How Fabricators Benefit from Software and Machinery Integration

By Jordan Scott

Keeping machinery up and running is vital to any company’s bottom line. When a machine goes down, production gets put on hold, impacting lead times and output as well as affecting the likelihood that a customer returns. With recent advancements in software and machinery integration, companies can keep their machines running with less unplanned downtime.

The Sophia Platform

Intermac’s Sophia platform is one example of how integration can make a difference for fabricators. According to Ron Lorick, West Coast product area manager for the Pesaro, Italy-based company, Sophia Parts allows a company to have complete access to all documentation and spare parts for their machines electronically.

“They can open up the software and find the parts that they need and also order it at any time of the day, so they don’t have to get on the phone with a technician,” says Lorick. “They can see the part number and they can see whether or not the part’s in stock in one of our warehouses, either in Charlotte, N.C., or in Italy.”

Sophia IoT is the next step, according to Lorick. The platform allows the operator to see error messages on their machine in real time.

“It really completes the link between the machines, our customer and our factory. If subscribed to Sophia IoT, whenever their machine goes in error they get a message and we get a message,” he says. “So when their operator or maintenance technician calls us we
have all the information available to diagnose what is wrong with their machine, what happened and we can propose a solution that much faster.”

This integration between the software and the machine minimizes downtime through the ability to order parts immediately and the predictive maintenance feature available with Sophia IoT. It allows Intermac to monitor any errors from its machines and to email companies advising them of when a certain part will need to be replaced.

“It really pinpoints and helps the customers keep their machines up because we’re looking at the machine all the time. We’re doing real-time data monitoring on the machine so we know what’s going on exactly,” says Lorick. “Before, the customer would have a problem with a machine, it would go down, they’d try to diagnose it for an hour or so, call us and
we’d then have to download information from the machine. With the IoT platform all of the information is already downloaded so by the time the operator or maintenance technician calls us we already have all the data.”

This technology gives them the ability to help fix the machine from a remote location, meaning troubleshooting is completed much faster than before. The software is running in the background constantly, so managers can track if a machine is running efficiently.

“It’s becoming demanded more and more that we have more real-time communication with the customer. In the past, we would have to have an internet connection and log in through the interface software,” says Lorick. “With Sophia this is happening in real time. The customer is expecting the next step in communications.”

An Open Standard

While being able to communicate more efficiently with a machinery company goes a long way toward increasing a company’s productivity, FeneTech, based in Aurora, Ohio, wants to take it one step forward with an open standard called FENml.

“It’s looking to bring all machinery together. Instead of just communicating from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to machines individually, we’re looking to get all the machines to send data back and forth not only to each other but back to the ERP system for the entire production floor,” says A.J. Piscitelli, project manager for FeneTech.
“When we talk about different machinery we’re including pretty much anything that we can get data out of or send data to, so cutting tables, tempering ovens, insulating glass lines, anything like that on the glass side of things.”

FeneTech’s standard allows the different alarms that come up on the machine to be accessible to both the customer as well as the machinery manufacturer.

“With Bystronic, as an example, not only are they able to more quickly resolve issues … in some cases they’re able to be more proactive and call up the customer when they’re starting to see these problems,” says Piscitelli of their work with the machinery manufacturer.

FENml also provides a list of basic troubleshooting steps. Piscitelli says
it’s not that the information was hidden before, but there were cases where, for example, a maintenance person didn’t have the manual on hand, or it was lost or damaged, or the maintenance person didn’t take the time to go through it to locate a specific error.

Users can also see preventative maintenance alerts telling them when certain maintenance will be due. They can take that information and feed it into their ERP system to plan for the machine downtime.

Not only does the software have benefits from the maintenance standpoint, it also can improve companies’ production experience. Piscitelli says users can see how much a machine is used overtime and change how they are sequencing production so it is steadier rather than spiking.

The biggest hurdle Piscitelli sees for integration to be successful is the age of the equipment. He says many customers have equipment that is ten years old and they want to get data out of it, but the manufacturer is unable to add functionality into the machine. This could be because it wasn’t connected enough at the time it was created, the equipment has changed radically or the company may not have the skillset to work on that type of machine anymore.

According to Piscitelli, a common language across all machines is the next step in integration.

“I’ve seen a lot of different machinery guys that have come up with their own solutions that look really nice and have a lot of functionality, but it’s very much individualized. A customer has to go to each individual machinery manufacturer to go get information out of their machines. People don’t want to do that; they want to go to one location to see everything. The next step is to say that all of this information is in one spot. I think that’s where the industry will slowly drift toward,” he says.

FeneTech is working to get the buy-in of the different machinery companies. Piscitelli says it’s an open language and anyone is welcome to use it, but they have to take data from a machine in that format and then send it to a processing server such as the FENml service for it to do dashboarding and operative maintenance.

He says customers are interested in the idea of an interconnected workshop.

“Prepare to see a lot of changes … I’ve noticed that there’s been a very large uptick in the desire to integrate more and more into the machines,” says Piscitelli.

Machinery Insight

Machinery and software integration not only prevents unplanned downtime, but improves safety and yields according to Kimmo Kuusela, sales director for North America at Glaston America Inc., based in Mount Laurel, N.J.

“When you have humans touching the glass there’s always the risk of breakage or accidents happening,” he says.

The Glaston Insight product family can suggest setting adjustments based on measured machinery output and then make those adjustments automatically. This means the operator doesn’t have to make as many manual adjustments, which Kuusela says can lead to mistakes that impact yield.

“With integration there is reduced operation costs, increased yield and on-time deliveries. You don’t miss on lead times because someone makes a mistake. There are also less rejection rates because there’s less scratching of the glass,” he says.

Glaston’s ultimate goal is to automate the whole process with autonomous machines, according to Kuusela. He says that will happen step by step through the gradual inclusion of features that automatically adjust settings on the machine.

Labor is driving much of the demand for automation, but the drawback for many companies interested in integration is the high cost of the initial investment. Kuusela says another challenge when companies include more automation in their facilities is the project management. Companies need to know who will handle which aspects of the machinery and what is needed from everyone involved.

“The key thing is that everyone works together. It’s an industry thing, it can’t be one company driving it … We’re in this together,” says Kuusela.

Jordan Scott is an assistant editor for USGlass magazine. She can be
reached at jscott@glass.com.

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