From Juergen Maier’s Made Smarter report to all the technology vendors under the sun, there’s a huge groundswell of interest around the term Industry 4.0. While it’s one of those terms that means different things to different people, the basics are that in order to build ourselves a future, we need to start to build greater intelligence into our shopfloors, grabbing data wherever possible and introducing new levels of automation.
At companies with huge budgets to build large-scale proof of concepts or bring in consultants with their armies of white papers and roadmap initiatives, it’s work that might already be underway.
But what of the smaller companies, those without the big implementation budgets, who would rather dive in, experiment and see where elements of Industry 4.0 might fit into their own workflows, in order to digitally enhance assembly stations, get their production lines more automated or grab and analyse usage data from their machine tools?
Into this scenario steps Tulip. A start-up spun out of Boston’s MIT’s Media Lab in 2014, Tulip has built a manufacturing intelligence platform that allows you to apply the principles of IoT-connected sensors, input and output devices, machine tools and more to the shopfloor – whether that’s for work-order tracability, enhanced assembly and work instructions or more.
“While automation within manufacturing organisations has grown significantly, the manufacturing workforce has been left behind by technology,” says Tulip CEO Natan Linder.
“Manufacturing engineers still rely on paper and legacy technology to collect data, and workers on the shopfloor lack the productivity tools we take for granted in other industries. We started Tulip to change this through our Manufacturing App Platform.”
Alongside the manufacturing platform, which has so far been adopted by both small organisations and some pretty impressive big-name firms, the company has now introduced the Tulip Factory Starter Kit.
We detail the kit’s contents over the page, but alongside the hardware to build your proofs of concept, a key component is access to Tulip‘s platform for building your own applications. The Tulip Factory Starter kit’s cost includes a 12-month subscription, along with live, chat-based support.
As you might expect, the Tulip Factory Starter Kit is supplied with some starting templates, including a 5S app, a digital poka-yoke and a quality checking app to name but a few. What’s interesting is how quickly Tulip thinks customers can get up and running by using its kit.
According to Linder, “You will have the core information you need to build apps and put them in production within the first hour of self-paced training. The knowledgebase is designed to be a self-serve tool to handle specific questions you have about implementing Tulip or solving a particular use case.”
If that piques your interest, the Tulip Factory Starter Kits are now available for pre-order at $3,500 and the company is starting with deliveries to the US, Canada and Europe, but plans to ship globally in the near future.
Tulip Factory Starter kit breakdown
Tulip I/O Gateway (A):
The gateway device is the hub for everything you do with the Tulip Factory Starter Kit, enabling interaction between various devices, sensors and output devices and the manufacturing apps built using Tulip’s platform.
The Tulip I/O Gateway has one RS232 serial port, sixteen channels for 24V digital input, four channels for analogue input, eight channels for digital output and six USB ports. Alongside the devices included with the Tulip Factory Starter Kit, there’s a growing list of supported devices that can be used to extend capabilities; essentially, any 0–24 volt industrial sensor can be connected to Tulip’s I/O Gateway and interpreted as a boolean in Tulip.
Tower Light (B):
This might sound like an odd one, but it allows you to add in visual management to your factory cells quickly and easily – whether that’s to flag up issues with automation or for shopfloor personnel to call supevisors/management, for example.
Break beam (C):
This allows your manufacturing apps to react to movement; for example, to sense the use of the incorrect pick-andplace bin, to guide operators to the correct location in stores or to monitor automation.
Tulip Light Kit (D):
There’s huge potential for the use of light to communicate intent on the shopfloor, to guide pick-and-place operations, for example. Using a combination of Tulip’s platform, component bins and the lighting kit, you can guide operators to the right place, with synchronised work instructions (see figure 3 below).
Foot Pedal (E):
This enables actions or logs to be made hands-free, enabling workers to log an action or invoke an automation step even while their hands stay busy on a task. We’ve seen these used at inspection stations, combined with SPC-connected measurement equipment.
Temperature and Humidity Sensor (F):
These allow you to feed both temperature and humidity data to your applications, allowing you to monitor your factory’s environment. These particular units from from Phidgets.
Barcode Scanner (G):
Whether it’s work piece progress monitoring, stock control or dispatch applications, the barcode is ubiquitous on the shopfloor and Tulip’s platform lets you use it where you need it for tracking work orders or parts.
Industry 4.0 starter kits: other options
Gaining a foothold in the Industry 4.0/IoT world is a confusing business, so getting hold of a starter kit is a good place to start. The problem is that these are few and far between. Perhaps one of the most interesting was Autodesk’s IoT Starter Kit, developed in conjunction with Electric Imp, and its Fusion Connect IoT platform.
Sadly, this got cancelled shortly after launch, with Autodesk stating: “Autodesk has decided to integrate Fusion Connect and its IoT technologies into the Autodesk Forge platform as APIs. Doing this will provide our customers the flexibility to leverage Autodesk’s future IoT APIs to meet their unique business needs. As a result, Autodesk is no longer distributing nor supporting the IoT Discovery Toolkit, but our partner Electric Imp can still provide companies with support for their device management strategy.”
Elsewhere, you’re starting to get into the realms of the Raspberry Pi, a bunch of general-purpose sensors and hacking together something yourself. For example, there are a number of kits available from the Pi Hut.
The Adafruit Microsoft Azure IoT Starter Kit comes in at £107 and is intended for working with components that are ‘Azure Certified for IoT’. The kit includes a pre-soldered Adafruit Arduino-based Feather M0 WiFi with stacking headers, a FeatherWing OLED, and some sensors (for motion, vibration, magnetic contact switches, colour and temperature sensors).
If you want to get a bit more serious about it, then platform developer Thingstream has included a pretty powerful device in its Thingstream Starter kit, which costs $99. This is a powerful processing unit featuring wide-range DC input (3V to 12V), a current monitor on the DC input, a Simcon back-up battery for maintaining time and GNSS lock, GNSS & GSM antennae, a serial-to-USB UART bridge, USB socket and terminal blocks to enable easy access to 15 GPIOs for rapid prototyping.
Tulip Factory Kit for Industry 4.0 acceleration