Atra S.r.l. is a Pordenone based company specialized in resin dispensing technologies and corollary processes such as plasma treatment, polymerization ovens and automation. These processes are a crucial part of electronic production: the encapsulation of electronic components in liquid resin (in the atmosphere or vacuum) protects them from harsh environmental conditions, avoids corrosion, reduces damage caused by vibrations and mechanical stress. The application of thermally conductive materials is also essential for managing the temperature in electronic components, which are increasingly smaller and more performing. We talk about it with the CEO Luca Lenardi and the R&D Manager Samuele Bongiorno.
How do IIOT themes meet Atra's services and products?
L.L.: We collaborate with our customers in designing all phases of their production processes. Today this means following the Industry 4.0 standards. It is in our nature to invest in R&D and to design cutting-edge hardware and software. All our machines are native 4.0, designed from the outset to interface with CMSs and other machines.
S.B.: We have studied a client/server architecture based on the internet model: the machine is a server in all respects while each interface is a client. All users connected in parallel see the same interface, responsive and capable of adapting to the device on which it is displayed. The client can be a web view for an operator panel, but also a management software, an MRP (material requirements planning system) or a MES (company production control system). Cloud based updates ensure that, should the update fail, the previous software remains active. It is an OTA - Over The Air - philosophy, similar to the mobile phones one.
L.L.: We have developed our work in a modular way, so it is possible to extend the package system and to obtain greater versatility of use, both in terms of electronics and software. Our system can be extended by adding general purpose I/O cards, valid for any industrial application. This versatility is also made possible by the availability of a large number of communication protocols, digital and analogic inputs and outputs. Each system is tailored to the customer's needs, featuring all and only the necessary components: this cuts costs and eliminates unnecessary parts, subject to possible breakage and maintenance. The entire machine is lightened from a software, hardware, mechanical and electronic point of view. The man-machine interface is also simplified, with no unnecessary commands.
How do you manage human-machine interaction?
L.L.: We work to ensure that our systems are technically sophisticated but at the same time simple on the user side. In terms of system architecture, our interfaces are inspired by the world of web and mobile applications, so they are instinctively familiar to the operator. In terms of ergonomics, we follow Google's Material Design guidelines both for the methods of use and for the division of colours or graphic elements. We recognize that this approach is completely original in the context of dosing systems. At the same time, we are simplifying the programming side. In addition to the classic video system that requires to insert the lines of code "by hand", with our machines it will be possible to draw the dosing path directly on the piece and this will be automatically converted into code. This graphic tool will simplify the customer's work when he needs to modify the program for a production change or prototyping. In line with the modular philosophy, our machines will offer both programming methods, in order to satisfy customers of all technical levels.
S.B.: We are also working on the great potential of augmented reality. We are interested in better guiding operators, both in carrying out ordinary activities and in technical assistance and maintenance. The instruction manuals in AR will be simple, they will reduce the margin of human error. At a technological level, they are now mature tools: it is a question of letting them enter our factories and freeing their potential.
What advantages do you bring to the customer in terms of data collection and processing?
S.B.: The subject of Big Data is the most important but least exploited potentials of our systems. It is not only about putting the machines on the network for remote control, but also about collecting valuable data to improve the production process. We have already developed our infrastructure and plan to implement it in the near future. The most interesting field at the moment is predictive maintenance. For example, when sensors measure the wear of a component, we can estimate the residual operating life and predict when it will need to be replaced. Based on the cycles operated by the machine, we will propose the intervention to the customer just before it is necessary. This eliminates sudden downtime and cuts maintenance costs. Furthermore, the data analysis can lead to a continuous and timely improvement of the process parameters.
How do you deal with the issue of IT security, information protection and inviolability of systems from outside?
S.B.: In Atra we operate according to internationally validated protocols and our communication standards follow a military grade AES-256 encryption. If the customer asks for it, our machines can bypass the company network and follow a dedicated channel. When it comes to security, we rely on established protocols and applications such as HTTPS, SSH and VPN. A strong feature of our system is the continuous updating: in the event of new versions being released, the centralized stack allows rapid updating on the distributed network of plants. Security is also the basis of the choice to store data in the cloud, i.e. at the main internet service providers, such as Digital Ocean or AWS (Amazon Web Services). In addition, cloud services allow you to dynamically change the performance of systems as needed: if an analysis of the data collected is required, the characteristics of the systems can be appropriately scaled and then resized, reducing costs in an elastic way.
L.L.: User awareness of these major technological issues is growing rapidly. Some important customers have already trusted us and we are confident that they will soon lead the way for other forward-thinking companies.
What do you do in the field of optimized energy management?
L.L.: We consider these aspects in all design phases of our products and processes. The modularity of our integrated hardware and software systems reduces electrical needs and avoids waste. The same client/server architecture keeps the client active only when needed. In our development plans we will allow our machines to go autonomously in stand-by when possible, ready to reactivate at the operator’s request. In this topic, the sensitivity of the company fits perfectly with the final customers’ one, especially the major industrial players, who have lines with hundreds of machines and greater waste margins.