Manufacturing gets digital boost with ABB Ability™

Alexander Wolfe

The rise of mass customization and the emergence of collaborative robots are changing the way factories – and the people operating them – work

The biggest topic for discussion among attendees at Hannover Messe 2018 might just be the question: What happens when manufacturing – the backbone of the modern, global economy – drives deeper into digital territory?

As digitalization technologies gain broader adoption across the industrial landscape, the answer is becoming crystal clear – it’s the biggest potential value-add since the invention of the conveyor belt itself.

The reasons are simple. Under relentless pressure to drive down costs while differentiating their products, manufacturers have realized that there are few efficiencies left to squeeze out of the legacy way of doing things. And modern consumers prefer to purchase highly personalized merchandise, which previously was prohibitively expensive to make because it required production-line shutdowns for retooling and reprogramming.

Still, embracing digital can seem a little scary to even the tech-savviest manufacturing engineer. That’s because industrial digitalization isn’t a one-size-fits-all, bolt-on addition. Rather, it’s a collection of potent innovations, which build upon the network connectivity that today ties together everything from sensors and programmable tool systems to control systems and even the substation supplying power to the factory.

At ABB, digitalization all comes together via ABB AbilityTM, the cross-industry portfolio of more than 210 solutions that increase productivity by empowering customers with actionable, real-time information. The comprehensive list of solutions is available in the new ABB AbilityTM Solutions Catalog, which is being launched at the event.

Digitalization is quite literally running the factory of the future. Connected robots can become up to 200% more productive and use 30% less energy when enabled by ABB AbilityTM for Industry.

Indeed, digitalization is the foundational enabler of the true hallmark of the factory of the future – flexibility. However, nimbleness on the plant floor might not be such an obvious concept to those of us who recall the robotic behemoths of the 1970s. That’s when ABB introduced the first commercially available industrial robot. Robots were soon performing welding operations in automotive factories. But these early units were big, noisy – and dangerous. Today’s descendants are smaller, multipurpose, and reprogrammable. They’re almost a different species.

The YuMi® collaborative robot at the Hanover Fair 2018

That’s why ABB calls their YuMi® a collaborative robot. YuMi ® can work in close proximity with people, for example, on small parts assembly. It can handle anything from a watch to a tablet PC, with high levels of accuracy evident from its demonstrated ability to solve a Rubik’s Cube or utilize machine learning to conduct an orchestra, just like a human maestro.

The flexibility demonstrated by YuMi® is enabling ABB’s customers to grow and thrive in the age of mass customization. ABB Ability is helping manufacturers get the most out of YuMi® with solutions that streamline production, alert operators when predictive maintenance is required to avoid outages, and cut operating costs.

Nowhere are collaborative robots and digitalization having more impact than in the automotive factory of the future. As renewables displace CO2-emitting fossil fuels, factories are gearing up for a surge in e-car production. Separate, national plans at various stages of consideration by Britain, France, India and Norway would ban sales of new diesel- and gas-powered vehicles during the coming decades. ABB offers a complete solution – utilizing adaptive controllers and moving parts conveyors called automated guided vehicles (AGVs) – to support the manufacturing stage where doors, bumpers and interiors (including the driver’s “cockpit”) are added to the vehicle’s welded but unfinished “body-in-white” shell.

For the process, hybrid and discrete industries, digitalization is taking center stage in the automated equipment which manage plant operations. Consider the ABB AbilityTM System 800xA Distributed Control System (DCS). Multiple 800xA DCS units deployed throughout a plant can be integrated and monitored from a central location, providing plant managers with secure access to all operational information from any office desktop. Full scope condition monitoring ensures maximum asset utilization as well as condition-based (versus time-based) maintenance schedules, which reduces customer costs of operation.

ABB Ability™ System 800xA Distributed Control System

As the top global DCS supplier, ABB has more than 10,000 System 800xA units installed in over 100 countries, monitoring and controlling over 50 million of the RFID and passive tags, which are used track the movement of palletized parts along the assembly line during production.

Another manufacturing case study of note is a large chemical plant in the southern United States. It produces chemicals for consumer products that must be accurately processed to ensure quality, and monitored for leaks and other potential safety hazards.

To support its complex operations, plant managers have enlisted the predictive analytical capabilities of ABB AbilityTM Performance Optimization services for the 800xA DCS. The services utilizes big data collected during process operations and compares it against comparable data aligned with best practices and standards, flagging any disparities as early alerts of potential performance issues.

Additional proof of the impact of ABB’s DCS family came toward the end of last year, when ABB was named Frost & Sullivan’s 2017 Global Distributed Control Systems Company of the Year. The Frost & Sullivan report also praised ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operations Centers for helping customers improve performance.

Worldwide, there are nine ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operations Centers in eight countries, including a new center opening this month in Mannheim, Germany. The centers monitor plant data around the clock, and ABB experts are on hand to make recommendations to keep production on track.

The centers service a wide range of industry sectors, including power and heat generation, water supply plants and networks, process industry, oil and gas, petrochemicals, mining, paper and metals. One of biggest, real-world wins from the centers is happening right now in the marine world. Though this example isn’t in manufacturing, it’s relevant because it spotlights the power of analysis across geographically distributed assets. And, of course, container vessels bring manufactured goods to market.

To help managers of large, ocean-going fleets cut energy costs, ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operations Centers collect data – on speed, draft, water depth, wave height – from each vessel’s propulsion system. Real-time analysis results in recommendations to vessel operators for setting optimum trim, propeller speed and other parameters. The result is reductions in propulsion energy costs of up to 5%.

Data from multiple ships can be aggregated to unlock fleet-wide energy efficiencies. ABB is already remotely monitoring more than 700 ships at its seven ABB AbilityTM Collaborative Operations Centers worldwide and expects that number to rise to 3,000 by 2020.

ABB Ability™ Collaborative Operations Centers

Want to see preview of what the factory of the future looks like with ABB AbilityTM and how it can make things faster and better through digitalization in action? Then check out this short video of the ABB intelligent factory in Heidelberg, Germany, where circuit breakers are being made. The factory is a showcase of ABB’s cutting-edge manufacturing expertise, combining advanced robotics with the power of the Industrial Internet of Things.

About the author

Alexander Wolfe

Alexander Wolfe is a member of the ABB External Communications team. He focuses on creating thought-leadership content to tell the story of ABB’s pioneering technology in electrification products, robotics and motion, industrial automation, and power grids.
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