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The industrial Internet of Things is enhancing productivity & profitability: in the digital age, nothing seems impossible, especially when it comes to improving operations with cyber-physical systems such as IIoT.

The ability to equip process machinery and auxiliary systems with sophisticated data-collection devices and connect them throughout a plant for on-site or remote analysis is a powerful tool for processors that want to fine-tune operations and improve profitability.

Making this possible is the Industrial Internet of Things, or MoT, a subset of the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT) that includes connected devices in almost every market.

The IIoT is an integral part of Industry 4.0, a term coined in Germany to describe the latest industrial revolution - a new period of technology based on automation, and data exchange via cyber-physical systems and cloud computing. The goal of Industry 4.0 is "smart manufacturing," a heavily automated and highly digital process that will increase quality, productivity and many other benefits on a global scale.


Consultants forecast that the IoT could yield 50 billion connected devices globally by 2020. McKinsey Global Institute, in a recent study titled 'The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype," predicts that IoT connectivity will add between $3.9 trillion and $11.1 trillion a year in new economic value for manufacturers alone by 2025. McKinsey reports that the top end of the estimate "would be equivalent to about 11 % of the global economy."


Greater access to productivity

While the macro-economic benefits of IoT connectivity seem clear, on a micro scale the enhanced data collection demonstrated by the MoT can provide plastics processors with a way to upgrade operations at relatively low cost. Equipment suppliers and others who advocate for the MoT say that the simplest connections require machines with a programmable logic controller (PCC), a basic control that has, of course, been standard for years. New machines increasingly include more sophisticated connections in the form of modems and software - including open-architecture systems - developed or adapted by equipment OEMs for plant-wide connectivity.

The development of hardware and software connections is mostly pursued by industrial control suppliers such as Siemens, which provide this equipment to machine original equipment manufacturers, or by the equipment suppliers themselves.

Products from Siemens that can be used in plastics processing include MindSphere, open-architecture, cloud-based software that connects machines and plant infrastructure. Mathias Radziwell, the firm's business development manager for plastics, says MindSphere is a scalable platform that allows users to analyze large amounts of data to increase productivity. The company also supplies control hardware in its Simatic line. Both products are usually placed with machine OEMs, which then offer it to processors.

Radziwell says that injection molding is the largest user of the MoT, followed by blow molding and extrusion. Thermoforming plants, as yet, haven't shown much interest.

Plastics processors, in fact, have been slow in adopting machine connectivity via the IIoT. And in general, companies across all industries tap only a portion of the data that's available for analysis. The McKinsey report points out that oil rigs can have as many as 30,000 sensors, yet only 1 % of the data they collect is examined.

'That's because this information is used mostly to detect and control anomalies - not for optimization and prediction, which provide the greatest value from the capability," the report notes.

'There is awareness among manufacturers that something needs to be done when it comes to collecting and analyzing data," says Darren Tessitore, chief operating officer and cofounder of Industrial Intelligence LLC of Kennesaw, GA, which uses the MoT to develop turnkey smart manufacturing systems for companies.

Awareness, and confusion

Tessitore acknowledges there is "a lot of awareness among companies that something needs to be done" when it comes to data collection and analysis, as well as "a lot of confusion about what to do and how to do it."

Much of this stems from trying to decide how best to approach data collection and analysis. "Do you hire someone, do it internally, or just buy software?" he says.

And what happens to personnel who are Six Sigma "black belts" and trained in this particular discipline of process improvement? Tessitore advises that these people be given responsibility for Industry 4.0 initiatives and, where possible, treat it as an extension of current duties.


Industrial Intelligence, for one, advocates going slowly and integrating the MoT process step by step, with a goal of targeting the "low-hanging fruit " of operational enhancements and gradually ramping up the type of data collected and the improvements it suggests.

Machine operation is an important focus, with the company able to supply off-the-shelf or custom software to detect and report equipment slowdowns and shutdowns, as well as predictive signals that a component needs repair or replacing.

Additional targets include operational efficiency. Here the feedback on primary and auxiliary machinery would cover: motor operation; vibration levels; oil consumption; temperature and energy use; pressure; hydraulic, pneumatic and water flow rates; and scrap generation, among other data. Anything, in fact, that ultimately affects the bottom line.

Big change in small increments

Even little changes in operations can yield significant improvements. Tessitore says it's not unusual for his company to post initial productivity improvements of as much as 30% just by giving companies the ability to analyze and act upon scheduling data.

The outsized impact of small operational changes was one part of a presentation delivered recently by Bruce Catoen, chief technology officer of Milacron, at SPE's inaugural Industry 4.0 conference, in Anaheim, Calif., on May 10.

Catoen pointed out that every degree of operational improvement, no matter how small, counts in factories. In discussing overall equipment effectiveness, or OEE, he said that for injection molders even a 1% processing improvement could, over a year, yield sizeable gains in cycle-time reduction, higher throughput, scrap reduction and uptime.

Improving the OEE factor 5 to 20%, moreover, would substantially reduce unscheduled downtime, maintenance costs, energy consumption, and waste, he said. Process quality would benefit from greater control of operations ranging from resin flow and balanced mold filling to meeting consistent part specs in fabrication and achieving faster material changeover.


Catoen provided an example of productivity gains that occurred over an 18-month period (August 2014 to February 2016), when four injection machines were equipped with monitoring devices that are part of the Milacron 4.0 Product Suite.

OEE improved by an average 9.8% for the machines, with one unit, Press 1, achieving a 14.8% increase and Press 4 a 12.5% gain. Presses 2 and 3 posted respectable gains of 5% and 7%, respectively. Among the operational benefits: changeover downtime for all four presses was substantially reduced; 80% of service calls were handled remotely by Milacron and resolved the same day; and there were no rush deliveries of machine parts.

Remote monitoring and data analysis is an option that processors can choose when specifying MoT connectivity. Most suppliers include this in the packages they provide. Processors gain an extra set of eyes and a reliable alert system when problems are detected.

There is the option to keep data in-house. Large companies especially may prefer this.

One concern that shouldn't influence the decision is cloud security. Companies may choose to download data to their own servers, but there is no sign that storing it in the cloud will compromise security.

Most cloud servers are operated by major companies such as Amazon, Google and SAP, which continually upgrade firewalls, encryption and other safeguards. Even if someone were to hack into a cloud server, there'd be no way they could know who owns what data, much less make sense of the binary jumble they are viewing.



Remote service is regarded as a benefit by processors that install MoT monitoring from Wittmann Battenfeld. The company is well placed when it comes to connectivity since it supplies primary and auxiliary machines, all of which can be equipped with sensors to record process data.

Sonny Morneault, vice president of sales, says that processors appear to see the value of MoT connectivity, since his company gets as many customer requests for its remote Webservice as it does for full work-cell integration.

Wittmann Battenfeld supplies various products for the MoT. Besides Webservice, there are Plug-N-Play Smart Auxiliaries, the On-Board Industrial Router for unified work-cell data streaming and equipment identification, Realtime Data Acquisition, and the Condition Monitoring System (CMS) module. Most can be used with any Wittmann Battenfeld machine, although the Plug-IM-Play Router and CMS module are only available on new machines.

Morneault stresses the benefits of connectivity. "At a minimum, processors will see results in improved productivity, downtime reduction, minimized setup and changeover time, error proofing and reduced training requirements."

Blown film and cast film systems are adding MoT connectivity, though in somewhat different form than molders. During his presentation at the Industry 4.0 conference, Sebastian Hunnefeld, blown film product manager at Windmoeller & Hoelscher, referenced the compan/s new Filmex II cast line as an example of connectivity.

The line is equipped with the company's Film Performance Monitor. This is an inline quality monitoring system that connects to downstream converting machinery and provides continuous feedback on film quality. W&H says the FPM optimizes production and guarantees consistent quality in the stretch films, barrier films and cast polypropylene structures the Filmex II system produces.

More enhancements coming

Despite the MoT's benefits, experts say there is much that remains to be done.

In the near future, connectivity will extend to automatic inventory orders based on material consumed during a job, a shift or a workday - some companies have this capability already.

Another advance will be developing software and hardware that allow machines to effectively communicate with each other, to the point of increasing production throughout a plant as orders merit, or slowing it down should a problem develop at a machine.

One aspect of Industry 4.0 that sets it apart from other industrial advances is the speed at which it is becoming mainstream. With this in mind, continuing advances in the MoT should soon appear.

By Pat Toensmeier


PatToensmeier is a Hamden, Conn.-based freelance writer and reporter with more than 35 years of business journalism experience, much of it with Modern Plastics and Aviation Week. Over the years he has specialized in writing about manufacturing, plastics and chemicals, technology development and applications, defense, and other technical topics.

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Title Annotation:INDUSTRY 4.0
Comment:The industrial Internet of Things is enhancing productivity & profitability: in the digital age, nothing seems impossible, especially when it comes to improving operations with cyber-physical systems such as IIoT.(INDUSTRY 4.0)
Author:Toensmeier, Pat
Publication:Plastics Engineering
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2017
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