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In Smart Factories, IoT Redefines Quality and Efficiency


When Ford Motors opened their first assembly line 100 years ago,  the world reeled on the possibilities that large scale manufacturing can actually accomplish in modernizing societies.  Today, technology has taken manufacturing to unimaginable levels, with efficiency defining every aspect of production. In the Digital World, efficiency rules. This is particularly relevant to the manufacturing industry which, over the years, has made the Internet of Things an integral component in the production line.

In our previous blogs, we discussed how IoT helps increase agricultural productivity by ensuring that all conditions to grow healthy crops are controlled and monitored. The same principle applies to manufacturing products. To ensure high quality output, the conditions in producing the materials must be put under efficient monitoring and control. With IoT, manufacturing plants of the old, industrial age have become smart factories that operate on tremendous level of efficiency and precision quality control.

Smart Factory Solution

Big companies are now increasingly dependent on IoT to provide stability and control of its plant operations. A smart factory solution using Waspmote and Microsoft Azure software has effectively helped the company Polibol in ensuring the quality of its products and in maintaining the stability of each step of its manufacturing process.

Polibol is a leading company based in South America that specializes in the production and supply of flexible packaging such as printed coils and aluminum laminated plastics. Its products are used as packaging material for several consumer products that are sold in Americas, Europe and North Africa. Apart from ensuring product quality, the company gives great consideration to the optimization of its processes. The use of IoT has become imperative to meet its standards that require continuous measurement of environmental variables.


Use of Wireless Sensor technology

The technological innovation that Polibol boldly adopted for its manufacturing operation has tremendously improved its production capacity and product quality at reduced costs.  The integration of wireless sensor networks (WSNs) in its production line allowed it to monitor critical processes and parameters that affect the quality of each output as well as the working conditions.  The sensor network technology have the capability of monitoring air temperature in the plant where the printing machines require stable temperature that is just enough to dry the ink on the elastic material and prevent blurring and smudges while printing. The temperature of the machines themselves also needs to be monitored given that printing is done at 200 meters per minute which, if not properly monitored, could lead to overheating.

Maintaining a stable temperature is also necessary to keep the elasticity of the materials during the manufacturing process. The packaging uses polyethylene, polypropylene, polyester, polyamide, PVC and aluminum materials which are very difficult to print on if the consistency of the material becomes too elastic.

Another factor that is constantly monitored and fed to WSNs is light intensity. In printing the packaging materials, constant luminosity needs to be maintained. Light sensors allow for color analysis, with an ambient light used to determine the color.

The CO2 concentration in the air needs to be efficiently monitored as well, with emission needing to be controlled so that air circulating within the facility will remain harmless to workers. Sensors can read the amount of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) in the air, a common emission in printing shops. Solvents that are used during printing and laminating eventually dry up as it evaporate as VOCs. There is an environmental policy that requires factories to capture, recycle or destroy in a controlled manner evaporated VOCs to keep it from polluting the atmosphere.

Interestingly, Polibol also integrated a noise sensor which allows managers to control noise within the work area, either from machines or workers. The noise sensor is considered an early warning signal when a machine is going to break down, and thus allow enough time for preventive intervention.

Being able to monitor factory and worker conditions improves efficiency and cost-savings. Credits: Libelium

Transmitting and Storing Data

All data that is generated by the sensors are transmitted and stored using multiprotocol gateway that can be configured to communicate with different protocols like Wi-Fi, Ethernet and 802.15.4. A local database receives all data which can be read in real time. All reports can be accessed using a Web interface.

Polibol uses Microsoft Azure in sending and receiving data from the sensors and the system. From the outset, all data can be downloaded locally or data can be transferred from the server to a data storage device. Azure allows from synchronization of devices so that users can access the data anywhere, anytime.

Remote access to crucial technical reports as the manufacturing process is on-going makes production highly efficient and drastically lowers operational risks and failure in quality check.

Finally, and most amazingly, the sensor nodes installed in the factory are set-up in such a way that turning on or off, or putting the system in sleep, deep sleep and hibernation mode, can be done by a mere touch of a button on a remote device. This set-up helps reduce power cost and eventually, operational costs. More importantly, it ensures safety of the facility and durability of the entire system.

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