Some manufacturers on the forefront of Industry 4.0 established cloud-connected processes years ago. Consider POSITAL FRABA, which uses the IoT to leverage Cloud-backed production of rotary encoders, inclinometers and linear position sensors. Billed mass customization, the Cloud-based data system lets Posital build custom components at low cost through automated product interfaces (APIs, not to be confused with application program interfaces in GUIs for motion and control software).
Why IoT here? Posital’s encoders and sensors support motion control in industrial robots, packaging systems, medical equipment and the heavy-duty machinery used in construction, mining and energy production. These applications have different needs with respect to housings, seals, shock and vibration mitigation and dynamic response, not to mention different connection technologies (including analog, digital serial, fieldbus or industrial Ethernet). Posital’s mass customization helps systematically satisfy these disparate requirements. With an enormous range of mechanical variants and several programmable features, the company can offer more than one million unique product configurations.
“Before mass customization, our manufacturing could accommodate lots of options, but distributor’s stock was limited and lead times could be lengthy. But optimized, Cloud-based production means that we can build to order and still have very quick short delivery,” said Christian Leeser, president of Fraba, owner of Posital.
Modular components and interchangeable sub-assemblies let engineers build hundreds of thousands of design variations. Assembly personnel scan work-order barcodes to download graphical (Ikea-like) manufacturing instructions to their PC in real time. “So the factory system deploys to countries with different languages. Plus there’s no chance that someone gets old manufacturing instructions and does something in an outdated or flawed way,” said Leeser. Posital’s system also stores each product’s design and sale details, including QA and test records.
Posital’s Product Finder tool lets the company’s 120 international distribution partners specify sensors to customer requirements from a menu of features—a multi-turn absolute rotary encoder with a stainless-steel housing rated for IP67-level environmental protection, with an 8-mm diameter shaft, a CANopen data interface and an M12 5-pin connector, for example. The web-based product finder confirms the configuration is feasible and provides a part number. The distributor can then order the part, usually receiving it within a week.
The latest Posital tool to enable Industry 4.0 is UBIFAST programming (to let distributors and large customers complete final configuration onsite). A small unit plugs into the sensor through a standard cable, while a built-in WiFi hotspot gives users access to a configuration interface through a standard web-browser window (on a PC, tablet or smartphone). Years later, a customer needing a replacement can contact Posital with the original serial number and a full record of the device’s configuration history will be available.