Memex president Dave McPhail demonstrates a UMI with an MX2000 terminal.
Just as the internet has changed the way businesses communicate, automation has streamlined the shop floor, but there is a gigantic technological disconnect.
For most manufacturers, corporate communication flows through a centralized, internet-enabled network such as an enterprise resource planning system (ERP). And on the shop floor, where there can be a mix of highly automated machinery and older units, getting productivity or machine status updates often requires a trip to the production area and perusal of an operator’s manually kept log.
Manufacturing machinery such as tooling machines communicate using serial ports—which are unable to connect to the information super highway—therefore, real-time production data is often there, just not accessible or integrated into the central system. If these machines could be outfitted with advanced communication technology, a manufacturer could avoid having to buy new machinery, thus potentially saving thousands if not millions of dollars.
The nuts and bolts
Since 1992, Burlington, Ont.-based Memex Automation Inc. has dedicated its R&D efforts to coming up with a solution that will connect the “shop floor to the top floor.”
Starting out as a manufacturer of circuit boards and Fanuc memory upgrades and replacements, Memex has developed an inexpensive plug and play universal machine interface (UMI)—it costs $4,000 per machine and takes about 15 minutes to install—that connects both old and new machinery to the ethernet through a machine’s serial port.
The hardware and software suite combines overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and direct numerical control (DNC) systems to track machine uses while providing local memory, high-speed connectivity, real-time automatic machine status and utilization data collection.
Memex boasts that this kind of visibility of the shop floor increases manufacturing productivity by up to 20 per cent.
Holding up one of his intricate circuit boards (an AX750 interface), Memex president Dave McPhail says, “There’s no way for us to easily get signals out of an I series Fanuc control, so we use this board, set whatever inputs we want and take signals out to our UMI to calculate the OEE.”
There is also a handheld device—MX2000 terminal—that gives operators a view of what’s going on with the machine communicates with ERP systems.
With this ethernet connectivity and the handheld device, an e-mail logic engine can be installed to measure what’s happening on the shop floor and fire off e-mails in real time automatically or manually, or send text and SMS messages to cell phones.