Does Your Automation Plug Into Global Markets?

June 1, 2011
Manufacturers in virtually every industry are expanding operations globally. Where their material handling systems are concerned, however, success hinges on understanding regional standards, selecting the right equipment for those markets and having access to global aftermarket support

Manufacturers in virtually every industry are expanding operations globally. Where their material handling systems are concerned, however, success hinges on understanding regional standards, selecting the right equipment for those markets and having access to global aftermarket support. Here are some other details to consider when setting up operations in other countries:

Leverage modular programming

Modular programming can help improve design consistency, reduce engineering costs and speed machine installation and startup. Modular programming concepts, such as code structuring, tag naming conventions and state model implementation, provide machine builders with a common framework so programmers can spend more time adding value and functionality rather than deciphering terminology. They also create a predictable, reusable model when multiple programmers are involved during machine design.

Structured, reusable models help substantially reduce system integration time and costs for dedicated equipment. Moreover, with a standardized look and feel for programming and human-machine interface (HMI) graphic objects, it’s easier for operators and software personnel to recognize application functionality across applications and suppliers.

Machines with increased modularity can also be easier to reconfigure to meet changing demands and new product introductions. And when used for moving bulk goods or unit loads throughout a manufacturing or distribution facility, such as with conveyors, modular programming helps operators more quickly tailor conveying equipment to changes in product flow and supply chain demand.

Access and study metrics

With increased pressure to improve plant efficiency, manufacturers rely on equipment capable of collecting a wide range of performance and operating data. With accurate performance metrics, such as overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), plant management can identify problems and establish strategies for reducing machine or production line inefficiencies and drive improvements across the entire manufacturing process.

For example, production may know that they made 100 units, but without quality data, you might never know there was a 20% scrap rate.

Standards-based systems

Using a standard state model, from concepts to coding, helps ensure information is consistent and exactly where operators expect it to be. This helps, for example, simplify the setup and integration of the manufacturer’s performance measurement software with the machine control system. With OEE and other performance data already defined in the machine controller using standard data models, configuring all of the individual performance parameter definitions in the analysis software is significantly easier. Manufacturers remove the need to add custom code, which reduces complexity and accelerates startup.

The power behind modular programming lies within the principles laid out in industry standards, including ISA-88, one of the most widely recognized and broadly adopted standards. The ISA-88 standard committee (SP88) approved and incorporated the OMAC (Organization for Machine Automation and Control) PackML, which is now published in ISA-TR88.00.02. PackML provides a broadly recognized machine state model and standardized data model (PackTags) to help ensure that programmers are speaking the same language and using terminology consistently.

Ethernet/IP connectivity

Manufacturing companies need seamless, secure connectivity across the enterprise. Machine builders facilitate this network convergence by building IT-friendly machines. Traditionally, machine builders have used a dedicated network for each application (motion, safety, I/O, information) – a design strategy that requires excess hardware and engineering time and complicates integration with the end customer’s IT infrastructure.

By using Ethernet/IP, equipment can be connected to up- and downstream operations. This enables faster machine start-up, more efficient troubleshooting and improved information collection. By tying machines into a converged network infrastructure, manufacturers can lower their total cost of ownership, reduce time to market, improve operational responsiveness and help protect critical manufacturing systems.

For example, integrating new palletizing equipment at the entry or exit of an automation system can be complex and time-consuming. Ethernet/IP allows safety, control, motion and information on a single network infrastructure with IT-friendly applications, resulting in easier integration into existing systems.

A single control platform

Right-sizing a control architecture and machine components can achieve significant long-term cost and time savings for manufacturers because machine builders are better able to deliver the right solution to match changing control system requirements.

Traditional architectures require separate control infrastructures for most factory automation applications, including safety, motion and process control. Manufacturers now have the ability to seamlessly integrate these applications using a single control platform. In addition, modern control platforms offer a second dimension of scalability to accommodate the range of machine sizes and degrees of complexity. This allows the manufacturer to easily expand I/O, improving flexibility to meet future growth.

It also helps machine builders and their end customers leverage a common application programming and configuration environment — regardless of the types of applications they need to manage or the complexity of their machines. This allows manufacturers to reuse code and become more familiar with how to operate and maintain their systems.

Understand international safety standards

Some of the newest international standards that are reshaping how designers approach machine safety projects include the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 13849-1/2 and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 62061.

These international safety standards were recently mandated by the European Commission’s Machinery Directive, and were issued in part to guarantee the free movement of goods and services across a single European market. They also are considered among the most rigorous machine safety standards in the world. Any machines shipped into or out of Europe must comply with the appropriate standard after the final withdrawal of EN 954-1 at the end of 2011.

The international standards add two very important elements to the definition of the reliability of the machine’s safety function: time and risk. These two elements help machine builders take advantage of a more methodical approach to safety system design.

Both international standards require manufacturers to identify and document the potential hazards associated with machine operation and the risk levels hazards present to users. The safety system is then designed to the level of risk associated with the hazards present on the machine. This allows the machine builder to design the safety system to the correct functional level. Appropriate documentation proves a machine’s level of safety, designers can better justify a need for a safety system upgrade, and operators can be more confident in the reliability of a machine’s safety system.

Machine builders who design material handling equipment that complies with international safety standards help end users protect people and equipment by providing safer, more reliable machinery.

Ensure system support

Global manufacturers may encounter several supply chain challenges when expanding to new markets, including how to manage costs, inventory and vendor relationships. For example, since conveyors play a central role in an operation, it is essential that conveying equipment operates with maximum availability and minimum downtime. Global service and parts availability contribute to this.

Also, custom, specifically designed and manufactured controls that are not globally available can leave a material handling system at risk of significant downtime. When the performance of the machine determines the productivity and profitability of an entire warehouse or distribution center, such as with a sortation system, equipment with a controls architecture that can be supported globally can help maximize availability.

Ken Fry is global segment business manager, material handling – OEM solutions, for Rockwell Automation. Visit

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