The Industrial Internet of Things at the 2018 International Manufacturing Technology Show

IMTS will be a prime example of how the IIoT and digitalization have changed manufacturing. 


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Perhaps the most important product at the 2018 International Manufacturing Technology Show (IMTS) will be the one that most visitors already will have in their hands or pockets—a smartphone or other mobile device. That is because this device will be connected to the internet, as will be many of the displayed machines, machine accessories, measuring devices, software systems and other equipment that generates data. This pervasive, web-enabled connectedness is the so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IMTS will be a prime example of how the IIoT and digitalization has changed the manufacturing industry. 

Of course, the real value of collecting and sharing data lies in that it ultimately reaches someone who can use it to take action or make a decision. The action or decision may be a quick one that prevents a machining process from making scrap, damaging other equipment or injuring a person nearby. A signal that warns of a broken or missing cutting tool is one example. The action or decision may be timely on a different basis, such as responding to an analysis of data that indicates an impending situation of concern. For example, a change in a critical variable, such as spindle vibration or unwanted heat in a component, may indicate a maintenance issue that requires attention. Replenishing a consumable item, refilling a lube station or restocking a part or material feeder are other data-driven responses that can be scheduled at the optimum time.

Whatever the circumstances, taking the right action at the right time is the smart thing to do. In a nutshell, this is what smart manufacturing is—using data shared on a network to get desired results when it counts. Clearly, the one product most likely to link critical action with the authorized and responsible agent will be some sort of internet-enabled device. Your smartphone or tablet is what brings the world of the IIoT to life.

This simple conceptual framework is the key to understanding and evaluating the IIoT, Industry 4.0, smart manufacturing and digitalized products of all sorts on display at IMTS. Does the product represent a new way to generate, analyze, deliver or act on data? It is important to explore how the product fits into this flow. Putting new technology into this overarching context will help you assess its significance and determine your readiness to benefit from it.

Perhaps the best place to start is a visit to the Emerging Technology Center (ETC) located in the North Building. As one of two ETCs at the show, this center focuses on industry’s digital transformation. (The other ETC focuses on additive manufacturing in the West Building.) Among the Digital Transformation ETC’s attractions is a display of a physically and digitally connected machine tool, robot arm and coordinate measuring machine. In addition to showing how data sharing creates a closed-loop system (for example, tool offsets applied by the machining center can be updated automatically to compensate for tool wear and maintain a close dimensional tolerance), the display highlights the practical aspects of using data in an exchangeable format to facilitate automation. In this case, the exchangeability format is MTConnect.            

Significantly, IMTS 2018 marks the 10th anniversary of MTConnect, a set of open, royalty-free standards that fosters greater interoperability between controls, devices and software applications, which was launched at IMTS 2008. MTConnect will be prominent in other booths in which data from a variety of sources is being brought together for machine monitoring and other applications. Asking about MTConnect whenever an exhibitor talks about the IIoT or Industry 4.0 (another term loosely used as a name for networked data-sharing) is a good way to keep the discussion on shopfloor applications.

Another issue to keep in mind when looking at networking for shop or plant is data protection/network cybersecurity. Many IMTS exhibitors will have a lot to say about it; others will be low-key. Threats to internet-enabled networks in manufacturing plants are real and should be taken seriously, but alarmist overreactions are counterproductive. Being engaged with the IIoT is not without risk, but the benefits are too compelling to forego. Appropriate precautions are worthwhile and manageable, so look for them and explore them earnestly at this show.

Many buying teams at IMTS will include a person with an information technology (IT) background or responsibility. Consider this, though: Anyone at IMTS with a smartphone or tablet is in IT.


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