IT in Manufacturing

Unobtrusive approach to digitalisation

February 2019 IT in Manufacturing

As Industry 4.0 continues to unfold, increasing numbers of manufacturers, big and small, are seeking the best opportunities to increase the automation of their industrial processes and improve productivity. However, how many fully understand the various aspects of digitalisation and its practicalities? Perhaps more pertinently, what can be achieved right now, and at what pace should it be implemented?

The adoption of digital systems and factory connectivity is clearly of significant competitive advantage. However, most are still getting to grips with the results that can be realised, and the associated benefits they can derive.

Different needs

Looking at the current market, there appear to be two categories of manufacturer looking to digitise their operations: those that want to restructure the whole company to make the most of the latest digital technologies and have a fully automatic factory; and those seeking a more ‘discreet’ approach, namely the gradual equipping of components with digital connectivity and making them visible in the cloud via the IIoT.

The latter does not demand a complete revolution of the company, but rather, a strategy that helps manufacturers to see initial results such as the registration of data coming from the machines, as well as the alarm settings and data analysis of the production cycle, for example. These are the first steps that allow a company to gear-up and develop internal capabilities on the path to full automation.

One of the initial hurdles faced by many manufacturers is that their machines, systems and equipment communicate in different protocols. Here, the goal of IIoT facilitators is to bring together the different systems in one shared platform – at Parker Hannifin this platform is called Voice of the Machine. In fact, it will likely not be long before a centralised database exists for all products, indispensable for a tomorrow when thousands, if not millions, of components will be interconnected. In such a concept, a unique code will identify all the features of a product, which will have both a physical and digital appearance (a digital twin).

As a step towards this future, the IO-Link communication protocol has been introduced on the whole range of Parker equipment. IO-Link allows users to enlarge the number of devices connected and integrate components in the system.

Infrastructure platform

As part of a macro strategy, all products enabled by the IIoT will be connected in an infrastructure platform such as Voice of the Machine, which also includes software, a platform in the cloud and a dashboard-style front end. Through this architecture, every machine, component or system can communicate securely with others thanks to a common structure of standard protocols and shared principles.

A typical component helping to facilitate digital manufacturing environments is the smart sensor, which, using a wireless or Bluetooth connection, is able to record pressure, temperature and humidity values. Such sensors are easily installed and eliminate the issues associated with hard wiring. They can be visualised on a smartphone app, allowing users to view the data collected, along with initial analysis routines.

More and more industrial components are being equipped with a digital interface. Importantly, solutions of this type are not just for new-build machines; it is possible to place smart sensors at critical points in existing systems, and equip them with a gateway for connection to the cloud. Specially devised retrofit kits are available complete with all the necessary sensors to make this passage. Once installed, the maintainer receives any alarm events on their smartphone, without having to go looking for them on site or on a remote display.

Predictive maintenance

Of course, predictive maintenance is the goal of many modern manufacturing businesses: a strategy that can be aided tremendously by digitalisation. Using the data collected from smart sensors, it is possible for advanced algorithms or accurate data analysis to predict when a specific component or system will need replacement or maintenance. Moreover, some developers of IIoT technology can now provide specially developed functional modules that present a digital representation of objects and, using special algorithms, make predictions that lead to plant optimisation based on the data collected.

Take a hydraulic system, for example, where one of the most common faults is contaminated oil. With this in mind, a first approach towards efficient predictive maintenance must be a real knowledge of the oil conditions within the circuit. This knowledge is facilitated by sensors and equipment that allow complete monitoring of oil health. The point here is that the company must also change its approach as the importance of having proper fluid health monitoring is often underestimated, which if ignored, can cause enormous damage. Thus, a complete management service for fluid health is required.

A complete solution involves a wide range of sensors and instruments that permit a detailed analysis of fluids for each type of contaminant and precise monitoring conditions: periodic or continuous. Following diagnostics, the contaminants can then be removed from hydraulic systems to extend the useful life of the fluid, and prevent unwanted and expensive machine stoppages.

Measured pace

From observations to date, while there is a deep interest in the IIoT among manufacturers, the adoption of facilitating technologies will almost certainly be at a measured pace in many instances. Even many large companies are still not equipped with the staff and appropriate software required for the correct analysis of the large amount of data they will be collecting.

Data analysis is a complex job. Small businesses need a vertical solution: component, gateway, cloud, software and a complete management service. Bigger companies, on the other hand, which already have their platform in place, are more interested in digital components and functional modules that fit as ready-made plug-ins, generating not only data, but analysis of the results.

Taking a holistic view, there is no question of whether the digital revolution will happen or not; it is only a question of when and at what rate. In the meantime, manufacturers would do well to make themselves protagonists of a strategy that will aid the permeation of digital technologies as part of a disubtle approach.

For more information contact Lisa de Beer, Parker Hannifin SA, +27 11 961 0700,,


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Reliable gas production
September 2019, Siemens Digital Industries , IT in Manufacturing
Energy supplier uses Siemens technology for optimum information exchange.

Automotive supplier relies on Siemens PLM solution
September 2019, Siemens Digital Industries , IT in Manufacturing
Küster Automotive is an internationally active family-run company and a part of Küster Holding. A full-service supplier, Küster manufactures components for the automotive industry. For its production ...

Top tips to help you implement 4IR projects that deliver value
September 2019 , Editor's Choice, IT in Manufacturing
In the just over 10 years I have spent working on IT projects in the manufacturing space, the amount of new fads and IT jargon that has to be adopted has reached the heavens, and ascended into other realms. ...

Digitisation requires new skills
September 2019, Schneider Electric South Africa , IT in Manufacturing
Smart grid investments by municipal and public power utilities typically focus on electric distribution and customer systems. The expected benefits include lower costs, better customer service and more ...

Industry 4.0: Manufacturing Executing Systems
September 2019, S4 Integration , IT in Manufacturing
Industry 4.0 is set to lead the way for digitisation of manufacturing processes. Manufacturing Executing Systems (MES) are a critical component of Industry 4.0 as they act as an enabler for end-to-end ...

Parker enhances H Series ISO valve portfolio
September 2019, Parker Hannifin Sales Company South , Pneumatics & Hydraulics
Parker Hannifin has added an expanded range of features and capabilities to its H Series ISO valve platform as part of its global focus on factory automation. Designed with a new universal manifold, the ...

Safety and cybersecurity convergence goes beyond safety systems
August 2019 , IT in Manufacturing
However, the scope of safety and cybersecurity goes well beyond process safety systems alone. Across the industrial and infrastructure worlds, an increasing number of end users are adopting more sophisticated ...

How the latest pneumatics can reduce plant costs
August 2019, Parker Hannifin Sales Company South , Pneumatics & Hydraulics
The implementation of predictive maintenance has become a high-held ambition for many modern plants, a strategy that avoids the costs of both reactive and scheduled preventative maintenance by only deploying maintenance routines exactly when needed; namely, shortly before a pneumatic component is predicted to fail.

Mobile app configures level transmitters
August 2019, Emerson Automation Solutions , IT in Manufacturing
Emerson has added the Radar Master app for the AMS Trex Device Communicator, making it easier for field technicians to configure Rosemount radar level transmitters. Radar level devices are critical to ...

Yapper: pet food goes digital
August 2019 , IT in Manufacturing
Over the past decade, there has been an increase of the ‘pet humanisation’ trend, which continues to capture the entire world. Pet owners are caring for and spending on their pets as they would do for ...