April 20, 2016 | Brett Brune | Smart Manufacturing magazine
A trio of Mazak, Memex and Cisco is beginning to sell SmartBox, a device meant to securely manage manufacturing data—information on axes, spindles, temperatures, cutting times, downtimes and part counts, for starters—culled from machines that have been laboring in a sort of silence for decades. At the same time, a pairing of Forcam and Wago plans to release a similar device it calls the PFC100 Industrial MTConnect device before July.
SmartBox uses I/O links to connect machines and produces MTConnect code in real time. It can use an adapter board from Memex and must be connected to a Cisco router, John Rattray, VP of sales and marketing at Memex, said in an interview with Smart Manufacturing magazine at the MC2 conference in Dallas. It can also use Memex’s factory- and machine-shop-floor-monitoring software, Merlin, to map existing signals and analyze and correlate the data so shops and plants can use it to improve productions.
Companies in the aerospace, defense and medical industries welcome the Cisco router requirement because it assuages their network security concerns, he added.
“We’re talking about IP connections in terms of Ethernet connections,” Rattray said. “You don’t need to have all the security in there to make the connection work. However, one customer of ours, DP Tool in New York, had experienced a situation where a guy who was maintaining a machine put in a USB stick into it and a virus on this USB stick spread to the company’s manufacturing network and whole admin network. It cost the company an enormous amount of effort and grief to get that fixed. You can run without security switches. But smart manufacturers are recognizing we need to secure and lock down our shop floor networks.”
The SmartBox has a “level three” managed switch that will shut the device down automatically if a USB stick comes its way or someone unplugs a particular Ethernet connection, Rattray added.
The emerging device from Forcam and Wago has a combined MTConnect adapter and agent inside the device, as well as a built-in security firewall for cybersecurity, Forcam USA Inc. CEO Mohamed Abuali said. He demonstrated a simulation model at MC2, saying it cost less than the trio’s device.
The Forcam/Wago product will cost less than $1,000, he said. And the Mazak/Memex/Cisco device will cost $4,000 on the low end but could be used on four machines, Mazak President Brian Papke said.
Companies using legacy CNCs will soon be able to choose between bolting their new data-retrieving device together with a Cisco network router or a “quicker solution that can connect to any network,” Abuali said. “The alternative [to these two options] is you have to retrofit the machine and upgrade the controller, which can cost thousands of dollars. In many cases, you cannot even retrofit.”
Both devices are intended to help manufacturers around the world connect their machines securely to a network. About 14.5 million machines still lack connectivity, Rattray said.
Of course, the idea is to then analyze the data to make the best decisions possible about manufacturing and machining processes. And some of those decisions can be made without human involvement, to be sure: “For instance, if a temperature sensor starts to rise above a threshold limit, the machine can send an alert and notify people before it fails,” he added.
Merlin lets companies “take data and make it manageable,” said Papke, who serves on the board for MTConnect. Otherwise, companies end up with “digital exhaust.”
“Forcam wants to define real-time production—from any machine of any age,” Abuali said. “That’s a critical state.”
Memex Chief Technology Officer Dave Edstrom is “very pleased to see more of these type boxes come out—because, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all ships,” he said.
But he couldn’t stop himself from making a quick comparison with the offering from Forcam/Wago: “The integration of what Mazak is doing with the SmartBox, with Memex and Cisco—making it easier to connect—will resonate very well with manufacturing. You don’t have to sell someone on Memex’s ability to connect anything. And you don’t have to sell anyone on Cisco’s ability to network a lot of devices together and do it securely. So that’s why we think SmartBox is a game-changer.”