The shifting landscape of the factory floor

15th November 2018
Joe Bush

The factory floor is changing. From what has traditionally been a mechanically focussed environment, electrification and electronics are playing an increasingly vital role, being led by the drive towards factory automation and Industry 4.0.

Electronic Specifier Editor Joe Bush caught up with Miro Adzan, General Manager for Industrial Systems, at electronica in Munich to discuss the key trends and challenges to make the factory of tomorrow a reality.

“The target of our factory automation division at Texas Instruments is to understand what our customers are working on and place our product portfolio within the context of their applications.

"Obviously TI is a semiconductor company so it isn’t always clear what the end application will be for the product, so we have set out to build a greater understanding of our customers’ applications in order to support them.

“That support means understanding how the system works and providing quality designs. We also showcase our product portfolio within the hardware context of our customers. They can then design and test their product according to their individual requirements.”

Challenges within factory automation currently are also presenting opportunities. Today there are still many factory floors with a limited degree of automation, and there is a real push towards changing that landscape within the industry.

“We are seeing an increase in automation,” continued Adzan. More machines and a higher degree of automation between the different manufacturing processes. This is of course driving a higher semiconductor content but also a requirement for a higher degree of communication between different machines. There is certainly a trend towards making machines and parts of the manufacturing chain compatible with each other when it comes to industrial communication.

“We are not only focussed on increasing the amount of automation but also the degree of ‘smartness’ - and this essentially means local decision making. Today you have a very hierarchical pyramid in terms of how manufacturing is performed. At the top you have a central system which then divides the individual manufacturing processes into various parts. Then as you go down the manufacturing hierarchy you have each individual layer that will have various duties, and then finally you have the factory floor where you have individual machines that perform a very small part of the manufacturing process.

“This means that you are predetermining at the very beginning what is going to be manufactured. This is not flexible - both in terms of changing product lines and whether or not a machine is busy (which can result in a cessation of manufacturing).

“Moving forward we want a situation where we can manufacture a product line of one. Consumers want very individualised products these days so we need to change this hierarchical manufacturing process in order to make it more flexible, so the machine and the product itself becomes more intelligent.

“This means the product knows what needs to be done during the manufacturing process and the machine can read this information and decide the next step that needs to be performed on the product. So in order to be ‘smart’ the manufacturing recipe needs to be stored in the product, and this needs to be communicated with the machine which needs to read and process this information to determine the next manufacturing step.”

This is all leading to an increase in electrical capabilities in the machine - i.e. more memory, wireless capability, a local edged processing like a microcontroller and sensors - and this will make up the factory machines of the future.


All this increased flexibility will require a higher level of engineering sophistication among the machine developers. A lot of machines today are obviously mechanical, but they will need to incorporate a higher level of electronics in the machine moving forward.

Adan added: “Another issue is standardisation around communication. Obviously if machines are talking different languages then we are going to have a problem. The Industrial Ethernet communication standard obviously has different variations from different suppliers, for example Profinet, Ethernet IP, Sercos etc. These can all talk to each other, but they don’t understand each other. So communication standards need to be implemented that are compatible with one another.

“One way of achieving this is with Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), another is OPCUA (open platform unified communication architecture). OPCUA is something that has already been implemented in some areas, and TSN is something that we are actually showcasing at electronica, and the idea is that we are creating a ubiquitous platform for communication no matter what kind of data you are communicating in.” TI has published a white paper around TSN which can also be viewed below.

TI showcased several products to enhance factory automation at electronica - some of these can be viewed below:

Multiprotocol gigabit TSN-enabled processors for Industry 4.0

mWave technology for worldwide industrial market through new 60-GHz sensor portfolio

Portfolio of ready-to-use, 600-V GaN FET power stages supports applications up to 10kW

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