When data is made available on mobile devices, rapid data-driven decisions can be made from anywhere.

Data Acquisition Goes Mobile

May 22, 2019
The industrial solution you’re looking for might already be in the palm of your hand (literally).

According to research by the Pew Research Center, 67% of all Americans have a smartphone. With this widespread adoption also prevalent inside factories, this article explains how mobile devices can be used in manufacturing—even in aging plants.

Whether it’s smartphones, tablet computers or a smartwatch, mobile devices are everywhere. This mass uptake of portable technology offers a real opportunity for industry professionals to make use of factory data while on the move.  

Aging Plants

Across all industries, plant managers care about productivity and profits. While most envision improving profits through futuristic and high-tech processes, in reality, most facilities do not have the latest technology we often see demonstrated at trade shows and exhibitions. However, this shouldn’t hinder the potential for data acquisition.

Data doesn’t discriminate. Even aging factories have a wealth of data available to them. Whether it’s information on machine performance, energy consumption, or production, variables on the factory floor are waiting to be measured, processed, and actioned.

As older factories become more connected, real-time data from Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems provides a complex ecosystem of information gathered from sensors, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and other data-rich equipment.

Generally, this data would be visualized on a human machine interface (HMI)—a display screen situated on the factory floor. But sometimes, this isn’t enough. When this data is also made available on mobile devices, rapid data-driven decisions can be made from anywhere.

A plant manager could be in a meeting room, on their commute or in another country. By connecting SCADA systems with mobile devices, the manager has complete vision of the production network in real-time and therefore has the insight to react to problems instantaneously.

As older factories become more connected, real-time data from SCADA systems provides a complex ecosystem of information gathered from data rich equipment.

Think Big

Consider this illustrative example. A food manufacturing plant has numerous pieces of equipment within its walls. This includes highly regulated storage vats, mixers, grills, liquefiers, and pasteurization equipment—just to name but a few. Add to this, the more peripheral but equally important Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) equipment or machine safeguarding tools. 

This theoretical production line is outputting one of the United States’ most popular desserts—apple pie. Starting at the apple chopper, fruit is cut to size before joining a sugar and cinnamon mix in a gigantic industrial saucepan. The blade of the apple chopper is fitted with a retrofit sensor that collects data on the rotational effort of the machine. The blade is running at an optimal level that balances speed, equipment longevity, and energy consumption.

Over in the dough section of the factory, flour and an emulsifier are mixed together with industrial stirrers to make the perfect flaky pastry. The mixing blade is fitted with a similar sensor to measure the performance of the mixing machine, at a speed that matches the output of the apple filling production.

These two sensors join the complete network of PLCs and field equipment under the overarching control of the SCADA system.  

The plant manager is delayed on his commute one morning. He accesses his mobile HMI to check on the status of production equipment; all is well. However, he receives a phone call from an employee stating the day’s delivery of apples is delayed. While the business has reserves of two days’ worth of apples in inventory, the manager decides to slow production so that machines aren’t faced with shutdown if the delivery is delayed beyond two days.

At the push of a button, the apple chopper is slowed to an optimal speed for the inventory level, maximizing on energy savings. The other factory workers are alerted to this change on their relative HMI. In complete synchrony, the entire production line, including the pastry dough processing, is altered to prevent a bottleneck situation…all without the plant manager on site.

The mass uptake of portable technology offers a real opportunity for industry professionals to make use of factory data while on the move.  

Think Small

As previously mentioned, not every business has the budget for an entire smart factory network. For these facilities, mobile data acquisition can simply be between one sensor and one mobile device. Functioning independently without the need for PC support, machine data can be acquired in real-time, but on a budget.

The required sensor may already be built into a smartphone. For example, vibration analysis apps are available for android and IOS users, which analyze the data from the phone’s accelerometer to build a vibration spectrum. This can determine the quality of fans and motors for example, to calculate whether the parameters match the ones determined by the manufacturer.

These vibration signatures can predict failure of machinery ahead of actual failure, allowing for preventative maintenance to take place.

When the time is right for a business, singular connected devices can join together to form a mesh of devices, communicating, and sharing information. This forms a scalable project. By tackling specific pain points slowly and sustainably, and making sure a reputable parts supplier is onboard throughout the process, plant managers can rest assured their remote monitoring plan is effective.

As noted, a huge majority of Americans have a smartphone. Therefore, it makes sense to use these digital tools in industry, too. For plant managers, it’s also important they know who to call when they need find an industrial part such as a motor, HMI, or PLC system. For access to a world of automation parts, contact EU Automation at (877) 830-2021.

Claudia Jarrett is a manager at EU Automation.

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