The demand for cars is increasing across the globe, given the additional impetus to automotive OEMs. Automotive manufacturers are revamping production processes to cater to this increased demand. In addition, they have realised that a flexible shop floor will help optimise their production, which is only achieved by adopting advanced technologies. Robotics, additive manufacturing and seamless horizontal and vertical connectivity have already penetrated production processes improving existing system.
Conventionally, assembly lines were labour intensive, especially while moving parts from one station to another, which was less efficient and involved risks. In order to overcome these challenges, guide rail conveyors are used in the automotive industry for movement of engine, vehicle body, etc. Industrial conveyors allow automotive factories to move car body or engine between various stations spread across a shop floor in a factory.
Product transport: Critical yet unattended
Entirely mechanised and automated conveyor system is a lifeline of automotive shop floors by efficiently transferring the heavy loads within a factory helping them stick to their production schedules. These conveyors are continuously moving across the shop floor and pallets carrying the vehicle body or engine stops at every processing station with the help of stoppers. This continuous movement generates friction, eventually leading to wear and tear of components. Since the conveyor system is the critical link in the manufacturing line, any disruption or unplanned downtime in its operation during production increases maintenance costs and reduces productivity, which can be hugely damaging for automotive manufacturers.
There could be different reasons for failures—mechanical, bearing or motors or drives, which are among the most common reasons for stoppage of conveyor systems. Fortunately, with advanced automation technology solutions, today, it is possible to monitor the condition of equipment in order to prevent failures of critical equipment in operation, maximising uptime and productivity. Monitoring the condition of equipment helps the manufacturing units to monitor the system for problems or abnormalities, enabling them to take corrective actions before failure occurs. This reduces costly downtime, maximising production output.
Condition monitoring: A perfect solution
B&R’s solutions allow automation concepts of any manufacturing equipment applications to be implemented easily. Condition monitoring modules are part of B&R’s X20 control system, which precisely detect cases when service work may be needed and are also extremely easy to configure with no limitations. These modules allow manufacturing lines to continuously monitor the status of equipment or system. The results help to determine exactly which components require maintenance and when.
The vibration sensors are mounted on the conveyors or the guide rails used for transporting the vehicle body or engine. When the system is healthy, the vibrations are within a tolerance band. However, as the wear and tear increases or there is higher friction, the vibration values start deviating from the standard allowed. The line manager gets a holistic view of the entire line from the trends generated by B&R condition monitoring system. He is able to deduce the exact area where the potential problem is expected and then during his regular maintenance schedule, take necessary actions. In case a part needs to be replaced and needs ordering, the line manager has the time to process the request and have the material in stock for replacement in his scheduled maintenance. Without the availability of such monitoring systems, manufacturing units only understand the problem when it occurs. This leads to stopping the entire production line and diagnosing and resolving the issue could take a long time. In case the faced issue demands product replacement, it would further be subject to availability of the part. Thus, resolving the issue could take longer than expected.
A typical application of these X20 modules include continuous monitoring of rotating components such as, hydraulic assemblies, pulleys, belts, gears and motors. A special feature of these modules is that they perform vibration analysis locally, right on the module. These compact X20 modules provide four input channels and are able to generate more than 70 condition parameters such as, configurable damage frequency values, which are then transferred directly to the controller via POWERLINK. This architecture reduces cabling and maintenance effort in the manufacturing lines and improves diagnostics. It also facilitates mounting sensors and modules on the conveyor lines and reduces cost of installation. The condition parameters generated by X20 module provide line managers with information that they need to optimise maintenance intervals. B&R Automation Studio makes it a snap to configure the X20 module and program how the machine should respond to a status change, significantly reducing the amount of time and effort spent while working with software. These modules are very easy to use as part of an overall automation solution without requiring any expertise in vibration mechanics.
Coupling condition monitoring with secure remote access
Condition monitoring provides the maintenance and line managers to get access to information about the condition of systems on site. However, having this information available to them at their fingertips from anywhere would definitely provide a greater value addition and make their work easier. Maintenance teams are always on their toes and in an event of a breakdown are expected to provide a quick resolution to the problem. B&R helps couple condition monitoring with secure remote access to the system from anywhere around the globe. The data is continuously logged and is available at a click of a button. The maintenance can access this data from their smart phones and tablets at any time.
In addition, in case the maintenance teams need the machine builders to support in diagnosing the machine, B&R secure remote maintenance (SRM) enables a seamless secure connectivity right down to sensors and controller variables. Machine builders can securely access their machines without interfering with the IT network of the factory. The IT teams from the manufacturing unit configure and provides access rights and only authorised personnel can access the network. This offers a perfect mix of security and data integrity. SRM solution is easy to operate and any technician or engineer can access machines from anywhere in the world to retrieve logbook entries, application data and much more. In this way, multiple machines and system can be promptly serviced by a technician. Downtime can be kept to a minimum and costly travel can be avoided completely.
Next generation automation solutions
Today, everyone wants to adopt next generation automation solutions. However, they always face a challenge about not having a suitable partner in their journey. It is significant to enable machine builders and factories to successfully implement advanced automation solutions and help them optimise operations so as to improve efficiencies.