Metalforming Electronics



The Wireless Pressroom

By: George Keremedjiev

Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Verizon has made an announcement that may radically revolutionize much of what we do in factories to monitor our processes. It appears that the company will allow third-party devices to operate on its network. Taken to its full definition, this may mean that real-time data gathering may have an alternative path to today’s common wireless Ethernet setups.

Many metalforming companies already have installed wireless Ethernet data-gathering systems for their metal-stamping and value-added operations company-wide. There is no excuse for a manufacturer to not make such information available upon demand. With just-in-time deliveries, lean factory floors, customer-giveback demands and raw-material costs shooting through the roof as the U.S. dollar declines, management must have instantaneous access to the realities of the manufacturing processes for which they are responsible.

Readers may recall a saying that I used when deciding if a sensor was appropriate for a given application: “If it moves and it can cause a problem, use a sensor.” The updated version would be, “If it moves and can cause a problem, use a sensor and report it to the connected computers in the ranks of management.” The combination of process sensing with wireless reporting is commonplace in the most advanced metalforming companies. That begs the question: Why would anyone not want to have such a system in their shop?

It couldn’t be the cost, for as you are well aware, the electronics sector has been transformed into a commodities environment with continually plunging computer and peripheral-hardware prices. This includes the costs associated with sensors, data-gathering modules, wireless transceivers and related software. It also could not be the proverbial, “It would take too long to wire up the plant” argument, for the wireless technologies have negated this excuse. It seems to als boil down to who is going to do this?

Given a free rein to pursue such a project, the obvious team members are the sensor lab, as well as maintenance and IT departments. Perhaps some may need to attend seminars to brush up on the latest technologies and software, but the people with the required skill sets already are employed by your firm.

Security is paramount. Never disregard the possibility that wireless data flowing throughout your plant may be accessible to potential competitors. We are all aware of identity theft as it applies to individuals. It is equally applicable to the endless streams of data that traverse the manufacturing environment.

This is why I urge clients to forge a strong bond between the shop-floor technologists and IT department. Redundant and secure wireless channels must als be used when communicating shop-floor information. A little paranoia is okay when one contemplates the possibility that press runs, assembly machine stoppages, specific reasons for downtime, robotic failures, material and setup time delays—these and other forms of shop-floor traumas —could be broadcast beyond the factory walls.

Real-time process monitoring is here to stay. It will not be too long before it becomes commonplace, as have the best practices of Lean, Six Sigma and 5 S. MF


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