Smart factory made simple

August 17, 2020
“We are embedding sensors in all our machines and devices so that they can monitor real time activity, while talking to other machines and talking to us. Creating a new smart infrastructure based on Industrial Internet, Renewable Energy Internet and Automated Transportation and Logistics Internet. An integrated super Internet to power, manage and move economic life. These three Internets ride on top of a platform called the Internet of Things”


Those were the opening words of Jeremy Rifkin in his book ‘The Third Industrial Revolution’, published back in 2011, twelve years after the term ‘IoT’ was coined. Fast track to the present moment and we still have plenty of facilities and factories operating without taking advantage of any data gathering solution, sometimes due to the perceived complexities of such integrations, and others, because of the astronomical costs associated to making your machines and installations smart through the alternatives offered by the big PLC brands.


As pressure from different stakeholders and competitors to innovate with IoT increases to stay ahead in the market, these two elements are hindering the widespread adoption of smart factory solutions. This is particularly impactful when it comes to small and mid-size companies, with more limited resources and still-developing technological backgrounds.

A journey with a clear starting point

These insights and pain points come straight from conversations with partners and clients who are already familiar with the potential that Internet enabled sensors can bring to their processes through real-time monitoring and response. They have tested out and implemented end-to-end solutions on top of their current operations, but facing these two blocking points when it comes to making their current machinery smart at their core processes and not only about measurement of peripheral parameters like temperature, humidity, pressure and other similar elements.

By core processes we are talking about parameters linked to production performance, inputs required at each production line and manufacturing cycles. This information, when combined with those peripheral data points mentioned before, creates a well-rounded picture of factory floor operations, in real-time and accessible from anywhere using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

Bringing this context to reality, while maintaining costs and complexity levels to the minimum, was the premise followed when we started the development journey of the new set of industrial IoT devices being introduced through these lines. A voyage that was directly influenced by needs, requirements and suggestions of leading brands like Bimbo, Seat, Johnson & Johnson, L'Oréal or Repsol, to then be tested at their manufacturing facilities. This combination of views and backgrounds gives us the confidence to present you these devices and solution with a firm conviction of the value they bring to the table, backed up with our additional electronic design capabilities and a level of attentiveness to our customers and partners specific needs we take pride in.

Introducing HC-RPM, HC-MASA and HC-232

A set of devices, to be optionally wrapped around a plug and play solution, that allow your existing machinery to become smart effortlessly by leveraging your current PLC installations.


The HC-RPM measures and monitors “rhythms” per minute in machines, to always keep an eye on essential parameters like production cycles and performance. The device counts the number of specific actions completed in one minute, monitoring how fast a machine is operating and producing at a given period. The HC-RPM transforms these actions, or rhythms, into pulses per minute readings. A single device can read pulses from up to three different sources.


Now imagine a production line where irregular and brief stops are frequent, distorting expected production figures. Whether because of employee related causes or due to operational inefficiencies, these brief stops tend to be not properly or even not recorded at all by production line workers. The result, planned and real outputs do not match and targets aren't met. With the HC-RPM you can keep an eye on your production figures in real-time through RPM monitoring, compared to simply counting the number of units produced at the end of each production cycle.


A superior control of production processes. Just like being right at the factory floor from the comfort of your office, your home or while travelling.


The HC-MASA sits in the middle of this new lineup, with counting capabilities of electrical pulses coming from any industrial equipment with an impulse output. The counted pulses are then sent at a programmable frequency. What makes this device special is its built-in RS232/ Ethernet entry port, that makes possible crossing data points coming from a PLC, like product ID and production quotas for that specific product, with pulse counting capabilities, for example, everytime a new piece is produced. The whole data packaged is then sent to the cloud. A single device can read pulses coming from up to two different sources,equipped with one RS232 entry port for PLC data capture.  


In short, considering a production line where products A, B and C are manufactured; this device can keep track of the number of units already produced, out of a defined quota, of a specific product type – A, B or C. Doing it all, while reading external pulse signals for an enhanced and augmented picture of factory floor operations.  


Apart from using this data towards production management control, it can also be displayed in real-time on screens at the factory floor to optimize how workers manage the production process, making it easier to know when inputs and components have to be changed before shifting from production of one product to another in flexible lines.      

In a similar direction, the HC-232 makes your PLCs smart in an easy like a Sunday morning fashion. This device can read any data frame coming from a PLC of up to 100 bytes at variable speed, sending to the cloud up to 12 bytes containing your data points of interest.

As an example of metrics, it can gather and communicate data such as manufactured unit number ‘10’ of a total of ‘68’ units of product ‘B’ to be manufactured, being produced in line number ‘5’ with the required input ‘WZ0045’. This information is sent by the PLC through RS232 or Ethernet connection.


Another example of potential applications is the optimization of weight control scales in fields like food production. Every time a scale performs a measurement, the device registers and sends ‘weight’, ‘time’ and ‘product ID’ data points. Thus, production line workers do not have to do this process manually, eliminating potential errors, negligent behavior and inaccurate reporting in general.

Similarly,this solution can read a broad variety of sensors connected to a given PLC. Temperature, humidity, pressure, flow, levels, gas concentration, you name it, all with the high standards in secure data transmission that Sigfox connectivity is well known for. Depending on the implementation region and use case, the devices can also be delivered with other communication protocols to work under, like GPRS or NB-IoT.

Finally, highlighting that these devices can be acquired separately or fully integrated into an end-to-end solution, including devices, connectivity and data management platform.      

A new competitive landscape

In this new parading that we are all becoming part of, the quote “without data, you are just a person with an opinion” by W. Edwars Deming, is becoming even truer than any time before in history. To get a glimpse of this assumption, it is sufficient to think about a market where some competitors are effectively taking advantage of these new tools, while other players keep lagging behind, trying not to be completely swept away. Sometimes the difference can be as broad as walking versus flying and, if not taking action when time is due, this gap can become large enough as to end up moving specific companies out of competitive positions within a given ecosystem.      


During previous years, these smart capabilities were pretty much reserved to big companies with oversized budgets and extensive technological teams. We are working to make that part of the past, through easy to understand, cost-effective and easy to deploy industrial IoT solutions, so that companies of any size and tech background can access the benefits of this revolution.


We should not forget that IoT adoption is a numbers game, one that if properly played will minimize errors and unnecessary expenses, while making sure that the highest amount of value is effectively gained from the investment.  


Let’s connect over LinkedIn to keep the conversation going.  

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