Bring Intelligence to the Edge of the Digital Factory

November 6, 2018

Jeff DeAngelis By: Jeff DeAngelis
Managing Director, Industrial Communications, Maxim Integrated

A Bay Area company, Iron Ox, is nurturing the first robotic farm in the U.S. Inside a San Carlos, California, warehouse, Angus is busy at work, lifting and moving 800-pound hydroponic boxes where greens and herbs are growing. Its closest colleague is a robotic arm, outfitted with cameras, that can perform tasks such as transferring seedlings between different containers. Eventually, Iron Ox’s founders want to scale and replicate this autonomous indoor farm in other locations.

What’s happening inside this warehouse presents a picture of how industries such as agriculture, manufacturing, and fulfillment are transforming with the integration of automation. Indeed, the digital factory is bringing the productivity-enhancing promises of Industry 4.0 to life. Working alongside human operators, robots are performing tasks that are repetitive in nature as well as those requiring the stamina or strength that is beyond human capacity. With the right level of intelligence, digital factories gain the flexibility to dynamically adjust the manufacturing line on the fly based on new or changing requirements. This arrangement is enhancing efficiency and productivity. And it’s only the start. Achieving true industrial convergence hinges on additional technological advancements in four key areas:

  • Industrial internet of things (IIoT)
  • Cloud computing
  • Data analytics
  • Artificial intelligence

When industrial convergence becomes reality, the machines are smart enough to go beyond performing repetitive tasks. When digital factories are equipped with greater intelligence at the edge, the machines will be able to autonomously optimize their own performance based on real-time health and status information. Imagine a robot that can self-detect its own point of failure—and be able to alert a mechanical colleague to assume its tasks while it troubleshoots and repairs itself. Or, if needed, flag a human operator for service. The “brains” behind these capabilities include sensors, processors, power ICs, and advanced algorithms that work in tandem. All of these components will need to meet increasingly stringent demands for smaller sizes, greater power efficiency, and the robustness to operate in harsh electrical and thermal environments.

Providing the capabilities needed by self-aware digital factories calls for a new class of silicon solutions. As intelligence moves to the edge, the components must get incorporated inside factory equipment that is becoming more compact. For example, programmable logic controllers (PLCs) that direct the actions of automated factory equipment have evolved from being the size of a room back in 1970 to a device that today can fit on the palm of a hand. So the underlying components need to be small and rugged. Smart, connected sensors will also need to be increasingly precise, gathering data from, say, the factory floor to provide the fuel for the algorithms that help guide the machines’ behavior. Processors must be more powerful to support the algorithmic workflow. And power ICs will need to be more efficient, reducing power dissipation and offering a higher level of density. These ICs will also need to have the ability to self-adjust their parameters in order to offer a flexible IO solution.

Helping You Achieve the Promises of Industrial Convergence
Maxim has been on a journey to help our customers achieve the promises of industrial convergence. Our IIoT solutions enable increased productivity, facilitate adaptive manufacturing, and enrich the quality of information required for critical real-time decision-making. At electronica 2014, we showcased our first micro-PLC demonstration platform, which provided a 10x reduction in size and 50% power savings compared to existing PLCs at the time. With this breakthrough IIoT demonstration platform, customers could bring the power of industrial control to the edge of the manufacturing line. In 2016, Maxim delivered its second-generation IIoT platform. The Pocket IO PLC demonstration platform highlights adaptive manufacturing in a 10-cubic-inch footprint—a 2.5x size reduction along with an additional 30% power savings compared to its predecessor. The Pocket IO platform utilizes Maxim’s IO-Link technology to enable reconfiguration of sensors on the fly.

At this year’s electronica, Maxim continues to spotlight its quest to enable industrial convergence. Our focus now is on improving the availability, quality, and amount of real-time data that can be collected and uploaded to the cloud. This collection of actionable information provides a picture of the health and status of the equipment running on the factory floor. Imagine the productivity benefits of tapping into an intelligent algorithm to act upon this treasure trove of real-time information. Now imagine a nimble IIoT platform with 17 software-configurable IOs in a footprint of less than 1 cubic inch. This is the first time this performance density has been achieved in the industry and it is made possible by Maxim’s efficient analog process technology that operates with 50% less power versus previous IIoT solutions. Maxim’s new Go-IO IIoT reference design provides a level of performance that helps unleash the true potential of industrial convergence. The flexible or Universal IO configuration capability meets the ever-changing system demands of an automated factory, allows active monitoring and communication of health and status information from factory-floor equipment, and enables factories to operate with a higher level of intelligence and finesse by allowing production equipment to be dynamically optimized or to adapt to new task assignments on the fly. All of this flexibility, control, and intelligence embodies Maxim’s third-generation IIoT solution.

The Go-IO is comprised of our advanced analog IO, digital IO, IO-Link, communications, and power solutions. Each technology area of the platform benefits by leveraging Maxim’s new Universal IO platform architecture that provides system-level configuration flexibility and scalability as demonstrated via our latest IO-Link master (MAX14819) and digital IO (MAX14912, MAX22192) solutions. In addition to providing a flexible IO platform architecture that is software configurable, Maxim continues to innovate by combining this high level of IO configurability and robustness with the power of integrated diagnostics capabilities that can help monitor the health and status of equipment on the factory floor. With the Go-IO inside, a factory can dynamically optimize its performance based on the environmental operating conditions on the factory floor at any time of the day. Finally, our highly integrated step-down DC-DC converter (MAX15462) powers Go-IO, while our highly integrated RS-485 transceiver module with power (MAXM22511) provides a robust communications port for peer-to peer Go-IO module communication as well as a high-speed data path to upload health and status information into a local data lake or to the cloud.

The Go-IO reference design provides a pathway to harness the true power of industrial convergence. Come by Maxim’s booth at electronica (Hall C4, Stand 440) to see the compact, flexible Go-IO in action.

Go-IOThe Go-IO reference design provides the underlying technologies to create smarter digital factory equipment.