With automated factories using more wireless machines and data collection taking place in a central location within the factory, servicing and repairing machines has become more difficult than it once was.
“When maintenance guys go to the line to fix a machine that’s down, they’re wasting a lot of time,” says Bob Meads, founder and CEO of iQuest Inc., Alpharetta, Ga. “You can’t get the product data at the equipment where you’re at. You have to look at the problem, then go through 40 pounds of technical resources to find what you need.”
Or, Meads adds, if you want to know how fast and long a motor has been running, it’s on a control room screen somewhere. Or on an interface 20 feet away and someone has to shout out the values to you. “Thirty years ago, I could get information at the source because pressure valves and indicator lights were hardwired in. Now, with HMIs, you don’t know anything. That’s a problem, especially when you’re troubleshooting,” he says.
This is where iQuest’s iQagent app comes in. The app runs on iOS currently and connects to a custom database that allows the user to access all of the support documentation for the machines in the factory, simply by scanning a QR code.
The iQagent app is free. What’s running behind the scenes and powering the app is the iQagent server. To set it up, you use the software’s configuration tool to a create a “point of interest”—a motor, valve, warehouse shelf—that you associate digitized technical document files (PDFs) or live data points located in your SCADA system or coming from a PLC. A QR code is created for each point of interest, and a label with that code is attached to the machine or shelf.
When an operator, engineer or technician needs to retrieve the information, he or she scans the QR code with the iPad’s camera. Suddenly, overlaid on the camera image is a table of real-time data, a list of relevant PDFs and/or additional search options. There’s also a menu function that doesn’t require the scanning of the code, for those who want to browse and choose from a list of points of interest.
iQagent gets live data from the process via OPC, and “Kepware does OPC better than anyone else,” adds Meads. There are other apps that are OPC-specific, but they are often tied back only to a specific piece of vendor hardware. “Kepware has hundreds of drivers that can talk to any system. They also have a simulation driver for memory and values so I can quickly test [the communications],” says Meads. “If Kepware didn’t exist, I would have had to prefer one type of vendor hardware, or do what Kepware did and build all those different drivers myself.”
To read more about the iQagent app’s uses in the factory, head over to automationworld.com.