” All Machines Must Speak the Same Language”
Interview with Thorsten Kühmann, Managing Director of VDMA Plastics and Rubber Machinery, at the K 2022
Mr. Kühmann, OPC UA, a global language of production is considered a prerequisite for machines to be able to communicate with each other across manufacturers. This topic is playing a major role at K. What can be seen here?
Here at the K, some 40 companies from eight countries are participating in an OPC UA demonstration project. To do so, they have selected a total of 85 machines at their respective hall locations. Each of these machines has an OPC UA logo and a QR code that visitors can scan with their smartphones. They are then taken to the UMATI internet platform, where they can see live data from the respective machine. For greater clarity, we have installed a large dashboard in the VDMA Dome where visitors can navigate each individual machine to see what defined data it provides. The most important factor is for all machines to speak the same language, and all use the same system. We have noticed that the interest of the visitors is quite considerable, as are the number of enquiries.
Does that mean that OPC UA is driving digitalisation in production?
Yes, in two respects: the direct benefit is the very fast creation of transparency. You know what data is present, and you can pick and choose which data is important. This transparency then enables a better control of processes. But the much greater benefit lies in the possibility of offering digital services in the future. To do this, you absolutely need a large amount of data from the field. At the moment, this is not yet available, because the entire infrastructure is not yet in place, but this is where the greatest potential lies. OPC UA is paving the way for this, so to speak.
How far have you advanced in the implementation of plastics and rubber machinery?
We have already come quite far in some core machine areas, such as injection moulding or extrusion. Now we are moving on to particle foaming, for example, and of course to the periphery. So, for example, this includes temperature control units and hot runner units, or liquid silicone metering. This is the horizontal level: the machines that are next to each other in a production hall can communicate with each other. Another strand is vertical networking to the MES system that centrally processes the data of a factory. And now the material flow is also included. At K, the new interface for Material Supply System will be presented: the OPC 40086-1. This is a so-called Release Candidate. That means it is conceptually ready but can still be supplemented and adapted, which signifies that we have already established a solid foundation for OPC UA in the area of plastics and rubber machinery.
What are the next steps?
We’re aiming to close the gaps. We still have machines that are not integrated. In addition, in spite the solid progress it has made, internationalisation must be pushed further. Because the whole thing only really makes sense when as many countries as possible are involved; only then can you really communicate across manufacturers. At the moment, we have reached the point where we can collect a lot of data. The next thing we need is a trustworthy platform to which this data can be delivered.
Don’t many companies shy away from sending their own production data off-site?
Processors in particular are still very cautious about OPC UA applications. They are worried that their data will not be handled carefully and that, in the worst case, their competitors may even gain access to their data. Part of the problem is that such data platforms have so far only been offered by individual companies or small consortia. Users obviously don’t trust them. That’s why we are heading in a completely different direction. We are trying to establish a trustworthy, neutral platform, and as the VDMA, we are therefore participating in the Manufacturing-X funding project launched by the German government, which aims to do just that. Once the framework of the platform has been set, i.e. once questions of governance, data security or even liability have been clarified, anyone can basically use this platform under these conditions. It is important that we establish such a platform, because otherwise we run the risk of big data providers taking over the whole thing, which is something no one in the industry wants, either on the customer side or on the machine manufacturing side.
To what extent will this benefit the circular economy project, once everything is well established?
First of all, through the rapid transparency, which makes it possible to better control machines and processes with the help of the collected data. This is important for the circular economy because it allows you to improve energy efficiency, for example. You can see exactly where and how much energy is being utilised within the entire system, allowing for a better grip on the energy cycle. In the case of the material cycle, the aim is to improve the processing of recycled materials in a manufacturing company, for example. This is more challenging than with virgin materials because recycled materials are sometimes less homogeneous. With the help of OPC UA and the associated exchange of information, the processing parameters of the machines and devices involved can be coordinated more precisely, and in a more targeted manner. These are important examples of optimised cycle management.
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