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Managing the Factory

The latest real-time software solutions help shops collect, manage, and analyze critical factory-floor data

By Patrick Waurzyniak
Senior Editor 


Manufacturing software solutions for collecting, managing, and analyzing critical shop-floor data offer manufacturers real-time views into factory equipment performance and overall plant effectiveness.

With shop-management software for data collection and analysis, plant managers and machine operators can quickly spot plant bottlenecks that are hindering factory-floor processes. The latest software solutions for collecting and analyzing factory-floor data span a wide range of applications, including enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES), enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI), and shop-floor data-management systems.Screw machine operator at Permac Industries runs a version of Exact Software's JobBoss directly on the machine control.

Getting fast, reliable data from the shop floor into shop-management solutions is key for manufacturers that must quickly react by shifting their production to meet changes demanded by rapidly changing markets. "One of the things obviously that's really important for manufacturers today is equipment optimization," notes Dave Lechleitner, senior product expert for Exact Software (Minneapolis), developer of JobBoss software. "What we envision is helping the shop monitor in real-time the performance of machines, sending any exception information back to the ERP system or to any other monitoring system that they may have."

With the latest JobBoss Version 11, users can take advantage of the system's new ShopBoss advanced scheduling module, which aids tying information in real-time to production systems. "The data being collected out there on the shop floor is useful for the ERP system or the MES system, and we have a manufacturing execution system embedded in our product, called ShopBoss, which provides that realtime data on jobs, whether there are problems with jobs falling behind schedule," Lechleitner adds. "One of the two primary reasons people will look at JobBoss in particular is for costing and shop-floor scheduling."

The JobBoss package also runs on PC-based controls such as Okuma America's (Charlotte, NC) latest THINC machine controls, allowing an operator or foreman to quickly check job performance on the shop floor.

"What this brings to the table is where a shop would've had to wait maybe eight hours to get that data actually input manually into the system, now because of the data coming in real-time, the owner or a shop foreman can now monitor the shop performance in real-time," says Lechleitner. "It provides a visual of wherever the shop is at, in terms of capacity planning, and allows a shop foreman to do 'what-if' scenarios to see the effect of doing various things. With Version 11, we've provided a shop-floor dashboard that gives the shop foreman information in terms of how well the business is running, in terms of shop-floor execution.

 Overall equipment efficiency (OEE) metrics derived from real-time data in GE Fanuc's Proficy Machine Tool Efficiency solutions help manufacturers achieve optimal productivity.

"Owners are relying more and more on some of their key personnel to make those important decisions, because they can't be there every minute to make those. The shop-floor foreman is much more empowered and needs data, not just scheduling data, but overall data in terms of what will be the effect of taking on an additional job. In larger companies, people responsible for different departments that report into a plant manager can use the ShopBoss module, and it really becomes an ownership issue as well."

Critical factory-floor data fed into analysis systems like GE Fanuc Intelligent Platform's (Charlottesville, VA) Proficy Machine Tool Efficiency (MTE) solution provide real-time views into plant equipment status, which tie into lean manufacturing and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) programs. At IMTS, GE Fanuc showed its updated MTE Version 4.3 solution offering including a suite of remote diagnostic tools that maximize mean-time-between-failures and minimize mean-time to repair.

With Proficy MTE, manufacturers collect and analyze OEE data to pinpoint problems and drive down the cost of machining operations. "In some cases, there's an executive order that they serve this OEE metric," says Mark Brownhill, product manager for GE Fanuc's CNC division, noting OEE is part of Total Productive Maintenance and lean manufacturing.

"OEE's really good because it translates from the shop floor where you say 'I want to save downtime; I want to make parts faster; I want to make more good parts; I want to have less setup time,'" Brownhill states. "OEE just simply translates right through the board room, because if I make more parts with less assets, if I make parts more reliably and predictably, and I make parts cheaper, then the cost of the product goes down and profitability goes up. If you can use less capital to make more profit, your return on total capital goes up, which is just about the top priority of a CEO or the stock market."

Price pressures on automotive manufacturers have pushed the OEE metric in the market, Brownhill notes, where auto OEMs are demanding that suppliers have OEE programs in place. "OEE is a number you calculate simply by multiplying three factors—availability, performance, and quality," Brownhill says. "It's a measure of whether the equipment is available, are you going as fast as you should, and are you making good parts? If you can measure those things properly, that's pretty comprehensive as to how well a machine is doing."

In addition, GE Fanuc at IMTS introduced its new Proficy Change Management for CNC, an automatic backup solution for CNCs designed to save data crucial to CNCs on the shop floor. "For machine shops, their CNCs are their main asset," Brownhill says. "Backup is our number one technical call on our hotline. There are so many custom files in CNCs; if you've just lost a week of production, what's that going to cost? The equipment's very reliable, but most businesses will lose at least one control a year." The new system supports GE Fanuc's CNC, PLC, and HMI products, as well as a wide range of other control systems.

Plant-floor OEE metrics help manufacturers analyze the data collected from machining operations in order to efficiently run manufacturing operations. Siemens offers its Motion Control Information Systems (MCIS) solutions for handling the flow of data from the shop floor throughout manufacturing operations, notes Jon Cruthers, manager, business development, Siemens Energy & Automation Inc.'s Machine Tool Business Unit (Elk Grove Village, IL). At IMTS, Siemens demonstrated applications including its Machine Retrofit and Condition Monitoring systems.

"OEE is really the driving factor," Cruthers says. "A lot of companies are doing many things with data collection. Some manufacturers call OEE different things, such as K factor—it gives visibility to where you're not as productive as you might be."

Siemens also offers its Condition Monitoring, part of Siemens ePS Network Services, over the Internet that supports maintenance processes in a platform for cross-company service and support between OEMs and machine operators.

Another real-time solution from AIM Analytical LLC (Napoleon, OH) focuses on factory data collection and analysis of uptime, downtime, and quality with its AIM Integration Manager system that uses a Web-based thin-client model. "I have dozens of customers that I can log into right now from my office here and tell what their uptime percentage for the last few weeks, and what their overall equipment efficiency is," notes Todd Hernandez, AIM Analytical vice president. "Being able to remotely dial in and look at the production information, we have that capability because we support the product, and the customers also have that capability.

 New ShopBoss module allows JobBoss users to easily schedule flexible shopfloor production.

Serving mainly automotive customers, AIM has developed its Overall Equipment Efficiency Enhancement, or OE3, notes Hernandez, where AIM analyzes data for customers and holds kaizen events. "We're using the data that we collect to focus our kaizen event; engineers tweak the process with the data collected, then modify the process."

Many customers still rely on somewhat antiquated methods of factory-floor data collection. "It's probably not as sophisticated as you think," Hernandez says. "Some large companies are still using Access databases and Excel spreadsheets with manually entered data, which are all things related to production—uptime, downtime, inventory control, or safety and health. There are some big names that are still in '90s technology. As far as functionality, they all want the basic metrics: uptime, downtime, causes of downtime, and they all want false monitoring, false history. Some customers have asked for these capabilities in the past, and also for inventory tracking, and our product assists that."

Shop-management systems often offer functionality found in ERP and MES systems. The E2 shop-management package from Shoptech Software (Glastonbury, CT) includes real-time shop-floor data collection and analysis tools used primarily by job shops.

"We refer to ourselves more as a shop-management system, and what separates us from ERP is we're more for job shops and make-to-order types of manufacturers," notes Paul Ventura, Shoptech Software senior vice president. "The benefits of our software is it allows these shops to ship on time, and that's a very big problem that they have. It helps with their shipping and their scheduling on the shop floor, scheduling which jobs to run, and in what order. That's the main benefits it brings to the table."

Shoptech Software was founded in 1984 and merged with E2 in 1999. "We try to deliver what customers are looking for, scheduling jobs on time," Ventura says. "We have real-time data collection where they extract employees' time and attendance, and we offer scheduling as well as the job costs."

Other manufacturing software, such as MES and EMI solutions, are starting to blur the lines between the functionality offered by those systems and ERP packages. "Our customers use our software products to manage the two fundamental information flows in manufacturing," notes Claus Abildgren, program manager for MES and EMI, Wonderware Corp. (Lake Forest, CA), a business unit of Invensys Systems Inc. (Foxboro, MA). "One is the information flow from a business system down to the operators that say 'This is what we want to do.' Many times they want production management information flow, and you use MES-type functions to accomplish that—the download of orders, electronic dispatching of work orders, set up machines and lines, download parameters to the PLCs—all the information required to start operations on the shop floor.

 Real-time factory performance data in Wonderware's InTouch software allows shopfloor personnel to analyze key performance indicators (KPI) used for OEE programs.

"Secondly, the other information is from the physical activities of machinery and resources, back through the operators into the view of 'How well am I performing? How well am I accomplishing what I sent out to do?' It kind of ties into a combination of MES systems; typically that is information flow of what you want to do, and EMI is the performance management information flow of 'How well am I doing?' We believe those two go hand-in-hand, while the customer can start with a focus on the EMI side of performance management, creating dashboards and OEE trends. In our minds, it's only half the story, because how do you avoid the same mistake tomorrow or next week?

"The big driver for us these days with how our customer is adopting our technology is to make information actionable," Abildgren adds, "and actionable to what we consider the first line of defense—the operators that down on the shop floor, who have a chance of doing things differently and taking corrective actions if they are identified as a problem, or production downtime."

Wonderware has customers in both discrete manufacturing and process industries that use its Archestra software for real-time data collection and analysis. The Archestra software framework, first released in 2003, was updated last year with enhanced InTouch 10.0 HMI software and a new visualization environment called System Platform 3.0.

"We don't put a big distinction between what is EMI software or what is MES, but our software can have a role in both of those kind of categories," Abildgren says. "For example, when we collect real-time data and do KPIs [key performance indicators] in OEE, in real-time, so that information can be available to a supervisor or manager in the corner office in his Web browser, and he can see it by product line, etc., but more importantly, that OEE information is also available in real-time to the operator on the the machine, to see how well he's done with the batch running over the last hour. That could include a real-time Pareto chart of faults, the stops he's had in the last two hours, what were the biggest problems—were they electrical or mechanical faults? What do you need to direct attention to, or get an operator running the activities on the shop floor?"

A mobile shop-floor system called the Pertinence suite from Intercim LLC (Eagan, MN) targets applications in aerospace, automotive, and other industries. Formed last year when MES developer Intercim Inc. merged with EMI software developer Pertinence S.A. (Paris), the company's solutions could be termed MES 2.0, as users of the Pertinence suite interact heavily with the Web using hand-held computers, according to Romain LaVault, Intercim vice president. The interactive system allows manufacturers to collect and analyze real-time data to improve operational performance.

"The majority of our users are using tablet computers, and it's easy to distribute that over Wi-Fi," LaVault notes. Intercim recently signed an agreement with PLM and CATIA developer Dassault Systemes S.A. (Paris) under which the companies will develop Web-based solutions for the aerospace and defense industry that would combine the capabilities of Pertinence with Dassault's V6 PLM platform. Intercim, with aerospace customers including Boeing and Bell Helicopter, will be incorporating 3-D models into its system for use on the shop floor.

"We're using that 3-D to become the reference for manufacturing," LaVault says. "We use 3-D information as a way to represent the reality. Today, 3-D is only a virtual view of the product. What we'll do with Dassault is the use of 3-D as a real-time reporting tool on the status of an aircraft. This will allow us to show the as-built 3-D model, as it's built on the shop floor."


This article was first published in the October 2008 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. 

Published Date : 10/1/2008

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