Data in Smart Manufacturing

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Introduction

 

Manufacturing is getting smarter with the advancement in many emerging technologies you have probably heard of many times (IoT, cloud computing, AI, digital twins, etc.). Nowadays, when the global economy stalls due to the corona pandemic, the talks about smart manufacturing increased even more. We have already shared our opinion about Industry 4.0, which is proximately related to smart manufacturing, but in this blog, we would like to specifically focus on data and also on how testing stands as one of the most valuable processes in generating manufacturing data.

 

Part 1. Evolution of Data.

 

First of all, let us briefly look at how people were collecting data throughout the history of manufacturing ( the following paper provides a brilliant overview of this topic). The general idea is that we were always collecting data one way or another. In short, during the handicraft period, data was collected in a form of a human experience. Next, during the machine age, data was collected manually and classified on machine-related (for the means of maintenance, production, etc.) and human-related data (for the means of salary structure, KPIs and etc). Furthermore, the digital age brought us very sophisticated ways of collecting and storing data (information systems, databases) resulting in an exponential growth of its amount which allowed us to create advanced intelligent manufacturing models. Today we are living in the age of big data and, in manufacturing, the big data is defined as a large amount of information gathered from multiple sources throughout the product lifecycle. Data now can be collected from MES (manufacturing execution system), assembly machines, testing equipment, internet sources (user data can be gathered from there), various external databases (e.g. scientific, governmental), and other places.

 

Part 2. What is Smart Manufacturing?

 

Furthermore, let’s answer the questions “What is smart manufacturing?”, and “What does it have to do with data?”. In general, smart manufacturing is a broad scope of activities and technologies that are intended to make manufacturing more intelligent throughout the whole value chain. There are several organizations around the world that brings manufacturers together and discuss the future of manufacturing (for the past several years they specifically focus on smart manufacturing). One of them is MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) and every year they bring the white paper that shows the landscape of smart manufacturing for the current time. In the figure below you can see the framework adapted from one of their white papers (more about it in this blog) that explicitly shows what is smart manufacturing.

 

Smart_Manufacturing

 

Answering the second question about the role of data, we can see that smart manufacturing brings together all the stages of the value chain under one roof. Therefore, there are tons of data that is constantly being processed in real-time. This gives us another way of defining smart manufacturing as “a field of manufacturing that sets its goal on collecting the data across the product lifecycle to bring manufacturing intelligence”.

 

Part 3. What Are the Challenges?

 

Despite the relatively steady hype around smart manufacturing and the development of data technologies, there are some challenges that still prevent us from seeing fully effective smart manufacturing. For example, at Exsensio ltd, we usually notice that data always comes from different sources and this data is very heterogeneous. Consequently, it is very challenging to collect this data and utilize it to its full capacity.

 

Furthermore, the Big Data Value Association describes challenges in smart manufacturing in their annual whitepaper. In their 2018 report, they divide the challenges into 3 main groups: the adoption of data technology in production facilities, the adoption of data technologies in the product lifecycle itself, and the adoption of data technologies throughout the value chain. In the first group, the challenges were associated with computational continuity, data distribution, and data storage. In the second group, the challenges were related to the creation of stakeholder data spaces for complex products, and also IoT-related constraints. In the 3rd group, the challenges are associated with B2B industrial platforms. This is a brief introduction of the topics and you can get more info here. Not to forget, that apart from technical challenges, there are regulatory and legal obstacles and challenges related to innovation and the creation of new business models.

 

Part 4: Why Exsensio ltd Cares About Data?

 

At Exsensio ltd we are very interested in data analytics and therefore would like to contribute to a faster transition to smart manufacturing. As we discussed in our first blog about the current state of automated hardware test, the nature of this area, and our testing framework specifically, are developed in a way that there is a need for constant interaction between testing equipment and the device under test. Moreover, the interaction is configured at a low level (the user has a more accurate control of the interfaces between the device and the equipment) during the product development stage and after the assembly. Testing itself generates a huge amount of data, and the low-level control to the interfaces can provide some insights about the device not known before.

 

Besides, the data collected at the end-of-line testing stage can be immensely valuable, as it is the most important indicator that the assembly of the product has gone successful, especially when the manufacturing stage is outsourced. While developing our test automation framework at Exsensio ltd, we put a strong emphasis on the remote control of the test and real-time tracing of test data. This is turned out to be helpful especially at the current times when even a company with an in-house production might need a remote control.

 

Another important aspect to care about the data in testing is product quality. Interestingly, when you look at the content related to smart manufacturing, there is surprisingly less information about better product quality than, for example, about efficiency, cost reduction, or smarter automation. Moreover, we can see that today, traditional inspection methods and testing software products are away from the standards of smart manufacturing. Inspection methods are still manual in some cases, and software tools are not data driven. This may also pose a question of: “What do you know about your product?”. We believe that data-driven smart manufacturing and next gen testing solutions will help us to answer these questions.

 

 

References

Tao, F., Qi, Q., Liu, A. and Kusiak, A., 2018. Data-driven smart manufacturing. Journal of Manufacturing Systems, 48, pp.157-169.

Kusiak, A., 2017. Smart manufacturing must embrace big data. Nature, 544(7648), pp.23-25

 

 
The Role of Hardware Testing in 4th Industrial Revolution

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The discussions about Industry 4.0 have increased dramatically since it was officially claimed as 4th Industrial Revolution by Klaus Schwab in 2015 during his report at World Economic Forum. It is expected that this 4th industrial revolution will disrupt many industrial in every country, but the biggest impact will be on manufacturing industry. Exsensio's domain expertise lies in R&D and manufacturing test for hardware. Therefore, in this article we would like to briefly discuss the role of hardware testing in Industry 4.0. 

 

What is the Industry 4.0? 

In short, Industry 4.0 is about making manufacturing "smart". This "smart manufacturing", in its turn, relies on constant data exchange between factory's elements which can be effectively achieved with such technologies as cyber-physical systems (CPS), industrial internet of things (IIoT), embedded systems, cloud computing, big data, AI, and others (the Herrmann, F., 2018 paper below explicitly describes the components of smart factory).

 

What will be the benefits for manufacturing? 

Each technology that constitutes Industry 4.0, for sure, has its own impact on all the players in manufacturing value chain. Nevertheless, in general, the aforementioned emerging technologies are intended to dramatically increase manufacturing efficiency, optimize manufacturing processes, help to achieve better productivity, and reduce costs. In addition, as smart factories are concerned with data generations, manufacturers may be able to extract important insights about production processes not known before, hence, providing superior value for their customers and coming up with new ways to generate revenue streams.   

 

What will be the role of hardware testing in Industry 4.0? 

First, Industry 4.0 manufacturing facilities will have more embedded devices and IoT systems. In addition, these modern facilities should be more efficient and autonomous. Therefore, the producers of IoT and embedded devices need to be sure that their solutions are reliable. For hardware testing it means thats there will be more devices to test, and the quality of the test itself should be high.

 

Second, the integration of test environment components between each other (the device under test, test & measurement equipment, and automated test equipment) as well as the integration between the test environment itself and whole manufacturing are two significant challenges. In our previous article about automated hardware testing (What is Automated Hardware Test Today?) we talked about the role of testing software in these integration processes. As was also mentioned in the article, software solutions available today is not able to effectively help with the integration and this process is often becoming a bottleneck.

 

Third, the testing process is arguably generating one of the highest amounts of data in comparison with other manufacturing processes. Furthermore, insightful data equals value and helps in better decision making. For example, the data generated from testing will be useful for predictive maintenance of equipment, anomaly detection in measured signals, equipment efficiency, device and equipment traceability and other areas.

 

What is the role of Exsensio? 

 

It is possible to draw more reasons why hardware testing plays a special role in Industry 4.0, but in this article, we will stick with the 3 mentioned above. Obviously, Industry 4.0 brings a lot of benefits, but also challenges and hardware testing is not an exception. There is clearly a need for a next-gen testing software solution that will fit in the domain of smart manufacturing. At Exsensio, we are developing exactly this kind of a solution. Our platform will allow developers to build scalable solutions for any kind of product testing requirements. Furthermore, our platform helps to make the integration processes easier and provides insightful data about the product quality. 

 

 

References

Schwab, K., 2017. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond. 2016. In World Economic Forum.

Herrmann, F., 2018. The Smart Factory and Its Risks. Systems, 6(4), p.38.

 

What is Automated Hardware Test Today?

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Automated hardware testing is necessary for product quality validation and verification. In R&D environment it is an essential procedure for product development. Later in manufacturing facilities, the test, with the use of  automation, is performed before product leaves the factory.

The main goal of R&D tests is to determine whether the product meets the hardware design requirements. These tests are conducted on product’s prototypes with an intention to check how all the systems of the product work together. In manufacturing test, the goal is to check if the actual product passes the set of key verification requirements before and after the assembly.

 

Why do you need automated hardware test?

Increasing complexity of electronic devices makes their test more complicated and expensive. Failed devices may entail significant safety issues which often results in high costs. 

Proper automated hardware testing prevents the aforementioned issues. In addition, in some industries like, for example, medical, aviation or automotive industry there are strict regulations for tests. Moreover, customer expects your product to work out of the box, and failed device might significantly damage brand reputation as well.

 

What are the tools?

First, the main element of automated hardware test is the device itself, which is called the device under test (DUT) or the unit under test (UUT). Second, the equipment that performs the test on the DUT. It can be various test & measurement instruments such as, for example, power-meters or signal analysers. Furthermore, automated test equipment, such as test boxes or test systems, are the devices that can quickly perform measurements and evaluate the results using automation. Usually engineers build a custom test environment consisted from different test equipment and instruments, based on the complexity of the device and the test requirements.

In addition to the test equipment, the essential part of automated hardware test is the software environment. You need it in order to automate various test steps and integrate test equipment with the DUT. This software environment can be fully customized and built from scratch using such programming languages such as LabVIEW, Python, and C#. Nevertheless, in some cases it is wise to consider a commercial of-the-shelf solution, which is usually referred as a test executive software or hardware test framework.

 

What are the challenges?

Many problems occur when product goes from R&D to manufacturing. It is common that the product is developed by one company, but another company takes care of manufacturing. Companies might use different methods for R&D and manufacturing tests, which may result in delays for production and consequently unplanned costs.

Furthermore, building a custom test environment is not an easy task. Taking into account the complexity of modern devices and wide range of test & measurement equipment, the integration of all these components might require significant engineering resources. Especially in the case when you decide to build a custom test software.

 

What Exsensio can do?

Decades of working in test industry have shown us that there is no smooth transition between product development and manufacturing and a lot of problems occur in these stages. That is why we set up our mission for bridging the gap between these segments. Despite having commercial solutions for building automated hardware test systems, the integration problem still exists, which makes the life of a hardware test engineer quite difficult. Moreover, existing solutions do not manage to catch the pace of the current technology trends.

Exsensio is building a software solution to test and verify electronic products from R&D to Manufacturing. Our developer platform provides scalable solution with reusable hardware test codes and a marketplace to download ready-made instrument drivers, automated test equipment drivers, and test codes for wireless technology, sensors, electronic components, and high-speed interface. We are not hardware dependent, which allows you to create custom solutions for your product testing requirements. Our cloud solution will give you real-time feedback on the test execution and insightful data about the product quality. Whether you need a simple custom solution or a complicated automated test environment, our platform will suit both scenarios.