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Smart solutions for Industry 4.0

08 May 2018

Most manufacturing companies are constantly balancing the desire to improve production against the return on the investment required to achieve that improvement. Industry 4.0 has the promise of facilitating great improvements. However, as with many emerging technologies, there is a shortage of expertise and experience.

Most companies have the skills to install sensors and use the outputs to trigger the next step in production. Many also have the ability to collect all the data from all the sensors and store it for later use. Very few companies have either the expertise to effectively analyse the data and produce useful results or the experience to know what can be realistically achieved from the results.

Smart Factory is based in the Nexus Innovation Centre at the University of Limerick. It offers a ‘hand-holding’ style approach when it comes to digital transformation. Its Smart Factory Solution is a non-invasive retrofit system that captures process data in real-time, giving actionable intelligence to optimise operational performance. The team have developed a robust and well-engineered solution that combines Industry 4.0 and lean digitalisation, driving efficiency through innovation and bridging the IT/OT convergence in manufacturing. Brendan Sheppard B.Eng CEO has over 20 years’ industry experience, and is the driving force behind the Smart Factory. Throughout his engineering career, Brendan has worked with many leading multi-nationals, such as Proctor & Gamble, Accantia, Tambrands and Boeing. His commitment to continuous process improvements, lean manufacturing environments, data capturing and reporting was the foundation for the vision behind Smart Factory.

Its solution uses a secure OPC architecture to communicate to virtually every type or brand of PLC. Intuitive mobile touch screen devices convert manual paperwork into lean digital workflows and interactive smart digital displays eliminate the wasteful effort of preparing and printing paper reports and help to digitise the daily management process. 

Smart wireless sensors from Turck Banner facilitate the capturing of data from non-networked machines or semi-manual/manual processes. Turck Banner is frequently asked to provide the complete solution, not just the sensors. The company has invested heavily in its systems division to have in-house expertise in middleware development and have its own secure cloud storage facilities. It also has specialist integrator partners like Smart Factory who have a history in delivering turnkey projects for customers.

Application examples

One example Brendan Sheppard uses involves a packing line that manufactures cosmetics. It was frequently experiencing stoppages on its machines so Smart Factory implemented relative humidity sensors in the warehouse and overlaid the data it collected there with data from the machines. By correlating the relationship between these two data sets, the company realised the downtime was caused by damp cardboard - something relatively simple that wouldn’t have been realised without real-time data. 

Another example involves a medical manufacture who was looking at building an extension of its manufacturing process. Before the plans were finalised, Smart Factory implemented numerous pieces of Banner hardware and within 33 minutes live data was active. This allowed the team to discover that for more than 30 percent of the day, the manufacturers machines stopped. Not because they were broken, but because its internal process meant there was a period of downtime. This new information meant the manufacture could work on improving its uptime and making its machines more efficient without extending the process. 

Even at this early stage, this new technology has seen a very positive market response, capturing, analysing and visualising key performance indicators from the manufacturing, logistics and utility sectors, using smart Industry 4.0 technology.


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