirements.

The smart factory will feature improved flexibility and the ability to respond rapidly to changes in demand. Analyzing performance data allows increased emphasis on preventative maintenance to reduce down-time. These features will provide manufacturers with a reduced time to market and a true competitive edge.


Tough Conditions

The factory floor is a tough environment. Factories are home to hazardous atmospheres, harsh chemicals and waste products. Even industries like food preparation and pharmaceutical sectors that depend upon sterile environments, use machines that will create heat and vibration while working, and will also require periodic cleaning.

Even under these harsh conditions, collecting data from machines is a vital element of the IIoT. The smart factory depends on the feedback provided by the array of sensors that are part of every IIoT installation. Each of these sensors will require power to operate and connection to the network so that they can share information. This means that the number of connections required within the factory will increase.

The volume of information travelling around the smart factory has given rise to new solutions. One of the most interesting is edge computing. With the number of drives, controls and sensors in the modern factory, the time taken for data to be shared and processed becomes a real concern. To minimize latency, edge computing brings intelligence to the edge of the network and closer to the point of need. This trend will see more sophisticated equipment installed on or around machines to create the shortest possible lag. This equipment will need protecting from the harsh factory conditions, even while it’s providing the high-speed, secure communications that allow it to integrate with the rest of the network.

This increase in the number of devices, along with the deployment of sophisticated computing equipment on the factory floor, has led to the need for greater numbers of connectors than ever before. These connectors need to offer superior performance, whether delivering power to energy-intensive processes or providing secure high-speed communications for intelligent automation equipment. These connectors need to be robust and sealed, ready to resist the harsh environments found on today’s factory floor.

The Importance of Connectors

Data connectors must be able to interface with existing computer networks using familiar methods such as RJ45 and USB. The volume of connections required for the magnitude of sensors, drives and controls in the smart factory means that connectors should also be small and compact.

The IIoT offers a huge opportunity for manufacturers to adapt to new ways of working. The smart factory market is growing, with Reuters predicting a acceleration of 10% per annum for the foreseeable future. Alongside new smart factories, existing users will upgrade their facilities to take advantage of the latest IIoT solutions. Connectors will form an important part of this revolution. Arrow and Molex collaborate to deliver connectors that are ready for the challenge of the new industrial environment so that you can drive unprecedented value from the data that informs your future success.


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