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Rockwell, Fanuc and Cisco use AI to optimise production

19 April, 2016

Fanuc, Rockwell Automation and Cisco are collaborating with a Japanese artificial intelligence (AI) start-up called Preferred Networks (PFN) to develop a technology that will link CNC (computer numerical control) machines, peripheral devices and sensors to robots, to deliver analytics designed to optimise manufacturing processes.

The Fanuc Intelligent Edge Link and Drive (Field) platform will deliver advanced analytics for Fanuc CNCs, robots and other devices in automation systems. It will help to improve machine reliability, quality, flexibility, and speed – raising OEE (overall equipment efficiency) levels and increasing manufacturing profitability. It will also provide advanced machine-learning capabilities.

By working with Cisco, Rockwell and PFN, Fanuc says it will be able to offer a complete systems including network and computing infrastructures, applications, as well as an enabling middleware platform. It adds that the open platform will allow application developers, device-makers, systems integrators and others to build systems that improve equipment efficiency, manufacturing output, and quality.

The Field system is an extension of Fanuc’s existing ZDT (Zero Downtime) connected robots project, which uses Cisco’s cloud, IoT data collection software, and end-to-end security capabilities. The companies are working together to implement systems for automotive manufacturers, using Rockwell’s Stratix Ethernet switches to connect robots to a Cisco Unified Computing System (UCS) running on Fanuc and Cisco’s ZDT data collection software. Automotive customers that have already implemented this system are said to be achieving significant decreases in production downtime and costs.

The Field system will put the power of advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence into the hands of users and application developers. Fanuc and Preferred Networks have already established these new technologies for applications such as bin-picking robots, anomaly detection, and failure prediction.

PFN specialises in applying the latest artificial intelligence technologies to emerging problems in the IoT. Its vision is to achieve “deep intelligence” – a future IoT in which all devices, as well as the network itself, are intelligent. As well as working with Fanuc, it is collaborating with Toyota on autonomous driving technologies.

The Field system combines both artificial intelligence and edge-computing technologies, enabling distributed learning. Data generated by robots and machines is processed in real time at the edge of the network. This allows the devices to coordinate and collaborate in a flexible and intelligent manner, resulting in sophisticated manufacturing practices that were not previously possible.

Rowan Trollope, Cisco’s senior vice-president for the Internet of Things and Applications, describes the collaboration as “an historic shift in the industry, with IoT, industrial automation and machine learning coming together to make the factory-of-the-future a reality. It's been talked about for years, but now it is really happening. Cisco couldn't be more thrilled to be a part of this effort – one that will be key to our positioning in other industries that want to realise the benefits of digitisation.”

The collaborative Field project will help to optimise manufacturing processes by linking robots, CNCs, sensors and other devices and analysing their performance using artificial intelligence

Toru Nishikawa, CEO of Preferred Networks, predicts that the collaboration “will further accelerate the advancement of the manufacturing industry. Since the start of our work with Fanuc, leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence has been aimed not only at making machines and robots smarter, but also towards a continuous improvement of manufacturing productivity through intelligent real-time coordination and collaboration between robots and machines. We are confident that Field will play a central role in making that vision a reality.”

As part of the project, Fanuc is supplying CNCs and robots with embedded sensors to track key variables required to improve machine reliability, quality, and speed. It is also working with Cisco and Preferred Networks to provide middleware software, as well as security and application lifecycle management applications.

Cisco and Rockwell will provide networking, computing and security infrastructures to connect the robots, CNCs and other cell equipment to the Field applications. This will be based on their jointly developed Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) architecture, which supports connections from single cells to large factories.

Fanuc, Rockwell and Preferred Networks will also deliver the initial application software on top of the Field middleware and infrastructure platform. Rockwell’s FactoryTalk software products will integrate with the Field system to accelerate its deployment.

Rockwell Automation’s chief technology officer, Sujeet Chand, says that the collaboration will help manufacturers to achieve enterprise-wide analytics strategies using data from their intelligent devices. “With a secure, scalable computing approach to analyse this data – from devices to the enterprise – users can improve operations and make more informed decisions tailored to meet the needs of their organisations,” he explains.

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