As a comprehensive performance indicator, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) can play an important role in making manufacturing assets more productive. Difficulties gathering the data needed to calculate OEE, however, have often prevented it from being used to improve older brownfield systems. Now, there is a solution that lets you easily tap into the operating data of digitally isolated equipment and benefit from automated acquisition, harmonization and analysis – including real-time OEE monitoring.

Connected manufacturing systems with access to the latest technology are able to collect and evaluate extensive technical and operational data to implement the type of solutions envisioned for Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). It's easy to expect these features from a greenfield project when starting more or less from a blank slate. For the majority of plant managers, though, the reality is a bit more complicated.

"A company can't just tear down all of its facilities and start from scratch," says René Blaschke, B&R's expert for IIoT brownfield integration. When retrofitting legacy equipment to support new Industrial IoT solutions, the first step is to find a way to automate the collection and harmonization of its operating data. Then, you need to use this data to calculate the OEE, which reveals productivity losses and serves as the foundation for improving overall performance.

Automated data acquisition from brownfields

To this day, it is not uncommon to find machine operators scribbling down operating data with a notepad and pencil. "This data then lands on the desk of an analyst for processing," says Blaschke. Not only is this a far cry from the digital-age ideal of real-time analytics, it is unrealistic to expect every shift to record its data in a consistent, standardized way. "This has been a notorious problem in production data acquisition," notes Blaschke. It also makes it very difficult to compare performance across different machines.

Industrial manufacturing equipment has a particularly long service life. With machines typically running for 25 or 30 years, one that was installed 15 years ago can easily be around for another decade. For a company looking to implement Industry 4.0, that is simply too long to wait. "So, what you need is a way to bridge the gap for the remaining service life of brownfield equipment," says Blaschke.

For plant managers, this means finding a reliable way to collect and analyze data from machinery and equipment that otherwise lacks the necessary connectivity. With its new Orange Box concept, B&R has proven that doing so can be surprisingly easy. "An Orange Box can substantially reduce downtime and boost the availability of existing machines and lines," says Blaschke. "That makes your entire operation more productive and profitable."

Smartphone notifications

The Orange Box can notify machine operators of significant events – like an open safety door – directly on their smartphone. This allows them to react immediately and resume production as quickly as possible. When the frequency of unplanned stoppages is clearly documented, it becomes obvious where targeted improvements can be made.

Further potential for improvement can be identified by comparing productivity between machines, lines or shifts. "Very often, relatively minor adjustments can have a dramatic impact on productivity," reports Blaschke. Better synchronizing maintenance and break times is a perfect example.

Straightforward technology

From a technical standpoint, the Orange Box concept is remarkably straightforward. A B&R controller reads operating data either via wired I/O channels or directly from the machine controller using communication protocols. The Orange Box reads data from B&R, Siemens or Rockwell controllers via the respective INA, ISO on TCP or EtherNet/IP protocols, converts it into OPC UA messages and processes it.

"The results – such as the OEE value – can be displayed right on the machine and/or passed on to higher-level systems," explains Blaschke. The Orange Box has an OPC UA server that allows any manufacturing execution system (MES) or enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to access the data. When used as an edge device, the Orange Box is also able to send data into the cloud.

The right mapps for your solution

"For the Orange Box to deliver the greatest possible benefit," recalls Blaschke, "we knew it would have to be easy to set up and easy to use." That's why the solution is built around the modular software components of mapp Technology. mapp components – or "mapps" for short – are preprogrammed to exchange information automatically. "Configuring a mapp component is no more difficult than setting up an email account."

A few quick settings, and mapp OEE is ready to start delivering a machine's OEE data, for example. "There's no need to write a single line of code," emphasizes Blaschke. mapp OEE has an accompanying HMI component that works in the background. Together with mapp View – B&R's HTML5-based HMI solution – this component can display real-time content on any web-enabled device. The intuitive dashboard provides an at-a-glance overview of all the most important information.


Orange Box is not a traditional product, but rather a conceptual solution shaped by the unique needs of each customer and machine. Its specific functions can be tailored on demand simply by adding the appropriate mapps. Set up an alarm system with mapp Alarm, for example, and use mapp Tweet to alert machine operators of relevant alarms via email or text message. Industry standards such as PackML are also neatly packaged in mapps for easy integration into the Orange Box.

"As a customer, you can pick and choose exactly the functions you need," says Blaschke. "And, like apps on a smartphone, those are the only ones you pay for." The software management functionality provided by the mapp Technology platform allows Orange Box users to install updates or new mapp components via LAN, WLAN or USB flash drive.

Shaped by customer requirements

The Orange Box's modular software is complemented by its equally modular hardware. The most compact form features a 25-millimeter-wide compact controller. "That and mapp OEE are all you need to collect the necessary data and calculate OEE for a machine," explains Blaschke. For more advanced features – such as alarm management or energy monitoring – the solution can easily be scaled up with more powerful controllers and additional software components. Customers who want to give the Orange Box a modern user interface as well can add an operator panel with an integrated controller or a panel-mounted PC unit.

"All the hardware and software is completely interoperable," notes Blaschke. Plant managers can use different combinations of hardware and software on different machines with no added overhead. The Orange Box quickly and painlessly lifts brownfield equipment out of digital isolation to enjoy all the benefits the age of Industrial IoT has to offer.

Author: Carmen Klingler-Deiseroth, freelance journalist

Overall equipment effectiveness (OEE)

Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) is a key performance indicator used to track the productivity of manufacturing assets. The three underlying factors used to calculate OEE are the ratios of good units to total units (quality factor), production speed to designed speed (performance factor) and actual uptime to scheduled production time (availability factor). Fully optimizing one of these factors – achieving zero unplanned downtime, for example – would result in a 100% rating for that factor. Multiplying the three factors gives you the OEE value.

Since there is no universally accepted method for defining the optimum level for each factor, comparing OEE ratings across different lines or facilities only makes sense if the factors are calculated consistently.

The Orange Box provides a clear overview of operating data for any manufacturing asset.
An Orange Box can transform a production line plagued by frequent unplanned stoppages (left) into one where downtime is a rare exception.

"Orange Box helps increase the availability of machinery and equipment."
René Blaschke, Expert - Industrial IoT for Brownfields, B&R

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