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October 5, 1998

6 Min Read
Far-flung molder ties it all together with production monitoring

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Evco Plastics' five plants may be in two different states, but the state of each of Evco's 75 machines can be seen from any one location in the network.

Dale Evans, president of Evco Plastics (De Forest, WI), has it easy. He has five molding plants in the U.S.-four in Wisconsin and one in Calhoun, GA. He molds primarily for the appliance, electrical, packaging, and automotive markets with 75 presses, mostly Van Dorns, Netstals, and Toyos, with a sprinkling of Engels. When he wants to know exactly what each plant's molding status is at any given moment, does he call each plant manager to say, "How's it going?" No. He plops down in front of his PC and, with a few mouse clicks, displays production data for each plant in real time. "The nice thing is we're able to network all our plants together," says Evans.

While this is a nifty trick, the ability to track data and monitor production in real time has real benefits; otherwise, Evco would not have spent the $600,000 it took to install Syscon PlantStar's Panorama production control and process monitoring system in all five plants. It has become the backbone of Evco's operations, helps reduce rejects, and shows operators on the floor how what they do impacts the bottom line.

The Physical Setup
Panorama is Syscon PlantStar's top-of-the-line production monitoring system and impacts almost every aspect of Evco's operations. Starting at the press, the system consists of a data collection module (DCM), a small, touch screen computer that interfaces with the press itself and is used by operators to record rejects, check the upcoming schedule, and monitor other production data. Instead of recording reject data manually and entering it into a production monitoring system later, information is recorded and available immediately.

The DCM also collects and collates up to 50 process variables from the press and then sends that information to a PC-based server using a Windows-based interface for use by other personnel. Every press with a DCM is represented on screen by a status bar whose color indicates the general health of each machine.

If the molding process falls out of tolerance for any of the variables, the status bar for that machine on the screen changes color and an audio page is broadcast throughout the plant. A soothing, female voice says something like, "machine number four is down for an unauthorized reason." Evans says at first operators resented the paging system and thought it too much like Big Brother. "Now," says Eric Lam, information services manager at Evco, "they see it as a reminder, as a tool to increase awareness before things get out of control."

The system picks up on slow cycles, excessive pressure, and many other variables. "Anything that's going wrong is in front of you all the time," says Evans. There is no need to wait until a part fails QA inspection to find out your process is faulty. "And it is no longer someone's opinion that something is wrong," says Evans. "You have the data to back you up."

Evco has taken this concept one step farther by installing several video monitors throughout each plant to display the Panorama status bars. No matter where you are, you can look up and quickly assess the condition of every press on the floor.

The job scheduler on the system is extremely important to managers and lets Evco planners schedule molding jobs for any press in any plant. They can schedule by part due date, drag and drop orders from machine to machine, and schedule downtime. Most importantly, managers can see bottlenecks and potential scheduling hazards before they hit. Evco supervisors also use the system to do SPC analysis, job costing, and forecasting. The software's open database architecture also allows Evco to share data with its MRP system.

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Every Evco facility has a Syscon PlantStar Panorama server that receives data from data collection modules interfaced with every press. All of this is networked, which lets employees at any plant view the status of presses in any other plant.


Training operators to use the DCM unit, says Lam, takes approximately two hours. Supervisors and QA personnel spend about half a day in training to start and receive ongoing training to maintain proficiency. Evco also has established an in-house Panorama facilitator at every plant who is the go-to person whenever a question arises.

When linking all five facilities together, Evco realized concepts and definitions had to be standardized. The grouping of reject categories in Georgia was not necessarily the same as it was in De Forest. "We all have to call downtime the same thing, rejects the same thing," says Evans. Bi-monthly plant facilitator meetings help in the standardization effort.

So, Evco has installed new hardware and software, monitors real-time production data, and gets the message, loud and clear, when a press is misbehaving. Now what?

Hands, Head, Heart
"The hardest part is knowing how to use this information to make us more money, more efficiently," says Lam. Indeed, translating all the gadgetry into a money-making venture requires a certain amount of forethought, planning, and intestinal fortitude. Evans looks at it in part as an employer-employee issue that has three phases. This is particularly important at the operator level, where qualified help is so hard to get and keep.

The first phase he calls the "hands" phase. This is the chore of getting the employee to show up every day and fulfill the physical requirements of the job. Next is the "head" phase, getting the employee to think about what he or she is doing and how it contributes to a successful business. The last is the "heart" phase, the most difficult to achieve but the most rewarding. Here the employee actually cares about how his or her efforts affect the business. It means the employee makes the connection between diligence and hard work and producing a high quality part.

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The DCM, in use by an operator here, collects data from the machine and sends it to the Panorama server, which displays the status for every machine in the plant. If any server crashes, the DCM will continue to record production data for up to 14 shifts, ensuring that Evco is not likely to lose information.


Evans says he has employees in all three phases, but he has had the most success when he has shown employees reports generated by the Panorama system showing the ill effects of too many rejects or too much downtime. "Syscon helps people see the relationship between system downtime and money lost," Evans says. "Teaching an operator to use Panorama is easy. Attaching meaning to the information is harder."

Still, Evans says the $600,000 has been worth every cent, and he estimates profit has risen about 2 percent at every plant in which Panorama has been installed. Internal reject rates are down to about 2 percent, and rejects from customers are down to about .1 percent. "If we can deal with things as they happen, that flows to the bottom line," he says. "Delivering on time and making better parts are what will help us stick around for the long term."



Contact information
Syscon PlantStar
South Bend, IN
Gary Benedix
Phone: (219) 232-3900
Fax: (219) 287-5916
Website: www.syscon-intl.com

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