Intel's Shahram Mehraban Explains IoT's Value to Manufacturing

Having completed a two-year pilot program that generated $9 million in cost savings, Intel and its partners want to bring the Internet of Things to your manufacturing facility, too.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Oct 29, 2014

Two years ago, tech giant Intel launched a proof-of-concept (POC) technology test at its manufacturing facility in Penang, Malaysia. The goal was to ascertain whether collecting and analyzing data from sensors linked to manufacturing equipment could deliver much-ballyhooed promises around enabling predictive maintenance to boost production yield and reduce operational costs. That POC evolved into a full-blown pilot, which Intel, last month, said generated $9 million in cost savings.

Now, Intel is looking outside the four walls of that factory, and is collaborating with Mitsubishi Electric and other partners to offer its IoT expertise, in order to help other businesses improve factory automation through a combination of hardware, software and consultation. In many cases, the legacy equipment within manufacturing facilities is already collecting basic diagnostic data or images that can be leveraged for performing predictive analysis or improving efficiency. IOT Journal spoke with Shahram Mehraban, who manages Intel's industrial automation and smart grid segments, about the pilot and the data analytics capabilities that translated data into dollars saved.

Intel's Shahram Mehraban
The pilot began a couple years ago, Mehraban says, and was preceded by a proof of concept. "I come from the business group, and we are responsible for [managing] profit and loss," he explains. "We looked at the technology and manufacturing group as a customer. So the goal of the POC was to show the stuff we were talking about with regard to IoT in the business group was real." That is, he wanted to prove that data collection and analysis could help improve factory automation.

For the POC, data analytics helped to predict when a pick-and-place machine used to build central processing units (CPUs) required repair or replacement. Over time, Mehraban explains, these machines begin to misalign, which can damage the boards, resulting in their needing to be scrapped. "Depending on the type of CPU, this can be very expensive if we have to scrap it because of this damage," he says. The factory can simply replace the pick-and-place device periodically to avoid such errors, he notes, but adds, "these devices are very expensive, so we want to avoid the unnecessary replacement of parts."

The POC showed that by tracking the number of relays made by the pick-and-place machine, Intel could predict when the device would begin to misalign—and then repair or replace it before it can begin damaging products.

Pleased with the preliminary results from the POC, the manufacturing group greenlighted a full pilot consisting of three use cases, each of which leveraged the C Controller from Mitsubishi Electric's iQ-Platform. This gateway, which employs Intel's Atom processor, collected data from existing meters and cameras used at the manufacturing facility. The gateway also plays an important role by translating data, presented in various formats based on the sensor that collected that data, into a common protocol. In some scenarios in which a use case requires real-time decision-making, the gateway performs some data analytics as well. From the gateway, the data was hosted on Dell's PowerEdge VRTX on-premise server, and was processed using Revolution R Enterprise software provided by Revolution Analytics, hosted on the Cloudera Enterprise database service. Intel and its partners say they can develop IoT applications by leveraging existing infrastructure inside factories, as well as by collecting, processing and analyzing data—enabled through the gateways, servers and software they provide.

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