"We have a robot running amok in the plant and we need some help." That's what Zig Ziegler of Venture Technology Groups, Inc. (VTG) heard when he answered his phone recently.
At first this may provoke amusing images from a scene in "Star Wars" but the reality of it for any production line manager is both frustrating and costly.
The call came from a car manufacturing plant in Detroit. Their suspect was a welding robot on the assembly line. The problem was no one had actually seen the robot mis-positioning parts. It always seemed to happen when no one was around or in the middle of the night.
"We provided an engineered solution utilizing an IP camera and ProSoft Technology's Ethernet radio," said Ziegler. "The video was sent wirelessly back to the control room and archived." The next morning, supervisors were able to watch the robot and diagnose the problem.
Power Plant Security
Wirelessly transmitting video is nothing new for Venture Technology. A power generating plant in Michigan has a wireless video network operating as a security system.
"The plant was located in a popular hunting area and used to be open to a local road," said Ziegler. "Homeland security required that the plant be made more secure."
A fence was placed around the facility with locked gates and the grounds needed to be monitored to insure that people were complying with the stay-out order.
"At the power plant we placed two fixed cameras at the north and south entrance gates about a half mile from the plant," said Ziegler. "Video is wirelessly transmitted to the guard shack and control room using ProSoft Technology’s 802.11b Ethernet Industrial Hotspot units. The guards can see who is waiting and open the gates and the control room can also see what's going on. Two other cameras are mounted on the roof of the plant and are used for security of the grounds. The roof cameras are pan/tilt/zoom capable and have 26x zoom for very good close-ups."
"They also have the added benefit of spotting deer for the avid hunters,” Ziegler said with a chuckle."
Truck Manufacturing Plant in Kentucky
"But the car manufacturing plant in Detroit was the application that opened up all new doors for us," said Ziegler. Venture Technology is a system integration company that specializes in the integration and deployment of complete control systems including wireless. Shortly after setting up the camera and radios for the plant in Detroit, Venture Technology received a call from a truck manufacturer in Kentucky.
"They had a problem with a conveyor line that was located 1200 feet from the control room," said Ziegler. These conveyors move frames and bodies throughout the plant and often intersect with other conveyor lines. If intermittent placement or motion problems occurred, errors and damaged parts were the result. By the time a supervisor became aware of the problem the line needed to be shut down, costing money in lost production time.
"After the experience with the Detroit plant we had developed a whole new package for these type of situations," said Ziegler. The "package" consists of a fixed, dust resistant, camera and a ProSoft Technology Industrial Hotspot radio. All mounted into a custom-built enclosure with a built-in power supply. Ziegler tested the range of other, similar radios in this application. "They were less than desirable," said Ziegler.
"The radio is an 802.11 abg, 50mW, operating in the 5 GHz frequency," said Ziegler. "This was really important to the IT group who were very protective of their 2.4 GHz frequency. We chose this radio because it was easily user-configurable and could be adapted to fit the needs of any particular plant."
"Zig has a long-standing relationship with us," said Chris Hines, Senior Support Engineer for ProSoft Technology. "Over the years we’ve all talked to him about one project or another. But on this project, he didn’t need us. It was basically just plug in the radio, make a few minor adjustments and start the camera."
In the truck plant, Venture Technology mounted two cameras on a rolling cart for mobility and sent the video back to the control room. "At 15 frames per second, the video is just like watching television," said Ziegler. "This allows the supervisor to view the conveyor line health without having to walk 1200 feet to see if everything is okay."
Final plans for the Kentucky plant include blanketing the entire plant with repeater radios. "This way," said Ziegler, "they can have a number of cameras in the plant wherever they need them without worrying about range issues."
Venture Technology is seeing a steady increase in calls for this type of wireless monitoring. "Right now it's a relatively small piece of my industrial business," said Ziegler. "But I see steady growth coming along these lines."