Officially launching at NPE 2018, Conair SmartServices™ is a new Industry 4.0 platform for plastics processors that combines powerful equipment monitoring and visualization functions with advanced cloud-based data storage and analytics. The platform promises new levels of process, performance and quality optimization, predictive diagnostics and maintenance, and maximum equipment uptime. Conair is exhibiting in Booths W1845 and S14045 at the Orange County Convention Center, Orlando FL.

Conair SmartServices has been a major undertaking. The first challenge to be overcome in realizing the intelligent and connected “smart factory” of Industry 4.0, according to Sam Rajkovich, VP Sales and Marketing, is to take on – and then manage – a torrent of data from dozens or even hundreds of pieces of plant equipment.

“Today, data is everywhere, seen on HMIs scattered through every plant,” Rajkovich explains. “Every HMI represents a piece of equipment that is optimized to talk about its job, but not really optimized to communicate, together with other equipment, to the people who manage the plant. To managers, that data can get jumbled together with other information, interruptions, and alarms so that it distorts, rather than clarifies, what’s happening on the plant floor. You can’t tune it out, because you might miss something urgent, but keeping those data streams in focus, channeling and managing them is very difficult.”

This, he says, is the starting point for SmartServices, Conair’s vision for channeling that digital flood into a platform for intelligent plant management, filtering streams of data to support decisions and actions that result in smoother operations, sustained productivity, and maximum equipment performance and uptime.

To help users become familiar with the system and its benefits, and to begin amassing the historical data that Conair needs to develop analytics and predictive capabilities, processors can take advantage of a no-cost, six-month trial in their own facility and with their own equipment. The web-based design of Conair SmartServices means that processors will never need to make hardware or software upgrades to have the latest version of the platform, Rajkovich notes. “We can update and enhance the software anytime as Conair and our customers learn and share more. The system will be constantly getting smarter the more we use it.”

The Basics

The Conair SmartServices offering is straightforward, starting with compact wireless machine adapters (WMAs) that are installed in the controls of each piece of auxiliary equipment, and a connection to the web-based SmartServices platform. Upon login, users identify and configure their auxiliaries into the system, organizing them by equipment type, plant names, production lines, physical locations – whatever customized format fits their operation. Once enabled, WMAs automatically collect data from each piece of auxiliary equipment and transmit it into the secure, cloud-based SmartServices database where it is processed and stored for presentation to the user.

The Conair SmartServices web portal streams user data into a dashboard format, providing a clickable list of the user-specified equipment groups on one side and a large working screen on the other. Within the dashboard, users can rapidly navigate to a selected equipment group and then drill down to Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for each piece of equipment:

  • The KPI display shows real-time data. By default, three KPIs are selected and highlighted at the top of the display, while other KPIs are shown below in the form of real-time line graphs. Each KPI is marked with a color indicator – red, yellow, or green – that makes it easy to scan current operating conditions and spot performance trends. Both the highlighted KPIs and the time intervals shown on the line graphs are user-selectable and can be modified at any time.
  • The Machine View display is just that: a schematic of the equipment populated with readouts of setpoint and actual readings. A view of a dryer, for instance, identifies hopper inlet air temperature, temperature gradients within the material hopper (with Drying Monitor), outlet air temperature, dew-point setting, target moisture level, and more.
  • The Alarms display offers real-time alarm status and a complete alarm history, together with a special panel that allows managers to create a hierarchy of alarm types, generate messages (texts or e-mails) specific to each, and direct/delegate alarm responses to selected individuals or groups of plant personnel. “For instance,” Rajkovich explains, “simple material outage alarms can be directed one group of employees, equipment malfunctions to maintenance personnel, more critical alarms to production supervisors, and so on. This way, it is much less likely that an alarm will be ignored, and more likely that it will be dealt with appropriately and in a timely way.”

The platform also gives processors the option of integrating Conair parts and service staff into the alarm routing protocol, enabling them to respond proactively by offering troubleshooting assistance, recommending spare parts, or even initiating a service call.

Near-term steps

Even as individual users interact with data from their equipment, the Conair SmartServices platform collects, analyzes, and stores performance data from their auxiliaries and thousands of others connected worldwide. The result is an ever-growing auxiliary-equipment database that can be leveraged by both processor and Conair personnel to improve efficiency, performance, and uptime. Already, that information is beginning to be mined and used to develop algorithms for a range of predictive, diagnostic, and comparative purposes. Examples include:

  • real-time performance comparisons between selected individual auxiliaries and a global average,
  • understanding and predicting power consumption of auxiliaries at given performance/output levels, and
  • identifying equipment in need of specific preventive maintenance based on performance history and operating characteristics.

With continued development, Conair SmartServices envisions a wide-ranging package of integrated, “smart factory” services, all informed by data and validated by analysis, to ensure optimal equipment performance and support quantifiable equipment uptime guarantees. Achieving that kind of uptime and performance requires a significant change, says Rajkovich:  “Providing a rapid, integrated response to equipment problems is vital, but only gets you so far. Achieving maximum uptime demands a shift in emphasis—from problem response to problem prevention. That means using data to understand the root causes of problems, then taking systematic steps to address and eliminate the problems altogether.”