Feature

Real-Life Real-Time Monitoring

Process monitoring used to be about making good parts, consistently. Now machine controls make good parts; monitoring makes good parts efficiently.


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May 1, 2003 by Cindy Macdonald, associate editor

Although Huronia Precision Plastics is running at full production, president Ralph Befort is the sole employee in sight. All 35 machines at the plant are set-up for automated, unattended operation.
Although Huronia Precision Plastics is running at full production, president Ralph Befort is the sole employee in sight. All 35 machines at the plant are set-up for automated, unattended operation.

It’s not the number of machines, the market you serve, or even your front office systems that determine whether you need a real-time production monitoring system. It’s your attitude.

Managers that crave data and feedback in order to improve operations need production monitoring. Leaders that want to know and understand what’s happening on the floor need production monitoring, be it for 10 machines or 100.

A typical, real-time production monitoring system can provide: production counting, a vehicle to enter and track scrap, production scheduling, machine utilization, material usage tracking and forecasting, product or work order standards, machine setup information (as part of job data storage and retrieval), tool tracking, maintenance logs, and process information with SPC tools to evaluate the data. Most importantly, these systems provide a way to report everything collected, either directly or to an MRP/ERP system.

“The value of data collection systems is what you do with the data,” says Ralph Befort, who recently purchased a Syscon-PlantStar monitoring system for his plant. “I have no idea what the payback will be, and I don’t care, because the new system has monumentally changed this organization.”

Befort is president of Huronia Precision Plastics Inc. (Midland, ON), a Tier 2 automotive supplier capable of injection molding and insert molding, assembly, printing, and packaging of components and assemblies. Befort’s company, which was already a highly organized, data-intensive operation, has quickly embraced the new system. Some staffers are so keen they’re already envisioning remote access to be able to get a heads-up on situations before coming in to work in the morning.

Doug Davis, plant manager, explains: “The primary reason we installed this system was to automate our data collection. This gives us instantaneous measurement. It allows us to focus the resources that we have on real problems, rather than on perceived problems.”

For example, with the previous manual data collection, reject rates for the month were calculated five days after month end. By that time, notes Befort, the problem mold could be back in operation, still underperforming. Now, trends show up within hours, not weeks.

In tandem with the monitoring system, Huronia has equipped some of its set-up technicians, supervisors and quality control staff with radio phones that allow them to communicate with each other and receive alarm messages from the monitoring system. (Syscon-PlantStar offers a voice message system for alarms.) This, says Davis, gives them the ability to prioritize incoming problems as they happen (or, as has happened already, to receive alarms while on a coffee break across the street).

On the floor, the Syscon-PlantStar equipment is unobtrusive. Each wall-mounted data control module is wired to several machines. A central processor forwards the data to Huronia’s existing computer network. Even auxiliary equipment is prey to Syscon-PlantStar’s watchful gaze.

“We are a planned organization,” says Befort. “I think 80% of the manufacturing operations out there are crisis organizations. The only way to be a planned organization is to draw data out of your operation so you can plan.

“We have over one million parts leaving this plant per day, with a defect rate below 0.5 ppm. Everything in this plant is geared toward achieving that high quality, and the monitoring system is really helping.”

Befort says the true benefit of Huronia’s monitoring system is that it has “given my staff the freedom and the resources to excel.”

To benefit from real-time monitoring, says Befort, you have to be in continuous improvement mode, fixing and analyzing constantly. “Anyone who’s not at that level shouldn’t install a monitoring system.”

But if you do install real-time monitoring, Befort has one other suggestion: “Single source your installation. By buying a turnkey system, any problems with integration, installation or contractors are your supplier’s problem, not yours.”

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USE MONITORING TO CUT MATERIAL COSTS

As Rick Goldstein, vice-president of Syscon-PlantStar, explains it, the focus for real-time monitoring has changed significantly in the last 20 years. “Originally users needed process information. Today new machines provide that through the machine control. Production monitoring systems now have an additional mission to capture every aspect of the manufacturing facility, along with process data, and to present that data in a useful way.”

Useful for what? Cost cutting for one. “We’re seeing that customers can save a tremendous amount on material costs,” says Mick Thiel, president of Mattec, a supplier of real-time monitoring systems. By knowing about process changes immediately, customers can react quickly and minimize scrap, explains Thiel.

Paired with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, monitoring becomes even more effective. Production monitoring is concerned with the here and now, while ERP is concerned with the past and the future. For example, a monitoring system can feed accurate data to the costing module of an ERP system, resulting in more accurate quotes based on facts, not assumptions. “It is critical for custom molders to quote accurately, and they need a combination of experience and data to do that,” explains Gail Larson, vice-president of sales and operations at DTR Software International, a developer of plastics-specific ERP products.

She estimates that about one-third of DTR’s customer base is using both real-time production monitoring and ERP.

One molder that installed DTR’s The Manufacturing Manager software achieved its expected improvements in costing and scheduling, but also found inventory was dramatically reduced. Prior to implementation, the molder’s average monthly inventory turn was four to five months. After implementation it was reduced to 30 days.

Although harsh economic conditions over the past two years have put many molders and moldmakers out of business, Larson notes that very few of DTR’s clients have closed down. “It leads me to believe that companies which use ERP tend to have a better handle on costing and profitability. It shows that the people who invest in technology are the ones are the ones who survive.”

MOLDFLOW POOLS ITS KNOWLEDGE TO CREATE REAL-TIME MONITORING AND CONTROL SYSTEM

Moldflow, better known as a provider of software products and services for optimizing part design and process parameters, has released a production monitoring system for injection molding called Moldflow Manufacturing Solutions 1.0. This new product integrates a series of applications powered by Moldflow Plastics Xpert and Moldflow Shotscope technology.

“For our customers, MMS represents a modular, low cost-of-ownership solution for improving molded part quality, decreasing cycle times, minimizing scrap and providing important data for use in critical business decision making,” says Dean Piepiora, Moldflow’s MMS product line manager.

MMS 1.0 product modules cover process setup and optimization, process control, scheduling, statistical process control, quality control and production reporting.

MONITORING GOES WIRELESS

Most of the production monitoring systems suppliers now offer add-on hardware for wireless machine monitoring that lets customers reduce the costs of wiring during installation and subsequent plant reorganizations. Most manufacturing facilities are forced to relocate machinery every few years as product mix and customer requirements change. With wireless communications, machinery moves don’t mean downtime for the shop floor control system, plus problems with cut wires or poor installation are eliminated, and costs on these production facility changes can be reduced.

Mattec’s vice-president of sales, David Monroe, estimates that wireless communication typically achieves full payback within the first two years.