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Technology Notebook: Real-time information helps processors improve decision-making, profitability

A graphical display provides an easy, real-time visual reference to the status of processing machines. Icons can be positioned in the same way machines are arrayed on the shop floor.

A graphical display provides an easy, real-time visual reference to the status of processing machines. Icons can be positioned in the same way machines are arrayed on the shop floor. The color of the icon indicates the status of the machine (green for machine running okay, yellow for machine down, red for machine running out-of-spec, and so on), as well as the job number, run-time hours to go, and other information.

Andon boards?large-format, high-resolution color LED displays like this one?can be linked to production information to highlight performance, process alarms, operator help calls, and scrap and downtime information. This screen shows machine numbers across the top. All green means no machines need help. Below, scrap rates for each shift can provide motivation and encouragement to operators.

Ron Jorgenson, plant supervisor at the Plano Molding facility in Mendota, IL, and Jeff Cornwall, shift supervisor, review the day?s productivity using a shift summary report generated by their Mattec production monitoring system.
 


Real-time production and process monitoring systems, also known as Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), can help optimize the shop floor execution of daily manufacturing functions. Here are some details of how one system works:

Timely production reporting: Companies cannot function efficiently without up-to-the-minute production data. Corporate planners need data to track inventory. Purchasing needs it to anticipate and meet material requirements. Logistics needs it to plan and track shipments. Schedulers need it to identify and utilize available production capacity. Manual tracking, recording, and data-entry are time consuming, with ample opportunity for errors or delays anywhere in the process.

With a production/process monitoring system linked to your company?s MIS network, data collection and processing are automatic. MRP and ERP updates are instantaneous. Data are available, in real time. You and your team know where you stand, every minute of the day.

Visual alarms: It takes accurate and consistent machine processes to make good parts profitably. Production and process monitoring systems make monitoring and documenting every machine cycle a reality, so you can visualize the actual production as it?s occurring via Andon boards (photo above) and LCD displays. Avoid the cost of inconsistent machine cycles times and recognize immediately when process conditions drift out of spec.

By computer monitoring each cycle of the machine, you achieve 100% parts qualification and avoid shipping bad product by immediately diverting any parts made with out-of-spec machine processes. Best of all, you can correct faulty conditions quickly and avoid excessive downtime or continued production of scrap parts.

Manufacturing and inventory control: Managing raw materials, work-in-progress, and finished goods becomes much more difficult as companies strive to manage cash wisely and leverage growth. The use of lean production methods?supported by just-in-time raw material inputs, timely order assembly, and scheduled shipments?creates a ripple effect throughout operations and management. Purchasing is challenged not only with meeting material requirements, but doing so using just-in-time methods. Managers must coordinate production, tool changes, machine downtime, and shipping activities to meet tight delivery windows. Setups and maintenance must happen smoothly, since the margins for error, delay, or downtime in the manufacturing process are narrowed.

Reaping the Benefits

Fortunately, a production and process monitoring system can support production from beginning to end. When a job is scheduled, the system can provide setup and operator guidelines, special standards, or certification information. This ensures that the job is set up and run with appropriate documentation, security, lot tracking, validation, maintenance, or inspections. Real-time scheduling functions allow raw material to be ordered from inventory and delivered to the processing machine before machine downtime occurs. Alerts built into the system will sound an alarm if proper material has not been logged in at the machine before the start of the run.

As production progresses, part production numbers, run hours, scrap rates, and other critical data are constantly processed and updated. As finished goods are moved off the production floor for shipping or storage, the system gathers and disseminates information as needed.

Instituting best practices: Frequent, effective communication is essential to a company?s efforts to define and apply best practices throughout the manufacturing process. A production/process monitoring system provides a conduit to the shop floor where set-up people can access proven operating parameters for any job within the organization. Job history, mold history, and even historical information on the machines and operators are stored in the system database. Accurate job costing information with machine run times, machine and tool downtimes, part scrap reasons, and production-labor hours are readily available.

Remote troubleshooting: As plastics processors expand into markets where labor rates are low, they find that skilled production supervisors, maintenance personnel, and troubleshooters are often scarce. And what good are low operating costs when you can?t keep the plant functioning? Today?s production/process monitoring systems can recognize when machine conditions are beginning to drift out of the acceptable range and sound an alarm so that someone with appropriate skills and expertise can tap into the current and historical data on the job and troubleshoot the problem. This can all happen remotely, if necessary, saving companies with multiple plants the cost of having people with the same skill set in each plant and eliminating the costs and downtime involved in sending troubleshooters to remote sites.

Multi-language support: Today production- and process-monitoring technology provides plastics managers with timely, useful data about operations in many plants, even over long distances. New multi-language capabilities enable personnel in Mexico and China, for example, to interact with the system in their native languages, and for managers in a U.S. or European home office to view the data in English.

Staffing and performance evaluations: In a competitive marketplace, plastics processors need to know precisely where they are operating efficiently and where costs are out of line. Today?s information technology allows managers to see immediately if they have too many people working on a job, and they can see the reasons why production conditions are not optimum. They can drill down into each job, periodically taking a look at uptime, yield, and scrap, identifying where jobs run most efficiently. Preventive maintenance can be scheduled for maximum uptime, and where SPC data are gathered, the system can chart dimensional characteristics or processing conditions to aid in quality control. At the corporate level, the system becomes a report card on plant managers, reporting on critical issues like overall equipment efficiency, rolled throughput yield, quality, on-time delivery and lean manufacturing, and comparing one plant?s performance against another?s.

Monitoring system helps increase molder?s efficiency, control costs
Plano Molding, Plano, IL, is a leaner operation than it was just a few years ago. Doing more with less has meant a lot of changes in the day-to-day operation of the company, and, in particular, it has demanded more efficient and timely use of information. Consequently, when Plano installed Mattec production/process monitoring systems in its plants in Sandwich and Mendota, IL, its goal was to harness the real-time data to support production from beginning to end:
    New work is entered into a master scheduler, which ensures maximum machine utilization and rapid job turn around. When a job is scheduled, the system downloads standards to the molding plant so that set-up personnel know where and how the job will be run. This leads to faster startup and more productive machine hours. Raw material is ordered from inventory and delivered to the molding machine. Alerts built into the system sound an alarm if the proper material has not been logged in at the molding machine in advance of the start of the run. The quality control department is also alerted to check the first parts coming out of the new mold to ensure that everything is running as expected. As production progresses, part production numbers, run hours, scrap rates, and other critical data are updated continuously, not only throughout the MES system but also company-wide. Every 10 minutes, data are transmitted by FTP to and from the molding plants to a central server at Plano headquarters. The data-gathering system also facilitates centralized inventory control. With up-to-the-minute job schedules and production data, purchasing can enable just-in-time delivery of needed materials and supplies.

?The only way to beat the competition these days is to control costs wherever you can,? explains Jon Kaltenecker, Plano?s director of information technology. ?That?s our main focus? cost savings. We?re able to view reports on cycle times and recognize when they are too long. We can see when we have too many people working on a job, and we can see the reasons why production conditions are not optimum. The system gives you a real sense of control.?
 
Contact information
Mattec Corp., Loveland, OH
(513) 683-1802; www.mattec.com
 
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