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Over the course of the 4th industrial revolution, digitalisation is becoming more and more important. The increasing volatility in the market, the shortage of skilled workers, the competition for the most cost-effective production, the abundance of data as well as its protection and security are just a few of the challenges facing the digitalisation of manufacturing. In this environment, flexible manufacturing systems and the associated control systems are more topical than ever.
The buzzword digitalisation of manufacturing is understood to mean both the active control and the organisation of manufacturing processes. Only the inclusion of both components makes it possible to achieve the optimum. An essential aspect here is the linking of the different organisational systems in a company in order to achieve a smooth flow of information with the manufacturing area. In this context, the interconnection of the production systems, machines and automation with organisational systems such as ERP/MES, PDM/PLM, CAD/CAM, TDM and QM is crucial. The goal of this networking is the exchange of all manufacturing-relevant information via digital channels.
The topics of IT architecture and IT security are also of great importance here. Control systems must be operated on high-performance hardware in order to guarantee the best availability for 24/7 production. The necessary infrastructure – client and server architectures – is meanwhile available in most companies. By transferring the operation of a control system to the responsibility of the company's internal IT, the issues of data backup, virus protection and availability are also reliably solved.
With its standardized control systems, SOFLEX offers all the building blocks for the digitalization of production. A comprehensive automation package controls fully automated workpiece production. Depending on the complexity of the production plant, it can also control the automated provision of operating resources. This platform is supplemented by extensive organisational functions for detailed planning, order processing and calculation of operating resource requirements with the associated interfaces to the user's organisational systems. As part of the digitalization of production, our control systems are used either on individual production lines or as a comprehensive solution for an entire production area.
The control system is the decisive link between the operator, the automation system, and the connected machines and equipment.
However, the focus must be on the user and their employees. Hence, the most important factor of any new technology is its acceptance through the users. The Industry 4.0 has already confronted with challenges regarding this aspect – on one side it didn’t succeed to clearly communicate the genuine innovations which were promoted. On the other side, even if this concept was introduced one decade ago, it is still not clear which are de facto applications and which concrete benefits are they bringing. Even nowadays predominates a general confusion on the market – every player – manufacturer or supplier – has a different vision and various expectations from Industry 4.0.
Therefore, the most important feature of a control system is the intuitive operation. It is the link between operator, automation, and the connected machines and facilities, so it must be easy to operate. Complex manufacturing processes should be well organized, structured and mapped in the software. Thus, the user is guided at every step and will be able to learn and work optimally with the system.
Over the years, we have lived a lot of trends and changes regarding the GUI (Graphical User Interface) und UX (User Experience). With more than 1800 active installations, we have a solid base which allows us to understand better the needs of our software users. That’s why with the release of a new version of our control systems in 2017, we have decided to split our product’s interface in two main entities:
- one interface focused on the tasks regarding work preparations and data management for the typical tasks that are realized by e.g. Production Manager (conventional operation by mouse and keyboard)
- one interface dedicated for the shop-floor operation (touch and APP-based).
Both of them have proven to be effective and are successfully used by our clients.
Small quantities and a wide range of parts are typical features of flexible systems. The advantages of a central, universal control system are obvious: uniform operation, identical interfaces, standardised organisational processes, better machine utilisation, maximum flexibility, etc... Highly productive and efficient production processes characterise these plants.