Machines first words: A little bit of history
Lantek started more than 10 years ago solving sheet metal production scenarios where machines had to inform software systems when they were ready to execute a new operation or when they had finished it.
At that time, Lantek faced different scenarios such as the requirement for an automated line or cell. Typically, the configuration comprised a sheet metal stacker loading a punching/laser machine that forwarded cut parts to a bending machine. This solved a customer need to program a complete shift, usually during nights, so that the line could work unattended. This functionality used our Lantek Wos system to control all the machinery involved, detecting when a machine had finished its work, ready to load the following process. Even if it was an ad-hoc solution, the principles behind the “machines talking to software” approach were present all the way through.
Years later, new communication protocols appeared in the market, some of them taking the standardization path (OPC-UA, etc.). Lantek conceived Opentalk to explore and resolve scenarios where machines needed to cooperate with management systems.
Opentalk is defined as an integration mechanism which allows any machine to communicate real-time production status data to other connected systems in the network. Once the operator has prepared the job on the machine, all events (start, pause, end of job) are transmitted to the cooperating systems. Opentalk makes it possible for a normal machine to be converted into a cyber-physical system, able to “talk” to the cooperating software systems that manage the manufacturing processes, like MRP, MES, ERP, and others.
On top of unattended production lines, Opentalk allowed Lantek to progress with the development of many different systems that monitor the machine status and, for example, show key process indicators in real-time (OEE, load-capacity), or produce quotations based on machine situation and availability.
Machines talk (fluent) software
With the upsurge of Industry 4.0 concepts, machines have started to have many resources available to start fruitful communication with cooperating software systems: IoT, CPS, sensorization, security, 5G, etc. These new resources open plenty of new opportunities not only for machine/cell automation, but for factory or even multi-factory automation. Now, new machines incorporate software layers that enable them to communicate with other software systems and applications, either in the local or in the cloud ecosystem, in a more sophisticated way. This new cooperative language enhances the possibilities of more integrated solutions for sheet metal factories.
SherLOCK: secure connectivity geared towards cloud systems
For some time, Lantek has been working hard on developing a secure connection mechanism that enables cooperation between, machines, local software systems, applications and systems located in the cloud. This new mechanism is called SherLOCK and applies the latest security technologies to provide robust interoperability.
SherLOCK guarantees the integrity and security of the transported data, allows data transfer (both real-time and batch), ensures data retention in non-availability situations, and offers flexibility when adding new information sources or destinations. In short, SherLOCK opens the cloud door wide for machines and existing software systems.
Digitization will be the key trend in the future of sheet metal factories. Digital models and corresponding software to handle them will allow reduced effort, time and cost throughout the value chain. More flexibility and capacity for customization will appear as the new business strengths. The new sensors and IT elements will be the enablers for his to happen.
Industry 4.0 is provoking the merging of machines and software, elements which have been traditionally isolated. The large amount of technology available is relocating the different functions, either locally or into the cloud. The interconnection between the two worlds (local and cloud) will be critical and is already possible thanks to mobile technologies like 5G.
The predictable increased agility in sheet metal manufacturing processes will change the functional structure of the systems and will overlap the planning, engineering and operation phases in production, creating a heterogeneous environment where change is more frequent and more and more services are automated and verticalized. This can be made a reality only through the support of interconnecting mechanisms and software.
Machines started to “talk” a long time ago and they keep on learning more “vocabulary” and “languages”, propelled by new technologies already in place. Machine and software are merging and cooperating more and more, opening a new world of functional possibilities. The right architecture is critical for this to function and so is the definition of solid protocols supported on standard technologies that enable real-time interoperability. For future success, a strategic approach for collaboration between machine tool builders, software developers and system integrators will be essential to unleash the amazing potential of concepts yet to be imagined. By all working together, we will define the sheet metal factory of the future.
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