October 07, 2016      

It’s fascinating to see pieces of the Industrial Internet of Things being built and brought online right before our eyes, although sometimes the full realization of what’s happening is hard to pick out amid the surge of IT factory automation that’s taking place seemingly everywhere at once.

It’s always good to have a trusty guide along to clarify what exactly is going on and why.

Such was the session at RoboBusiness titled: IOT for Industrial Manufacturing and Zero Down Time, presented by FANUC’s Engineering Director, Joe Gazzarato.

Strange bedfellows no longer

No robot maker, even a $50-billion behemoth like FANUC, ever saw the day arriving that the robot world and that of networking giants like Cisco would ever be partners together. That notion is now history as FANUC and Cisco are well into a relationship that bodes well for both and for the customers who they now jointly serve.

FANUC and Cisco have together launched what appears to be a true component of the Factory of the Future. It’s still early yet, but the advance notices are eye-popping. FANUC claims to have saved its customers, who are now eternally grateful to FANUC, up to $70 million in “saved” downtime to their respective manufacturing operations.

Gazzarato was on hand at RoboBusiness to explain how it all came about…and where it’s headed.

ZDT (Zero Down Time) as a feedback loop

Rick Schneider, who served as CEO and president of FANUC America Corporation (replaced by Mike Cicco in July 2016; Schneider now Chairman of FANUC America), credits himself as the wellspring of the Factory of the Future movement at FANUC.

Basically, Schneider says in an explanatory YouTube video that after a robot is delivered to a customer, contact with that robot for FANUC ends.

He knew that a robot costing $250K would have another $250K of servicing during its lifetime; however, he’d never be aware when one of the robots might malfunction and unexpectedly and abruptly halt an expensive manufacturing line.

According to Schneider, such downtime could cost a manufacturer more than $20,000 per minute and over $2 million per incident.

To know how a robot performed as it was doing its job; or better still, to know when it was about to fail, would be invaluable insight to provide his customers. Such insight offered the opportunity to repair or replace a part before an expensive incident occurred.

As Gazzarato explained it, Schneider and his gang met up with the Cisco gang at a Cisco Internet of Things (IoT) conference. Out of that meeting came the idea of connecting FANUC robots to Cisco’s Intercloud Fabric which would “let FANUC remotely monitor industrial robots, proactively detect potential equipment or process problems, and reduce unplanned downtime.”

“This is definitely a game changer,” said Gazzarato. “Think of that. A facility that predicts when equipment is going to fail before it fails.” Gazzarato sees it every day: he’s the guy who runs the data center in Rochester Hills, MI that analyzes the performance of these far-flung robots.

FANUC is using Cisco’s InterCloud system to collect data from each robot in a facility. The data is then sent to Gazzarato and his team for analysis.

The results from the analysis of the data can be used to enhance robot performance as well as to highlight issues in the system. For example, ZDT might notice a soon-to-be issue with a robot’s joint or a tool interface, recording increased levels of resistance that could possible bring a halt to a customer’s workflow.

With such knowledge of an impending issue, FANUC can intervene with a repair or replacement part long before a robot fail. In essence, FANUC and Cisco have built a feedback loop that analyzes machine performance.

Such a feedback loop as ZDT is one of the milestones along the way to IIoT. ZDT means exactly what it says: Zero Down Time. Factory operations never have to suddenly stop to take away valuable time for servicing.

The same type of analysis can be fed back in other ways, like enhancing robot performance as well as highlighting issues in the system. A FANUC analyst might notice increasing levels of resistance to a specific robot part, which, in turn, could prompt a change in the materials that are used to build the part.

Other uses of feedback analysis might regard other aspects of production like:

  1. Improving cycle time
  2. Reducing energy consumption
  3. Extending the life of the robot

As he explained more of what is ahead for ZDT, it was easy to see how such mining and analysis techniques might be adapted to other automation processes from acquisition and delivery of raw materials to back office accounting.

The Factory of the Future is definitely on the build here in 2016, and ZDT is one small but highly effective branch showing the way forward toward others.


See also: Podcast: Milestones Along the Way to the Factory of the Future