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Adapting machines to go global with modern industrial networks

For machines to be ready to go global, there′s no one-size-fits-all solution but there are benefits of choosing components that meet multiple industry network protocols. Understanding end project goals, available I/O technology and deciphering which specific features are needed are key to achieving business objectives.

To ship machines globally, one customer may need PROFINET components while another might require EtherNet/IP. Multiprotocol I/O provides a way to meet both needs, since machine builders can change out each input/output (I/O) module, and in some cases the connectors, to meet varying country-specific requirements.

THERE ARE MULTIPLE STANDARDS being used in industrial applications today for teams to understand and consider with PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and the EtherCAT protocol now available. It can be challenging, especially for machine builders that work internationally, to meet the expectations that come with this new landscape. One customer may need PROFINET components, while another might require EtherNet/IP protocol standards. To meet both needs, machine builders typically change out each input/output (I/O) module, and in some cases the connectors, to meet the varying country-specific requirements.

Using multiple protocol standards

A machine builder for the packaging industry had this exact problem, and to address it, they set out to build a standard machine for a global food and beverage manufacturer. The customer needed to meet different, country-specific Ethernet protocols for its plant locations in Europe, which required PROFINET PLCs, and South America, which relied on EtherNet/IP protocol standards.

Rather than change out each I/O module on the machines to meet the different requirements, the goal of the project was to find an easier and more cost-effective way to meet the machine requirements for use globally.

Multiprotocol modules are avaiilable for a range of networks including PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and EtherCAT.

Simplifying complex supply chain

To procure the parts the team needed to do the job, the machine builder bought and stored countless product variants through a wide and complex supply chain comprised of many suppliers. Because of the complexity involved in this process, the machine builder had a secondary goal to simplify their supply chain and manage a smaller mix of suppliers.

Sourcing and stocking lots of product types - from different I/O modules and programmable logic controllers (PLCs), to varying connectors (4-pole vs. 5-pole) - took up valuable time and storage space, and strained the budget. The team therefore needed to source and use products that offered variety and flexibility so they could do more with less.

Typical system configuration using multiple protocols.

Standard, simplified I/O solutions

To help the machine builder meet various protocols with the same machine design, the team explored using multiprotocol I/O modules in its network infrastructure to standardize programming bit-mapping and speed up engineering times.

The team needed I/O modules that:

  • Met multiple industry protocols for global and regional use, including PROFINET, EtherNet/IP and EtherCAT
  • Allowed the use of current or old machine designs, while offering the ability for future upgrades
  • Withstoodharshindustrialenvironmental conditions, such as vibration resistance in robotic applications and high-temperature wash-down procedures
  • Bridge longer distances (longer than 10 meters) between field-level modules
  • Enabled them to stock fewer product types and variants and streamline their suppliers
  • Offered fast and easy installation

The idea behind using multiprotocol I/O modules to reach these goals was that the machine builder would be better able to meet the needs of the end customer by using old machine designs, while still adhering to multiple country-specific standards through a multiprotocol solution. The machine builder would no longer need to change the designs when there were size differences. The team could instead build a new machine and use compact modules to connect to the bigger modules on older machine designs with a universal mounting clip. This made it possible to meet the drilling hole dimensions of older machine designs without needing to completely re-design the new machine. They would also be able to:

  • Simplify supplier orders: Fewer orders overall and product ID numbers to track for purchasing and procurement departments; pricing discounts from ordering in bulk
  • Streamline machine design, installation and maintenance: Fewer parts to train on, easier module replacements, less downtime and greater overall cost savings and efficiency gains
  • Reducing storage space: Fewer types of devices to stock, less storage space needed for spare parts

The team ultimately sourced one multi-use, multiprotocol product from a single supplier, which not only streamlined the supply chain, but enabled them to use the same machine design and parts to meet the Ethernet protocols of any country or region.

A multiprotocol solution can benefit machine builders and end customers by simplifying supplier orders. Fewer orders overall and fewer product ID numbers are needed to track purchasing and procurement. Reducing storage space means less device types to stock, less storage space for spare parts needed. Simplifying machine design, installation and maintenance creates fewer parts to train on, easier module replacements, less downtime, greater overall efficiency and cost savings.

Key lessons learned

There are valuable lessons to take away from this use case for other companies across industrial verticals. First, when teams simplify internal and companywide processes, like the supply chain, it can deliver tremendous value for customers. The machine builder in this scenario was able to do much more for his client once the purchasing processes were streamlined and they had more resources on which to depend. The benefits of this were indirectly passed along to its client base.

From a communications and implementation perspective, using existing infrastructure in network upgrades and making them seamless for the customer is also a good reminder. Technological hiccups or long implementation processes can be a big turnoff, and these situations are easily preventable by having a strong network foundation in place and understanding which components can be swapped out or upgraded to get the desired outcome.

There′s no one-size-fits-all solution, but the benefits of choosing components that meet multiple industry protocols can get teams pretty close. Success starts with understanding the end goal of the project, the I/O technology that is available, and then deciphering which specific features are going to help the team reach the unique business objectives.

Paul Just is a global product line manager at Belden.


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