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TSI Brings Industry 4.0 to the Cleanroom

Article by Tim Russell, TSI Global Product Manager.

Information and communication technologies are an integral part of controlled environments, a key element is the Cleanroom Monitoring System.

ISO 14644-2:2015 describes cleanroom “monitoring to provide evidence of cleanroom performance related to air cleanliness by particle concentration”, however, the standard now goes much further in detailing the additional benefits of a monitoring system:

  • fast response to adverse events and conditions,
  • developing trends,
  • enhanced knowledge of process leading to more effective risk analysis,
  • reduced costs,
  • reduced waste
  • and significantly integrating data from multiple instruments.

In a cleanroom this means access to meaningful data giving a better view through better analysis tools leading to real-time responses and decision making. The objective is to drive continuous improvement and operational excellence moving beyond data collection to provide information which can improve knowledge of the processes.

The objective of Industry 4.0 technologies is to enable manufacturers to have full visibility of operations and allow them to be responsive to information regarding raw materials, inventory, assets, quality, waste, output and customer demands. It emphasizes ensuring that opportunities for improvement are highlighted and action is taken which can lead to saving money, time, and improving customer satisfaction and supplier relations. Linking equipment, people, processes, services and supply chains all make up the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) which is a key component of Industry 4.0. Huge amounts of data collected by monitoring systems holds an enormous amount of information that can be used far beyond simple quality assurance measures. 

Data sharing expectations in Cleanrooms are changing rapidly. Inter-connectivity between different systems was once accepted as either not possible, due to the proprietary communication device protocols or high risk due to data integrity concerns. Today’s Cleanroom manufacturing processes increasingly expect the opposite: simple, transparent data sharing among devices and applications regardless of the system. Importantly, communication between the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning System (HVAC), the cleanroom monitoring system and production equipment is now seen as crucial in maintaining a controlled environment whilst minimising production and energy costs.

In the Building Automation industry, response to the growing need to communicate with a wide range of devices have given rise to protocols with the objective of delivering straightforward access to a broad range of devices. Many special and proprietary protocols have given way to standardised protocols such as BACnet. BACnet delivers what end users are asking for: the ability to communicate with a broad range of devices using a common, well defined protocol. However, even BACnet was developed with a specific focus and it does not resolve two key issues: First, even though BACnet has increased data connectivity to multiple devices, still equipment suppliers choosing to not use it. Instead, certain user groups have developed their own standard protocols such as LonWorks™ which are not compatible with BACnet.

In Cleanrooms, the number of applications where access to real-time, alarm and event (A&E), and historical data is needed by end users continues to grow. This introduces a wide range of off-the-shelf software applications and devices, such as Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs), historians, and analysis and reporting software packages which often have their origins from the Process Control industry. The challenge is that these software application and devices need Building Automation data as many cannot communicate using BACnet or other protocols. What is needed is a standard format where all these different systems can ‘talk’ to each other. This is where a protocol called OPC comes into play.

OPC (Open Platform Communications) is a protocol increasingly being requested when specifying equipment and software that will be used in cleanroom manufacturing processes. OPC is a common industrial language. It is a standard protocol for the secure and reliable exchange of data. The key premise of OPC is simple: It ensures the seamless flow of information among multiple devices from multiple vendors. It does this without them being aware of each other’s internal data communication protocols which makes it uniquely attractive in a cleanroom where data integrity is of paramount importance. OPC Foundation is the organization globally responsible for the development and maintenance of this communication standard.

Originating in the process control industry, OPC was designed from the ground up to address the multi-vendor, custom device problem. The process control industry faced the same data connectivity issues as Building Automation and as a result, developed this flexible, robust method of moving data from any device to any application without the need for custom drivers. Instead of focusing on trying to make all devices talk the same language, OPC focuses on how data from different device-drivers can be shared among them. For this reason, OPC has quickly become the method of choice for industrial data-connectivity

OPC conceptually splits the functionality of a traditional device driver into two components using the client/server model. A software called an OPC Server, takes care of communicating with a device and making the device’s data available to an OPC Client. For example Cleanroom Monitoring Software could make available particle counting data to the HVAC System from its OPC server. The HVACs OPC Client software, connected to the cleanroom monitoring system’s OPC Server will automatically receive the data every time a particle count result is available. No special drivers are needed in the HVAC system.

An Isolator for example could make available via its OPC Server a door open alarm to the Cleanroom Monitoring System’s OPC Client. The key for this to work is that it is OPC that defines the interaction between the OPC Client and the OPC Server, it does not get into the OPC Server-to-device and OPC Client-to-application communications.  The communication between the device and the OPC Server/Client  is handled by the supplier of the equipment and or software.

This standardised data exchange between the OPC Clients and OPC Servers allows any OPC Client to communicate with any other OPC Server. Since the OPC Server takes care of translating device communications into an OPC format and the OPC Client does the same on the Application side; Applications and Devices can share data between each other without having to know each other’s protocols or data formats.

Cleanroom Monitoring Systems which support the OPC protocol make it possible for sensors, controllers, monitoring and control systems from different manufacturers to be used within a common and flexible network. A common OPC protocol reduces exposure to increased risk when change occurs within a facility, enabling smooth integration of any device or software that meets OPC specifications.

OPC Client/Server functionality is facilitating the interoperability and data exchange key aspects of Industry 4.0 initiative and is putting us on the path to the smart factory or smart Cleanroom of the future. Already robots are being used in cleanroom critical manufacturing processes providing technical assistance, reducing risk and removing people form the process, since most airborne contamination in cleanroom is derived people. Next steps are for these systems to make decisions and solve problems, detect process problems before they occur even self-optimize.

Finally, monitoring software has the potential to be a key component of industry 4.0. It is already much more than just a data collection, pass or fail tool. It provides useful information that if effectively used builds end users knowledge and leads to a deep understanding of the cleanroom environment surrounding manufacturing processes. This knowledge and understanding enables important decisions regarding process improvement, cost savings and risk reduction.  Who knows, in the future maybe these decisions will be made by the smart cleanroom.

WANT TO LEARN MORE? Download the Whitepaper "The Case for a Facility Monitoring System" and learn how monitoring particle counts and other parameters can help your business to be more efficient!



Date Published: 20th September 2018

Source article link: TSI GmbH

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