Plug-and-play in industrial plants

Author : Nick Boughton, Sales Manager at Boulting Technology

06 August 2018

Credit: Shutterstock

The ‘Combine and Conquer’ report by Accenture found that combining technologies such as AR/VR, big data and machine learning could save large businesses an average of £60,000 per employee. This piece explores the growing trend of plug-and-play technologies.

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Despite Industry 4.0 being far from a new concept (it was first coined in 2011 at Hanover Fair), the long lifespan of industrial machinery and the high perceived costs associated with purchasing smart technologies means manufacturers are still reluctant to take advantage of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

A growing trend for many manufacturers looking to ‘smarten’ up their factory and integrate Industry 4.0 technologies, such as remote monitoring and predictive maintenance, is the introduction of plug-and-play devices. However, with growing concern about vendor lock-in, choosing hardware that is compatible with the existing products within a plant is essential to saving costs, in addition to ensuring compatibility.

Plug-and-play

Plug-and-play devices are one way of maximising compatibility between new products and existing systems.

A plug-and-play device or computer bus has a specification that allows for the discovery of a hardware component in a system without physical device configuration or user intervention.

A multitude of IoT functions are now available with plug-and-play IoT kits. One popular example is the use of sensors that allow for digital condition monitoring of any kind of machinery. A direct physical attachment means they are able to take measurements, such as vibration and temperature, to facilitate maintenance plans, without any compatibility complications.

Because many manufacturers and developers of industrial automation equipment are producing their own devices to fill this market, it can be difficult for engineers to choose the best solution for their plant and application. As industrial machinery often has a long lifespan (for example, a motor control centre can be expected to last for 20 years with the correct maintenance), many plants will be faced with this dilemma each and every time they choose to purchase new equipment.

Credit: Shutterstock

Universal systems

True plug-and-play technologies are able to integrate with equipment from all vendors, eliminating integration headaches and other potential issues. They can also deliver quality and performance that matches plant requirements exactly.

Although the concept of true, open, plug-and-play technologies might sound idealistic to many, it is a growing trend for many manufacturers of industrial automation solutions, such as intelligent drives and remote monitoring software.

Experienced and independent systems integrators such as Boulting Technology are experts at recommending the best system for a plant’s unique requirements and capabilities. This includes ensuring the seamless integration of plug-and-play, out-of-the-box systems, while retaining cybersecurity and tried and tested processes from the existing system.

Integration

As plants are constantly upgraded and technology is evolving, the choice of products, services, software and hardware is becoming ever more complicated. Retrofitting existing systems with new sensors and communication software is therefore becoming more popular each year, as it is often a far cheaper solution. However, even within the retrofitting sector, vendor lock-in can be a concern.

The choice to retrofit plug-and-play technology, which requires less complex integration and user training, can continue to ensure cybersecurity through consistent protocols and firewalls. This is proving to be the best solution for many plants as a means of lowering costs associated with industry 4.0.


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