Industrial Ethernet

Smart Factory Infrastructure Box Enables Flexible Production

Industrial IT Team
How is industrial communication infrastructure evolving to provide the capabilities needed by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the Smart Factory of the Future? One example is the development of standardized infrastructure that can quickly and easily connect to modular production cells, creating very flexible manufacturing capabilities.

Flexible production is important because a large portion of the new value chains expected from the IIoT will come from the mass customization of products. For example, imagine a beverage plant where containers can tell the equipment what liquid to fill them with and what labels to put on them.

A modular communication infrastructure box designed to work with autonomous production cells has been created by Belden in partnership with Weidmüller. Demonstrated at the Hannover Industrial Automation Fair earlier this year*, it provides insight into how flexible manufacturing systems will be achieved.


Pictured is part of a production line designed to demonstrate the flexible manufacturing envisioned for the Smart Factory of the Future. (Hannover Fair 2015) Click to enlarge and see the full production line and its characteristics

Smart Factory of the Future in a Nutshell

Previous articles in this blog have described the vision of the Smart Factory of the Future, and you can learn more about it by reading them or by downloading the white paper available below.

In brief, the vision of the Smart Factory evolved  from an initiative of the German government called Industrie 4.0 to describe the next industrial revolution. It embraces IIoT technologies and is characterized by:

  • Manufacturing that is more intelligent, flexible and dynamic than today. IoT devices will work together to deliver services (“Internet of Services”)
  • Cyber-physical systems where a network of IoT devices work together to monitor or control a physical process
  • A service orientation where cyber-physical systems offer capabilities via the “Internet of Services”
  • Modularity where Smart Factories are assembled from flexible production modules connected to standardized infrastructure to meet changing requirements and capacity needs.  An example of standardized infrastructure is the Belden Weidmüller Modular Infrastructure Box.
  • Real-time collection and sharing of data to support optimization and efficiency

In the Smart Factory of the Future, production will be very flexible and manufacturing cells and communications networks will be easily reconfigured. Eventually, instead of a production line being built to make a particular product or product line, production modules will be easily rearranged and reconfigured as needed to create new lines, and each unit of production will tell the machinery and network what it wants to be.

The Belden Weidmüller Modular Infrastructure Box

In order to enable the manufacturing flexibility needed for the IIoT, Belden partnered with Weidmüller to create a Modular Infrastructure Box that provides:

  1. Power, Ethernet networking, standardized cabling, cybersecurity, lightning & surge protection
  2. Status information and measurement data through built-in OPC UA communications
  3. Integrated energy management
  4. An industrially hardened box with ratings ranging from IP54 to IP69K

This “plug-and-produce” infrastructure box creates a lifeline through which each manufacturing cell is supplied with everything it requires to perform its function. It facilitates fast data communications, standardized cabling and power and it ensures the safety and security of manufacturing systems. The result is efficient production processes for even the smallest of batch sizes.


The Belden Weidmüller Modular Infrastructure Box provides a
“plug-and-produce” lifeline for flexible manufacturing.

Other benefits of the Modular Infrastructure Box are:

  • It allows for a centralized power supply through decentralized sources
  • It can be used in ring, bus and star topologies and in standalone operations as required
  • The number of inputs and outputs can be customized and even changed at a later date

Getting Ready for the Smart Factory Today

Just like the IIoT, the Smart Factory is not a destination, it’s a journey. Here are some of the activities you can be doing today to be ready for the demands of tomorrow’s flexible manufacturing world:

  • Leverage IT standard technologies such as TCP/IP networking, Ethernet, and Wi-Fi that are adapted for use in industrial environments
  • Update your network from an ad hoc system to a well-designed industrial Ethernet infrastructure
  • Implement wireless systems and gain wireless expertise
  • Improve cybersecurity skills and measures
  • Work more closely with IT to integrate plant data into business operations

In addition, think about the example of the Modular Infrastructure Box described in this article and how you might go about standardizing your infrastructure to facilitate flexible production in the future.

Would a Modular Infrastructure Box help your manufacturing flexibility? How flexible is your manufacturing system now? I look forward to hearing from you.

*The Belden Weidmüller Modular Infrastructure Box will also be demonstrated at the SPSS Drives Fair in Nuremberg, Germany November 24-26, 2015, Drop by the Belden Booth (10-120) to see it.

Related Links

Products Used In the Belden Weidmüller Modular Infrastructure Box