Data is the currency of the future. But how can companies access the immense amounts of data generated by their machines and use it to modernize their production? Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and IPA Automation have developed software called StationConnector that reads data and makes it available to any application. These fraunhofer IPA computer scientists created an independent company to bring the software to the market: a spin-off called Data Coffee.
Data is growing exponentially in production companies, not only in terms of quantity, but also in its diversity. If used correctly, this data can be of great benefit to planning and optimizing business processes. However, plant-based machines typically consist of heterogeneous devices from different generations and manufacturers, with incompatible formats and protocols, especially in mid-sized businesses. The various control systems and interfaces make accessing and evaluating machine data a complex and problematic process.
Link control systems and IT
This is exactly the problem StationConnector software aims to solve, providing a unified interface across all factories. This allows the software to easily transfer data between industrial protocols, control systems, and all kinds of computer systems in an application-specific way. StationConnector uniformly makes parameters such as power consumption, rotational speed, temperature and angular position available to any application, regardless of the read speed they require. “Machine learning requires a high data rate, but for monitoring, a low data rate is sufficient. With StationConnector, we essentially establish an independent software layer between factories and the systems or databases that will use this data later, ”says Marcus Defranceski, scientist at Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart. The computer scientist developed the data interpreter with his colleagues Fabian Böttinger and Fabian Schulz. The major advantage here is that StationConnector gives businesses the maximum flexibility, allowing them to manage their machine data independently and adjust it as needed. In many cases, companies have yet to decide how they are going to modernize their production and do not know in what form they need their data. “With our software, production companies don’t need to make final decisions too soon or too quickly. “
Once the data is available in the right format, it is possible to assess plant efficiency, increase production capacity or establish data-driven business models, for example. The customer defines the possible fields of application. “Having the data available increases transparency, which allows for better control of production and reveals potential areas for process optimization,” explains the IT specialist.
Thanks to the explicit configuration of the software, users do not need IT skills to operate it. Machines in the factory can continue to run during installation. There is no restriction if he chooses the necessary information and variables: the customer decides what data he wants to process. The reading process can be automated to ensure production losses are detected in real time and allow rapid responses to production failures.
StationConnector interprets the different protocols, which can be extended on a modular basis. The software runs both on individual local PCs and production servers, and in the cloud. The data reading can be represented using graphics on most mobile devices and desktops, so that users can get a visual first impression of it.
Data Coffee spin-off begins
Having proven its effectiveness in practical applications, the software is already in use in production facilities. It also runs continuously on the test platform at Fraunhofer IPA.
Interested companies have been able to license the software since February of this year. Marcus Defranceski and his two colleagues from Fraunhofer IPA have started an independent company, Data Coffee. This spin-off company is located in Horb. Currently, StationConnector is being optimized for manufacturing companies; Next year, the software will also be available to factory manufacturers to help them develop their own new digital business models.