Atra S.r.l. is specialized in resin dosing technologies and related processes such as plasma treatment, polymerization and industrial automation. Its systems are applied for the processing of electromechanical components such as transformers, capacitors, rotors and stators. In addition, systems for the application of gap fillers and thermo-conductive resins, essential in the production of PCBs and high-voltage batteries for next generation electric mobility.
What is Atra doing in the field of industrial connectivity?
Luca Lenardi: The corporate digital revolution today passes through IIoT. It is a frontier that opens up infinite possibilities to rethink the work of our companies. Predictive maintenance, data collection, remote control and energy optimization are just some of the advantages that we can already see at work, but many others will come as these technologies gain ground. We have made our machines intelligent over the past few decades, and we are now putting them in communication with each other. All our systems are native 4.0, designed from the outset to interface with ERP, MES and other machines.
Vladimiro Lenardi: In this area we collaborate with our customers from the earliest stages of the development of production processes, we help them to take full advantage of the potential of the new tools. We see that entrepreneurs' awareness of these big issues is growing rapidly.
What role does wireless communication play in the design of your resin systems?
LL: We distinguish three different areas: the WIFI to access the machine (therefore the machine as AP); wireless for lower level process control (communication with actuators and sensors); and finally wireless for connecting machines to the cloud, remote monitoring and maintenance. In the first case, Atra offers WIFI (in the WLAN field) according to known technologies (IEEE 802.11b / g / n): this in particular can be appreciated for access to man-machine interfaces and for interfacing with management systems, where the response time matters less than the integrity of the data. Our systems are equipped with an integrated AP: this allows you to interact with the machine without having to "insert" it into the production LAN/VLAN.
How do you approach wireless for process control?
LL: Regarding the communication with actuators and sensors, apart from the use of RFID solutions for the traceability and management of the pieces, we have preferred not to adopt this solution for now because the response time is generally higher and the signal is often disturbed. In addition, there are operator safety aspects that make us prefer the cable. However, we remain very interested in the future applications: in recent years, many interesting technologies based on the IEEE 802.15.4 standard (such as ZigBee and WirelessHART) have developed, but the fragmentation and current differentiation in the use of bands makes application in the field difficult. The problem of interference is growing due to the coexistence of different devices and the widespread diffusion of wireless technologies that use the 2.45 GHz ISM (industrial, scientific and medical) band, in telecommunications as in IT. To ensure reliable communication within the factory of the future, especially for time-critical applications, it is essential to coordinate the coexistence of multiple technologies.
What about cloud, remote monitoring and maintenance?
LL: In this case, both 4G and 5G (depending on the available coverage) make it possible to communicate with the plants remotely without the customer having to do anything. The limits remain the contract costs, coverage and quality of service providers who still offer few machine-to-machine (M2M) solutions. The greater bandwidth capacity offered by 5G will allow greater data redundancy, greater reliability and greater multimedia, for example for remote assistance and maintenance.
How can Atra technologies support customers in the context of Industry 4.0?
LL: Both in the design of our systems and in the integration of the machines of our partner Scheugenpflug, we are achieving an increasingly perfect fusion of hardware and software. We have created an architecture expressly aligned with the philosophy of Industry 4.0. All our systems are connected in the cloud to a central server that manages communication, data collection and inputs from the outside. We have designed a client/server architecture based on the internet model: the machine is a server in all respects while each external interface works as a client, accessible simultaneously to different operators. The client can be a web interface for an operator panel, but also a management software, an MRP or an MES. We have developed our work in a modular way, both in terms of electronics and software, i.e. it is possible to extend our package system (by adding general purpose I/O cards, valid for any industrial application) and obtain greater versatility of use. This versatility is also made possible by the availability of a large number of communication protocols, digital and analog inputs and outputs. Each system is tailored to the customer's needs, with 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.
VL: In Atra's DNA there is a great propensity to adapt production systems and processes according to customer needs. We see that the Italian market is particularly sensitive to customization, it does not appreciate standard solutions. Italian companies often need customized machinery to be able to produce the originality typical of made in Italy. In Atra we are particularly good at taking care of specialties, at introducing variations. We combine the mechanical excellence of our partner Scheugenpflug and our ability to adapt their products to specific customer requirements. We combine the best part of the German way of working with the best part of the Italian way.
What are the main challenges that Atra technologies help solve?
LL: The most frequent intervention that is requested of us is the integration of our new 4.0 resin island within a traditional production line. This makes it necessary to integrate the control of the new plant with the pre-existing IT systems, inside and outside the factory, to make the most of their potential. This is an important opportunity to transfer the guidelines of Industry 4.0 throughout the company production reality, improving its overall processes. Furthermore, our systems bring individual advantages in all operational phases. Predictive maintenance cancels downtime and cuts costs. It is no longer just a matter of monitoring the progressive wear of the system, but of predicting in advance which interventions will be needed and when. This allows you to program the job with an accuracy that was previously impossible. Furthermore, the amount of data that can be collected and analyzed allows the continuous improvement of the process parameters.
VL: There are two very important objectives: real-time monitoring of factory operations and extensive data communication from the factory to all departments and offices. The company can enhance and simplify the sharing of information at all levels and, at the same time, reduce waste or production anomalies. Finally, the telemetry and remote control of the machines allow you to monitor the progress of production at any time, regardless of the physical distance from the plant. This is the future, it offers indisputable advantages from today and will soon be useful even for the customer who does not think about it yet.