When applied in our professional lives the same DIY mentality often fails to achieve the right effect. That’s especially true when the right tools are not utilised. My colleagues in the States debriefed me on a recent site visit where they’d trained a customer on the use of our PID tuning software.
The site had purchased the software a couple years back but it had gone unused for reasons that quickly became clear. After a short tutorial my colleagues moved on to tuning a PID controller. In just five minutes they accessed the process data, modelled the dynamics, and generated new tuning parameters.
With a supervisor standing nearby one engineer commented that he didn’t see the software’s value because he was an expert at loop tuning. The same engineer then noted that he’d tuned the very same loop manually over a span of two days and got the same results. Those that were paying attention heard the tool’s value proposition loud and clear: Same expert results in 1/192nd of the time.
Like most things around us manufacturing automation is undergoing continuous change. As practitioners we need to keep pace. Many tools entering the market are software-based which can present challenges for those of us who were born before…let’s leave it at, more experienced. Consider the following:
The majority of today’s practitioners came of age at the same time that computers became a staple of industrial environments everywhere. Those computers helped to automate both routine and complex operations on a plant-wide basis. More importantly they did those operations more efficiently.
We’ve entered a new era of “Industrie 4.0” and that positions data as the key to success. In instances where data is available software is often the right tool for the job. Like the PID tuning example above, software can do the job more efficiently and produce similarly expert results. Just as engineers adapted to the computer’s arrival – or found themselves outside looking in – we must adapt to today’s technologies.
The accuracy of manual techniques has always been hindered by repeatability or our inability to be precise. It’s in a practitioner’s blood to subjectively estimate and bend data to suit the immediate need. That’s what most manual PID tuning methods involve – estimation. Today’s requirement for optimised performance demands more than rough estimation.
Whereas we practitioners have our limits, software has the ability to compute gigabytes of data faster and with far more accuracy and repeatability. The era of Big Data and IIoT is generating more and more data that can make end results more accurate. Future success is linked to our ability to harness those tools effectively.
Optimisation involves pushing production closer to tolerances and further limiting the room for error. In order to optimise safely it’s absolutely critical that those same processes be controlled both efficiently and accurately. It’s essential that their performance is constantly monitored and that advance warning is given for any degradation in performance.
Using the best tools has always been the right thing to do from a safety standpoint. I for one want to go home in one piece after my day is done. Today’s software tools give me the confidence that I’ll get the right answer.
DIYers appreciate the benefits of using the right tools for a given job. We all experience that sense of pride when the project is completed. Our satisfaction is even higher when it’s done right without unnecessary slip ups and delays.
Just as sure as tools can help a DIYer finish a project on time and on budget, those of us who labor in the manufacturing realm know that the right tools can help us achieve the same goals. Though the industry is changing under our very feet, we can be ready for the challenge.