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Machine builders and manufacturing: Starting with Industry 4.0 based on OPC and Microsoft Azure IOT

Machine builders and manufacturing:  Starting with Industry 4.0 based on OPC and Microsoft Azure IOT

We all know the benefits of Industry 4.0 when it comes to operational efficiency, engaging customers and transforming products to products + services.  The main question is: where to start?  Looking to what you already have and connecting OPC data with Azure IOT can open a lot opportunities.

Start with what you already have. When you look at industrial machines, the chances are that they have an OPC interface.  OPC (Ole for process control) was first released in 1996 with the purpose to create a more standardized interface between PLC specific protocols and HMI/SCADA systems.  This evolved into a more service-oriented architecture, which is known as OPC UA (Universal Architecture) today.  This is in fact a standardized and secure abstraction layer or programming interface between industrial equipment and IT systems, opening a lot of opportunities.  Since Microsoft is a partner of the OPC Foundation and both are innovators for Industry 4.0, a secure interconnection between Azure IOT and OPC UA is one of the results.

What can you do with it? By connecting your machines with Azure IOT, the incoming data opens a big box of opportunities.  Think about real-time remote monitoring, remote services, predictive maintenance, adding augmented reality, …  This can be overwhelming and in a lot of cases just blocks to progress of IOT projects since it is too much at once.  Creating a step-by-step approach with a good roadmap is the way to go, starting with easy achievable goals.

The most common scenario to start with, is remote monitoring: a field service engineer gets notifications of alarm conditions, can check remotely on a real-time dashboard what the actual status of the machine is and can start diagnosing remotely based on the collected data.  This scenario already delivers value in different ways: a faster response reduces machine downtime, the first diagnosis is done remotely and could lead to a remote resolution, which is again faster and saves on transport costs.

Once this step is made, you can start thinking about further integration into your processes: making the link with your ERP and CRM system for real-time asset management, a customer portal with real-time reports about productivity, SLA information, …

What is needed to achieve this?  Starting with the connection between the OPC UA server and the Azure IOT platform, Microsoft Power BI can deliver very powerful dashboards based on the data produced by the machines and can aggregate other data sources (like data from an ERP system).  Tools such as Microsoft Log Analytics are efficient in handling events, logs, alerts coming from machines and triggering alarms and actions.

What if I have an older version of OPC? It is not always possible to upgrade to the latest OPC UA version on legacy machines.  Even when you have an older version (like OPC DA), we can convert this on the IOT gateway towards OPC UA and make the connection with Azure IOT in the same way as newer machines.

Start exploring the potential of connected machines today Do you want to learn more about the advantages for your business and how to get started? Contact us for a ‘beyond the buzzwords’ workshop or for more information about the technical aspects!

Posted by inimco on 15/02/2017