How IPC Connected Factory Exchange is Leveling the Playing Field


Michael Ford, Sr. Director Emerging Industry Strategy, Aegis Software

Robot running up to target

The catalyst for the now long-awaited Industry 4.0 revolution is the introduction of the IPC CFX (Connected Factory Exchange) standard for IIoT. This standard now enables everyone in the industry to get involved, examine their processes or products and to fully benefit from the new IPC CFX-fueled Industrial IoT environment.

If we compared Industrial IoT to a transportation infrastructure, it would be similar t0 when paths and dirt-roads were replaced with paved roads and highways, facilitating the advancement of high-performance vehicles. Today everyone has different wants and needs when choosing a vehicle. There are many different styles and options available in vehicles to meet peoples varying demands. But the one thing we all expect our cars to do is operate properly while sharing the same roadway. IoT solutions are based on the same premise. Many IoT solutions are developed to support specific business requirements, regardless of objective, magnitude or budget they will utilize the same IoT foundation. Automobiles can travel longer, faster and carry more weight than horses and buggies, and as a result, expectations have changed. The CFX Industrial IoT standard is a major transformation for what can be accomplished, it is not simply a faster running horse, or a buggy with more wheels, this is a true revolution.

All three major elements of a “plug and play” IoT communication solution; the protocol, which is the secure connection (AMQP v1.0), the encoding method, which is how the data is represented in messages (JSON), and also the message content definition are all bench marked in the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX). CFX is uniquely designed to easily connect and communicate across machines on the shop-floor, without the need for licensing or middleware. CFX-based Industry 4.0 strategy and solutions will be available from machine vendors, solution providers, and even in-house development teams will be able to simply augment solutions.

With just a single CFX interface, machine vendors are able to delight all customers by eliminating the need for the support of multiple customer-dependent data outputs. Additionally, through the same CFX interface, vendors are able to gather data from all other production machines and stations, including factory level information. For the first time ever each machine process is now “digitally visible” including the changing of factory work assignments, the status and condition of the line, both up and downstream, the availability and allocation of materials, the digital product model, resource availabilities, etc. Instead of people saying, “if only I had known”, for instance when materials are received with unexpected supply forms and rotations, or when unplanned maintenance impedes the line, or an unforeseen change-over occurs resulting in significant setups of materials and inefficient machine programs, etc. CFX makes all information available to each machine, enabling unprecedented levels of optimization. Machine options will appear in the form of added value digital Industry 4.0 solutions for higher mix optimization, active quality management, enhanced flexibility, faster new product introduction, and more. In addition to commercial machines, CFX can support other processes such as, custom functional testers, manual assembly, inspection, test operations and transactional operations. Machines can easily interface with processes developed by internal development teams. Minimum development cost is required when integrating to CFX because of the IPC CFX SDK that is currently available.

Deciphering data from the many different machine types and vendors, either extracted directly from the machines themselves or using middleware, is an issue for all solution providers such as ERP, MES, MOM & others. Legacy machine interfaces can be problematic since they only provide a defined and finite amount of data, in addition to the the already complex conversions and unpredicted shifts in the data itself. In many instances, this definition was usually created by a machine engineering team many years ago. If only they could predict the future and knew what the customers would require and the progression that IoT solutions would move, and if only companies had the foresight to collectively collaborate. These content issues are now resolved with CFX enabling the factory solutions to no longer be dependent on the lowest common denominator of factory process capabilities, evening out the playing field for everyone. Enhanced content, accuracy, detail, and timeliness transform customer value by automating or enhancing operational decisions. These types of digitalizations give managers complete and accurate trend analysis and insights into possible consequences from suggested changes.

Undoubtedly the manufacturing operation is the true winner. The entire process in the factory can function digitally with Industry 4.0 digitalization based on CFX. Critical operational production management decisions like new product introductions, order adjustments or delivery amounts can be made in a matter of minutes, if not seconds, instead of days with multiple meetings and calls, guaranteeing the availability of materials when and where they are expected. Machines operate proficiently and the need for additional finished goods stock is eliminated. The saying, “if only I had known” can no longer be used in management meetings. Factories that are digitalized based on CFX, are able to handle a much larger variety of products at the same time effectively producing a higher yield essentially becoming very lean, high-performance manufacturing engines. Additionally, the digital model provides automated conformance and compliance, comprehensive digital traceability documentation, with insightful and useful data that is hosted in the cloud for enterprise-grade analytics to assist with future business growth.

Manufacturing companies of all sizes and industries now have CFX digitalization solutions available to them. As Industry 4.0 technologies based on CFX evolve into people’s daily lives it will prove to be reliable and constant.

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