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Machine Design

Key Ingredients for Designing Smart Machines and Equipment

Meet end users’ expectations with the right mix of processes, technology, and people.

OEMs have always been expected to innovate and keep pace with end users’ requirements. But in today’s era of smart manufacturing, end users want to optimize their production and supply chain by bringing together islands of information—and they want OEMs to help. Delivering on the promise of smart manufacturing is paramount.

At the heart of a smart operation is the convergence of information technology (IT) and operations technology (OT) systems into a single network architecture. Successful convergence uses smart machines and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies for seamless connectivity and information sharing across people, plants, and supply chains.

Fig. 1“The Connected Enterprise” is Rockwell Automation’s example of how the information technology and the operational technology converge to create a new network architecture. This architecture focuses on analytics, collaboration, security, and organized data.


As a result, end users need smart machines and equipment that are designed to thrive in a converged architecture and provide nearly endless opportunities to improve their operations. This also can help them address their most pressing needs, such as:

  • Remaining globally competitive by keeping business models relevant, and moving from mass production to mass customization.
  • Addressing workforce issues, including retaining the skills of retiring workers, and ensuring IT and OT workers are prepared for the influx of new, smart technologies.
  • Addressing risks, including security threats and increasingly complex regulations.
  • Making the most of internet- and Ethernet-enabled technologies.

This all may be daunting for industrial OEMs. However, they can meet customers’ needs and simplify the design of smart systems by focusing on three key elements: processes, technology, and people.

Processes: Meet End Users on Their Journey

Every end user’s journey to smart operations will be distinct. For example, Rockwell Automation’s "The Connected Enterprise" follows four stages. Still, every journey will be distinct. Factors including operational needs, available resources, and workforce availability will be unique to each organization and influence its roadmap.

Four Stages of Rockwell Automation's “The Connected Enterprise”

The journey for an OEM to incorporate smart machines will be a distinct process depending on the user’s requirements and resources. The following is an example journey following Rockwell Automation’s “The Connected Enterprise” process.

Assess and plan. Conduct assessments to understand the culture and to evaluate the IT/OT infrastructure in place, including controls, networks, information, and policies.

Secure and upgrade network controls. Securely upgrade the network and controls to prepare for future configurations and technologies, such as mobility, big-data analytics, and cloud computing.

Leverage data and analytics. Define data, identify how to turn it into actionable information to support better business decisions, and use it to drive continuous improvements.

Optimize and collaborate. Optimize operations, and engage with internal teams, suppliers, and customers to better respond to internal and external events.

OEMs will encounter end users at different points in their journey. Some will be in the early planning stages. Others may be in the midst of IT/OT convergence. And others still may be ready to integrate smart machines or equipment.

It is important that OEMs communicate with end users to understand their needs and the stage in the journey. Those conversations also can help OEMs identify opportunities to innovate with their customers, such as using remote monitoring to monitor assets and maximize uptime.

Ultimately, OEMs must always be ready to equip end users with smart machines or equipment, regardless of where they are in their journey.

Technology: Deliver Systems That Match Needs

Fig. 2The Paper Converting Machine Company provides an example of integrated safety. Using zone control to remove power and allow maintenance, the rest of the production system can continue to operate.


OEMs that want to enable or support smart manufacturing and industrial operations should rethink traditional, machinery-design approaches. As they consider different design aspects to change and update, five key technology areas are paramount:

Integrated safety. Combining standard and safety control into a single platform enables the use of intelligent, machine-safety-system designs. This can improve productivity while still achieving compliance. Safety-system data also can be collected to alert operators where safety-related issues are occurring for faster downtime resolutions and long-term improvements.

For example, Paper Converting Machine Company uses zone control to remove power and allow maintenance in one zone while keeping the rest of the line up and running. It also uses safe torque off capabilities to remove rotational power from the motor without powering down the entire machine.

Accessible and secure information. End users develop goals for securely accessing and capitalizing on their operational, business, and transactional data. OEMs can support and fulfill those goals by connecting control systems and using performance dashboards that make information available and actionable.

Simplified integration. Replacing a multi-tiered networking strategy with a single, open EtherNet/IP network can simplify the network infrastructure and reduce integration risks. Likewise, a single, Logix-based control and information platform can ease the collection, transfer, and analysis of real-time operations data. In addition, moving industrial controls and hardware closer to the application can help reduce wiring time, increase uptime, and lower costs.

For instance, Eagle Technologies Group uses distributed motor controllers for modulated speed control on the conveyance systems of their custom, turnkey, automated assembly systems. This on-machine approach significantly reduces both enclosure space and wiring time.

Real-time diagnostics and analysis. Embedded-intelligence devices can deliver real-time data for predictive maintenance to help end users more quickly troubleshoot and repair problems. Remote monitoring also can be used to monitor critical parameters and address issues before they reach a point of failure.

INCO Engineering has seen this value firsthand by offering Transdatic, an advanced, remote-monitoring system, for its mining hoists. The system continuously monitors conditions of selected equipment, and data is securely transferred to INCO’s central service center. If an issue occurs, INCO staff can notify customers immediately—reducing the customers maintenance costs. Staff can also analyze the most frequent faults, helping customers make equipment and process adjustments to prevent further occurrences.

Operational efficiency. Design tools and scalable automation technology help OEMs deliver equipment that is flexible for multiple purposes to improve operating efficiency. For example, modular programming and reusable code can help reduce system complexity and support faster design, commissioning, and installation times. Motion-sizing tools also can help make mechatronic designs faster and easier to analyze, as well as help optimize, simulate, and select motion-control systems.

People: Secure the Right Skills

Today, engineers and programmers must understand the blend of IT/OT technologies used in connected plants and enterprises. They also must know how to configure, operate, and sustain their customers’ networked industrial control systems.

Providing training for existing workers can be critical to achieving this, especially because skilled workers are increasingly hard to find. OEMs should strongly consider using training and certification courses that have been specifically developed to help bridge the IT/OT gap in smart operations.

At the same time, OEMs do not need to go it alone. They should look to use vendors’ consultative, design, integration, and support services to help fill areas of need.

This could include using a vendor’s network and security services to help design a more secure control system in a connected operation. Safety services also can help smart machines and equipment comply with the latest standards, while support engineers can virtually analyze trends and recommend actions to help prevent downtime.

Fig. 3INCO’s central service center is provided with continuous data and operational status for its mining hoists. This is one way that smart machines are leveraged in an advanced network to provide capabilities like predictive maintenance.


Keeping up with Expectations

End users still expect machines and equipment to help them optimize processes, achieve compliance, maximize quality, and protect workers. But they also now expect those same systems to easily integrate into their operations, offer production intelligence, and improve their responsiveness to changing market demands.

With the right mix of processes, technology and people, OEMs can develop smart machines and equipment that meet these higher expectations.

Dan Seger, Principal Application Engineer

Rockwell Automation

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