Designing the Next Generation Automation SolutionsBy Jan Hogewoning | Wed, 07/15/2020 - 14:29
Q: What are the different forms of automatization?
JN: Automatization can be applied in a wide range of processes. We can draw the degree of automatization on a spectrum, where left is what we know as discrete control and right is continuous control. Discrete control refers to separate actions that are done by robots in the manufacturing process. For example, in the automotive industry, vehicle doors start without glass, plastic parts and paint. With the use of sensors to determine their position, robots follow a set of steps to put together the door. This is done inside a manufacturing cell.
JAN: If cameras detect that something is not done right, they can feed this information to a computer, which then instructs the responsible robot to remove the piece and redo it. This results in faster and more precise processes, meaning a better product and greater production volume.
JN: On the other side, continuous control is a process in which you need to measure and control things continuously. It is used in the petrochemical, alimentary and pharmaceutical industry, for example, where you have liquids that need to be separated. Devices measure the temperature, pressure and other variables to ensure that everything goes according to standards at every point in the refining process. Continuous monitoring allows you to guarantee the quality of the final product. This process is also applied to beer production, where a liquid passes through various stages. Another possible application is smart buildings, which can be equipped with sensors that measure everything and interact with devices to control temperature, water use and much more.
Q: How do you create a precise solution that adapts to the client’s specific needs?
JN: We work with a modular structure. Over the years, we have built relationships with sister companies, which have expertise in particular fields. Together, we can couple our knowledge to find the best solutions.
JAN: One advantage is that automation principles and objectives can be applied across fields. Even though sensors, control systems and equipment differ for a manufacturing plant or a chemical plant, they share similarities that promote rapid problem understanding, team cooperation and development of innovative solutions.
We can offer turnkey projects. This means we take charge of almost everything from the beginning to the end. We do the engineering, purchase the equipment and systems, integrate these and train the operational, maintenance and supervisory staff.
Q: How would you quantify the economic benefits a client gets from implementing automatization in their process?
JAN: We did one project with a chemical-pharmaceutical company in Puebla. They employed a process from Germany with a final product quality of 92 percent. We were able to make modifications to this process to bring the final quality to 94 percent. The result was that other companies started to ask for the Mexican alternative instead of the German product. This company found demand rising so fast that they set up a second plant. The advantage of our automatization modifications was not just a higher-quality product but also less waste.
Q: What implications does automatization have for plant employees?
JAN: I do not like to say automatization means less staff. Automated processes require staff, but with more knowledge and better training. Personnel will still be required for supervision, maintenance and some operational tasks.
Q: Which services do you expect to be most in demand this year and next?
JAN: Everything related to Industry 4.0 will be an area of opportunity. This includes services such as Big Data, data analysis, cybersecurity, connecting devices and creating cloud operations. Integrated technologies can be used both for discrete, as well as continuous automation and hybrid forms in between. There are many processes that can be automated. For example, a machine can provide a signal to a phone when raw material is missing and the buyer needs to place a new order. The purchase can even be automatic by sending that signal straight to the supplier of the raw material.
Another area where we feel we can contribute is safety on the production floor. Integrated devices can monitor and react in the case of an accident. Lastly, cybersecurity is a big area of opportunity. With more and more industrial processes integrated by technology, the need for good protection is only growing to prevent attacks on an entire system.
JN: We are working on a new software that would allow us to create our solutions without third-party software. This will also give us more space to design innovative solutions. In terms of areas of opportunity, we have had a lot of contact with smart city initiatives. Connected sensors can be used for video vigilance, traffic control, environmental monitoring and so many other applications that save costs and improve quality of life.
IMEPI is a consultancy in the area of automation and process control for manufacturing and industrial processes. It offers a wide array of services, including automation design and implementation, fire control solutions, safety instrumented systems, Industry 4.0 applications and employee training