Word 1, engineers 2, computers 3, Industry 4(.0)

       Written by Claudio Vivante

A few weeks ago, just for doubt’s sake, a potential customer requested a communication test between one of his many presses (rather dated) and a computer, before installing a new data collection system needed to measure and to optimize the production process.

Sharing the idea that "sooner rather than later", I gladly accepted the assignment because reading data from the PLC’s is one of the thing I do often, and for this reason I was hoping to get by with little time.
The day of the test an engineer that works there and build presses flanked me to show me where and what to read. "We just read a single word or a single parameter from the PLC, then if it works, surely we will read the others," we said in front of the infamous (to know why a coffee machine can be infamous read here) coffee machine...

Once we arrived in front of the press here it is how things went:
Time to make a program that reads from PLC: 2 minutes. 

At that point we tried to install the executable on the technician’s laptop, but it worked with Windows XP and for some odd reason my program showed a compatibility error ever seen before...

Well, then I decided to use my laptop, that works with Windows 10, but the SIEMENS interface driver was not compatible (in vain we unloaded everything we could from the Internet to find the patch).
Then we asked for a laptop with Windows 7, which luckily was in one of the company offices but after many attempts we failed to communicate with the PLC of the press. The different versions of Windows, drivers, programming languages with their own runtime have produced a disheartening mix of incompatibility. 


What I learnt from that afternoon

Back home, frustrated for the inconvenience, I thought that today people and press talk about Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and then you are forced to face these low-level problems that make everything complicated or impossible. I am convinced that the Industry 4.0 is even more than necessary for production companies like the one I described because INDUSTRY 4.0 does not only mean advanced automation, and DATA ANALYSIS MACHINE LEARNING, it also means overcoming

  • all interoperability problems coming from different brand systems,
  • incompatibilities from various versions of operating systems, drivers,
  • dependence on one supplier of the past, with which perhaps we do not longer want to deal,
  • the problems of proprietary data formats, which fortunately are increasingly rare.

Businesses, especially small ones, need industry 4.0 to abandon the problems of data management tied to old technology, just in this way they can prepare for the challenges of global competition.

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