How Factory Automation Can Support Reshoring

November 2, 2017

By: Jeff DeAngelis
Managing Director of Business Management, Maxim Integrated


Since 2012, the number of companies actively bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. has increased by 250%. Sixty-four percent pursue reshoring in order to be closer to their customers, while 76% do so to shorten their supply chains. While the 430,000 jobs that the U.S. manufacturing sector has added since 2010 is a long way from full recovery, it’s still a positive step.

The facts and figures I just shared are from the Reshoring Institute, a non-profit that collaborates with the University of San Diego Supply Chain Management Institute to provide research, information, and support for companies that want to bring manufacturing and services back to the U.S. I’ve been interested in their work because Maxim provides technologies that enable the manufacturing efficiencies that incentivize companies to pursue reshoring.

It’s gratifying to work on technologies that help strengthen the competitiveness of our customers. At Maxim, we started examining our role in factory automation when the Industry 4.0 movement was getting underway. We asked ourselves, "How could we help level the playing field so that factories could be more productive and competitive?"

By the time Industry 4.0 rolled around, a lot of business had already left the U.S. and Europe for lower cost manufacturing environments. Industry 4.0 is all about improving productivity, reducing factory downtime by detecting potential failures on the line quickly, and enabling on-the-fly reconfiguration of factory equipment to allow production of multiple types of products. IO-Link® technologies enable adaptive manufacturing—and increased productivity—via intelligent sensors. This is where Maxim's Pocket IO PLC development platform comes in, creating pathways toward Industry 4.0. The Pocket IO platform, also known as MAXREFDES150#, is essentially a reference design that consumes less than 10 cubic inches, while featuring the ability to communicate to an array of analog and digital sensors, make decisions based on the information collected, and translate this into appropriate actions by driving a relay, opening or closing a valve, or controlling a motor. In an industrial environment, power efficiency and reduction of heat dissipation are essential, given the typically tight real estate in factories, along with the lack of cooling fans. The tiny Pocket IO platform integrates 30 IOs, including digital and analog inputs and outputs, communication technology, and IO-Link technology. By moving intelligence closer to the machine, equipment operators can determine in real time how efficient the factory line is and, if needed, reprogram the equipment to maximize efficiency. 

Pocket IO PLC Development Platform

The Pocket IO PLC Development Platform can be used in factory and process automation, building automation, robotic control, and many other applications.

Smarter Industrial Control Systems Raise Productivity

Whether we’re talking about a car, a blender, a refrigerator, or a vending machine, each relies on industrial control systems. In the industrial world, you’re dealing with motors operating at very high voltages. Our devices are robust and can survive electrostatic discharge (ESD) and overvoltage events because of our 80V process technologies. This level of reliability is critical in industrial environments, where equipment needs to run 24/7 365 days a year. Not only do we protect our devices, but we also continually innovate in terms of functions. That’s one of the aspects that attracted me to Maxim 15 years ago—the ability to do creative, innovative analog design and to develop our own process technologies. Compared to its predecessor, the Pocket IO platform provides 30% lower power in a 2.5x smaller footprint. The platform received a 2016 Product of the Year Award from Electronic Products and was recently honored with an ECN Impact Award, placing second in the Boards, Modules & Embedded Systems category.

Maxim continues to expand its portfolio of advanced factory automation solutions. We recently launched the MAX14819 dual-channel, IO-Link Master transceiver. The MAX14819 ensures robust communications for Industry 4.0 applications but with 50% less heat dissipation compared to other IO-Link Master solutions.

Now, the industrial segment has typically been conservative in terms of risk-taking. So when we present solutions like the Pocket IO platform, our industrial customers are amazed and encouraged to think outside the box. A lot of this comes back to our power-efficient analog process technology, not to mention that fact that we’re enabling industrial customers to fit more robots into a given manufacturing space.

Indeed, much of the momentum we're now seeing toward reshoring is because of the technology available to make local manufacturing efficient and competitive once more. For more insights into reshoring, read this paper from the Reshoring Institute, "Welcome to the Smart Factory."