The process which began a few months ago with the 4 new “unmanned and digital” lines for producing LEAP turbine cases in the Brindisi plant, was just the start of the joint project between IT teams and Global Supply Chain teams in the other Avio Aero industrial sites.
The previous experience with Smart Shop - the tool based on GE’s cloud platform, Predix, which makes it possible to carry out real time diagnostics on every production line or cell - has facilitated progress on the concept of implementing digital industry in Avio Aero’s factories. And so we are passing to the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT). In practice, this tool – developed from the model by Baker Hughes (previously GE Oil&Gas) – makes it possible to handle the typical complexities of manufacturing diversification present in Avio Aero’s activities. A logic and a work method that transcends specific processes, productive cycles, products or engine programs, because what makes this evolution possible is the data flow generated regularly by items of industrial equipment in order to communicate and connect with other units or factories. Wherever they may be.
Smart Shop is currently in a phase of extension and enlargement, which will also make it more flexible and capable of adapting itself to the specific needs of different factories, possessing the possibility of managing differing schedules and working hours but based on a shared logic: interconnection and dialogue between machines.
“The principal concept is that any piece of machinery equipped with numerical control systems can be given the possibility of transmitting certain data to the company network”, explains Giulio Marino, trying to explain issues of high technical complexity to us in simple words. Giulio took part in our OMLP program, but he is an Avio Aero Digital Engineer… a role not only in line with the future of industrial plants but also with that of his profession.
Machinery that generates data such as operative hours, machinery status to evaluate its availability, and its performance and work quality. “Lathes, milling machines, grinding machines, CMMs and countless other kinds of machinery in our plants generate a vast quantity of data during their normal functioning, most of which is hardly ever available outside its unit. What we have done over these last months is to create communications channels between machinery and network, so that this data can be reused”, explains Giulio, one of our project managers.
So now, both the Rivalta and Pomigliano d’Arco plants have their specific Smart Shop applications, operating currently on 25 machinery units in three different sites. And by mid-2018, machines at the Bielsko Biala plant in Poland will also be connected to the system. Meanwhile, the more this mission expands the more challenging it becomes: every time new lines, new machinery or new plants are added, this involves studying differing equipment characteristics and architectures in order to harmonize them and allow them to communicate between each other.
In this sense, the procedures being carried out by Avio Aero’s IT and GSC teams with their peers in GE Aviation is absolutely essential. The Aviation factories in the USA – in Lynn (Massachusetts), Evendale (Ohio) and Asheville (North Carolina) – use a specific IOT communication standard which allows their machinery to “converse”. As e result, Avio Aero teams are not only studying the language through which they converse, they are also collaborating with Aviation teams to construct a shared technological skeleton on a machinery level which will allow information-sharing between manufacturing lines via the shared standard language, while also enabling data gathering and analysis between in-plant machinery with different standard languages. All this is taking place while rigidly respecting the reserved nature of the data involved, with maximum certification in terms of Cyber Security and Risk Prevention.
On top of this, the sharing and cooperation activities with GE Aviation – and at a broader level with GE Store – are always channeled through the cloud hosting and health monitoring services guaranteed by Predix, where the Smartshop application is based. “Every machine has a different age, a different technology and a different way of generating data… and in the most extreme cases there is simply no available interface!”, says Matteo Longo, an Avio Aero IT Digital Technology Specialist who has followed the organization of this project from the outset. “We began from zero on these issues, which on their own possess a pretty daunting complexity: we then studied the languages used by numerous items of equipment from many different suppliers, then united their manufacturing technologies and skills with those of the IT universe in a single paradigm, namely the Industrial IOT. This was the biggest challenge of all.”
In the beginning, there was the data. And at the core of this industrial digitalization project there exist data flows that have to be understood, aligned, translated and shared by machinery whose architecture (i.e. their main information structures) often varies strongly from one to the other. For example, the machines which used supervisor software as in the LEAP lines in Brindisi, or even more outdated equipment that needs the addition of sensors or other dedicated hardware, and up to the newest units (which fortunately are the majority in Avio Aero’s factories), which are “equipped from birth” with a predisposition to network connections, and speak in IOT languages recognized and logged worldwide (the MT-Connect standard selected by GE Aviation, for example, is a case in point).