Survey data by Deloitte suggests that businesses with a comprehensive Industry 4.0 strategy are becoming more profitable. Every area of manufacturing requires different technologies that make the Fourth Industrial Revolution easier to realize. In process heating applications, one of the most important technologies manufacturers must be aware of is data logging. Here, Andy Selvy, chief system designer at industrial technology company Watlow, speaks about why data logging is key to bringing heating technologies into Industry 4.0.

Industry 4.0 has caused numerous changes to factory automation and data exchange. Machines have become increasingly connected, with information created, calculated  and shared across various communication points in real-time.

With the right tools and experience, you can join the forth industrial revolution: optimizing your  facility’s production, making it smarter, more efficient and more profitable. In sectors that use process heating, such as medical equipment, semiconductor processing and food manufacturing, one of the most useful technologies to implement is data logging.

A data logging transition

Previously, facilities were manned by technicians with clipboards that would manually monitor equipment and processes. For obvious reasons, this method was inefficient compared to the technology available today.

The advancement of analog electronics brought strip recorders into the industry. With strip recorders technicians could rely on the small pens and rolling paper to record vital processes. This freed them from having to continuously monitor a single machine. Not only did they still have to collect and store the paper rolls, the old data loggers where bulky, expensive to implement, and in many cases could only record a single variable.

Today, the average smart factory generates around 5 million gigabytes (GB) of data per week — the equivalent to data produced from 300,000 16 GB iPhones. With that in mind, it’s vital that facilities collect and understand their data so that it can be used to benefit the entire production line.

Digital data loggers avoid the time and expense of sending a technician to take measurements in a remote location, and they enable much higher data recording density than is achievable through manual recording, providing higher quality data.

Today’s equipment is dynamic, offering solutions that enable multiple zones and varying signal types at affordable costs. Multi-channel data loggers support numerous inputs and can be compatible with different types of temperature sensors such as thermocouples, thermistors and resistance temperature detectors (RTDs). In the case of Walow’s EZ-ZONE® RM family 256 variables can be recorded.

Users can download and share recorded information via built-in communication channels, such as USB, Wifi and Ethernet, enabling cloud-based storage and access to big-data analysis — supporting Industry 4.0. transformation.

The benefits of digital data logging

So why should data logging be an essential part of any manufacturing facility that wants to advance with Industry 4.0?

Digital data logs make it easier for information to be distributed and shared, which improves communication among team members working on a system.

Greater insight into areas for improvement allows design engineers to optimize systems and understand which steps in their process are most critical to achieve the desired outcome.

When issues inevitably occur having a historical log of what led up to the incident ensures the root cause can be identified and addressed preventing future downtime from overlooked issues.

Perhaps though, the most significant benefit of data logging is that it supports efficient preventative maintenance. Having access to real time data engineers and technicians can act before issues become downtime. It’s estimated that every factory loses at least five per cent of its productivity because of downtime. Eventually, this adds up to extreme revenue loss.

The data collected can highlight variations or anomalies, suggesting that something has changed in the system. Take for example, a foam sheet manufacturer, which used a Watlow controller with built in data logging to quickly react to a quality issue indicated by specific temperature variations in their curing process. The information allowed engineers to identify and resolve the cause of the problem, saving costs and minimizing waste.

Instead of issuing alarms for staff to react to, temperature data monitored over a period of time can demonstrate that implementing better thermal uniformity at a key stage in the production process can reduce, or eliminate, issues from happening. By receiving data in real time, engineers can resolve problems before equipment failure occurs — minimizing downtime, saving costs and increasing productivity.

Logging options

Depending on the application, data loggers can be incorporated as one integrated solution or as an extra to a system. Watlow, which is continuously piloting and implementing Industry 4.0 technology programs, manufactures advanced heating products, including sensors, controllers and data logging equipment.

Manufacturers looking to implement digital data logging can choose an integrated system such as the F4T® temperature controller, with built in data logging, or the D4T™, a dedicated data logging device. With these solutions, customers can log parameters that are preconfigured, saving setup time and complexity. Watlow’s solutions also feature a list of popular setup configurations to help manufacturers optimize data logging that’s tailored to their specific needs.

For demanding applications, the RMA PLUS™ module dynamically connects with other devices providing measurement capability and can record data with onboard SD cards and push data to the cloud.

Leveraging these technologies, Watlow is automating data-gathering and analysis to anticipate issues earlier and speed up implementation of solutions. Our experience of Industry 4.0 has increased the efficiency and productivity of our operations, equipping us with the knowledge that helps us provide support to our customers who are implementing Industry 4.0 solutions.

While data collection is crucial in any facility, it is understanding how to act on that data that is key to realizing the benefits of Industry 4.0. Gone are the days of engineers with clipboards in hand. Data loggers do the work so that engineers don’t have too, freeing up schedules to improve performance and streamline operational efficiency.

By providing engineers with information in real-time, systems can be improved, and errors can be resolved before equipment failure, minimizing downtime and increasing productivity.