Let’s talk about downtime. It can halt production, require expensive repairs or replacements, and has huge cost implications for manufacturers. But what if you could know, in advance, when repairs or maintenance are needed? And what if your schedule reflected this increased level of foresight? These kinds of capabilities may be closer than you think.

There are many ways in which FANUC products are recognised within industry. You might know us best by our distinctive yellow robots. Or perhaps as the market-leader for CNC. What you may not know, however, are the extensive capabilities we have to turn a FANUC robot or CNC-controlled machine into a fully-functioning, fully-automated, smart manufacturing cell.

While some may find the subject daunting or confusing, Industry 4.0 was nonetheless the hot-topic of 2017, and 2018 looks set to be the same. The truth is, we’ve been doing it for years. In fact, the smart condition monitoring capability we launched at last year’s EMO was just one of many developments FANUC has had in machine-to-machine communication over the past few years.

For those who missed it, the technology launched last year is known as “Zero Downtime” (ZDT), an automated software for monitoring robots and identifying potential faults.

As manufacturers, we can all agree that unplanned downtime is a financial and logistical nightmare; yet, it’s one of the few certainties that we have. The solution lies in making sure that any potential losses are planned, and mitigated, ahead of time.

That’s exactly what ZDT does. As a smart diagnostic tool, it connects to a FANUC robot and conducts a mix of maintenance scheduling and process health monitoring. It can also generate a digital twin, which helps the software to compare how the robot should work, to how it is actually functioning. If there are discrepancies, these are noted using a simple traffic-light system to communicate the severity of the problem.

Don’t worry: smart diagnostics aren’t as sensitive as your kitchen smoke alarm, and they won’t flash red at every minor discrepancy. Instead, they’re designed to track changes and observe patterns in machine behaviour within defined parameters or tolerance levels. It’s then up to you to decide the best course of action to prevent machine failure.

Do technologies such as these signal the end of unplanned downtime? Unfortunately not. As you’ll well know, downtime is influenced by more than machine faults. Technology is evolving all the time, however, and we are seeing some exciting developments within artificial intelligence and diagnostics.

Predictive maintenance is one of the easier wins for companies looking to invest in smart manufacturing, and it’s a great way to enhance an automated production line for true lights-out, unmanned manufacturing.

If you’re interested in learning more, why not visit us at our impressive facility in Ansty Park, Coventry? Whether you’re new to automation, or looking to take the next logical step, we can help to get your journey started.

Steve Capon, Technical Manager, FANUC UK