02/07/2018

IPC CFX (Connected Factory Exchange) at Blakell Open Day

In February the annual IPC APEX Expo was held in San Diego. The IPC (Institute for Printed Circuits) is a global trade association dedicated to setting industry standards and facilitating training. This year the focus at APEX was on the newly released CFX (Connected Factory Exchange) data standard.

The CFX standard defines typical message types which may be commonly used within electronics assembly and under the covers packages them up into JSON, before sending them via the AMQP (Advanced Message Queuing Protocol).

AMQP is both a 1-to-1 or a 1-to-Broadcast protocol, so while The Hermes Standard has been released to be a M2M (Machine to Machine) standard in a 1-to-1 formation, CFX could also do the job. It is however important that to note that Hermes is intended to replace the existing SMEMA standard so it is trying to be lightweight, however uses XML .

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So pushing aside the marketing - where Hermes is seen as the M2M standard and CFX is seen as the upward connection to the smart factory system - it is encouraging news that we already have two (or three if OML survives) standards that could provide options for solutions in the future.

This view will differ from those in the industry who wants one standard to fit all, to achieve a plug and play utopia. Their view is understandable from many years of everyone wanting to take the first step but not knowing how to.

Live CFX Demonstration

Recently I was kindly invited by Andy Jones to a Blakell Europlacer Open Day in Upton, Dorset. Held on a warm summer day, who could say no to a Hog Roast and the ability to see their Europlacer and Speedprint equipment using CFX.

Also attending was Michael Ford of Aegis Software, who was actually there to represent the IPC and he did a very honourable job of not crossing the line. He found that easy to do because whether you are working for IPC, Aegis, or any other MES or software solutions provider we are all facing the same struggles and working towards the same goals.

Michael gave us a presentation to introduce CFX in a style I expected from him - without any of the marketing hype and being very clear of where the remit of the standard ends. For example, while many of the documented message examples are traceability-themed, I questioned how levels of machine remote control would be achieved. The answer was clear - CFX doesn't define how the data will be acted upon at the consumer (manufacturing equipment or software solution) and it only guides what data will be injected in the first place by defining a set of message types. Even then, the message types can be extended to allow for legacy or future adaptations to occur.

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Michael is a great spokesperson for the Industry 4.0 movement, coming from both a Software Engineering background and previously running the manufacturing software solutions at the Sony factory in Wales. Recommend viewing is Michael's YouTube interviews.

CFX is another positive step forward in aligning the industry towards common data ‘transport’ standard(s). The next step is to try to answer my questions I created for Productronica '15 which I feel equipment manufacturers need to answer for themselves.

  • What data is available?
  • How do we get hold of it?
  • When is it produced and when does it become stale?

They need to learn from OML, Hermes and CFX, by publishing their answers via open dedicated web outlets to make the uptake simple. More standards could help guide the answers to these questions however I feel organically some will take the first steps forward while letting others to copy and follow.

News from 4IR.UK

An Alpha release Extension (MultiPlug.Ext.CFX) for the MultiPlug Fog Computing Platform is under active development. This allows MultiPlug Events to be pushed onto a CFX connection and CFX Messages to cause internal MultiPlug Events which can be subscribed to by any other MultiPlug Extension.

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About 4IR.UK

4IR.UK is a Industry 4.0 solutions provider for the smart industrial manufacturing sector. It develops bespoke Extensions for the MultiPlug Fog Computing Platform that allows for realtime configuration of production line equipment. The flexibility of off-the-shelf software combined with inside industrial experience means that 4IR.UK is ideally placed to anticipate and respond to a factory's changing needs.

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David Graham

David is the Chief Technology Officer at 4IR.UK