Fast, Accurate Decision Making Helps Keep Shops Competitive
With advanced data management software, shop managers get timely information to handle factory-floor operations more effectively
By Patrick Waurzyniak
Digging for treasure has gotten easier: Manufacturing systems hold a treasure trove of operational data waiting to be mined by smart shop-floor managers, who need fast and reliable delivery of factory status information to stay competitive. The latest versions of shop-floor data collection and data management systems boast more robust database architectures, better document management of CNC program files, and improved use of shop-floor metrics, with data-sharing kiosks and electronic touch-screen whiteboards even appearing on shop floors. And while virtually all software developers of data management systems boast fast or real-time data delivery today, that may not mean the same thing to all end users.
Most shop-floor data management systems today are relational database management systems (RDBMS) that can quickly and efficiently process high-volume transactional data, and many systems also use the Structured Query Language (SQL). Some shop data management systems also are supporting the eXtensible Markup Language (XML), which make it easier for machine tools and software to communicate data and is central to the data communications protocol pushed by the MTConnect Institute (McLean, VA).
Focusing on Job Shops
With its latest update, Exact Software North America LLC (Minneapolis) has added a revamped application programming interface (API) to its JobBoss Version 11.7 shop-floor data management software that includes customer-driven enhancements targeting custom build-to-order job shops. In the Version 11.7 released to beta testing in September, the enterprise resource planning (ERP) software allows customers to deploy one of two SQL versions, Microsoft SQL Express or full Microsoft SQL Server.
“Probably 90% of our customers today self-identify as a job shop,” David Lechleitner, pre-sales principal, Exact North America. “We’ve seen a shift though in recent years, where more companies are entering into long-term contracts with some of their customers, but they would still identify what they do as custom make-to-order.”
The upgraded API and the new XML functionality help JobBoss communicate with other software, Lechleitner said. “We’re upgrading our API enabling other applications, be it design packages like SolidWorks or nesting software for fabricators, to have a better foundation by which they can communicate to us in real time.
“What Web services allow us to do is leverage a different level of infrastructure—less moving parts, more seamless communication back-and-forth, using really the same technology that MTConnect is using, which is that XML programming language.”
With prior versions of JobBoss, users had the option to deploy Microsoft’s Access relational database, which has a 2-GB database size limit, he noted. Originally written in COBOL in 1984, the software later moved to the Access platform. Lechleitner said the package has had a mixture of Access and SQL components, but Version 11.7 will be a 100% SQL database platform. JobBoss comes in three versions—Starter, Professional and Enterprise Editions. The Professional and Enterprise versions include a ShopBoss scheduling tool for prioritizing and allocating workloads in real time based on customer demands.
“The big reason that both we and other solutions have moved away from Access is really because of its underlying technology. Access was really designed for low transactional data sets—not a lot of activity hitting on a literally minute-by-minute basis,” he added. “So what SQL provides the end user is more comfort and security, and much less database corruption issues—the database is rock-solid.”
With quality holding high priority, Exact signed a partnership agreement in July with uniPoint (Winnepeg, MB, Canada), a developer of quality software, under which uniPoint’s quality management software modules will be offered within JobBoss. “What we found in the marketplace is that a lot of ERP solutions would have embedded solutions for quality but when it comes to nonconformance, corrective actions, and maintenance, that’s where most embedded solutions stop,” Lechleitner said. JobBoss Quality by uniPoint adds quality-specific modules for auditing, AS9100 compliance, customer service, supplier management, validation and many other quality elements.
Managing Data More Effectively
Shop-floor management software developer Cimco Americas LLC (Streamwood, IL) offers a suite of data management and collection tools including its MySQL-based MDC-Max, a manufacturing data collection package for real-time monitoring and analysis of shop-floor productivity. The North American unit of Cimco A/S (Copenhagen, Denmark), Cimco Americas also has CNC-Calc, a basic CAD/CAM program for the shop floor, plus other applications including Edit 7, DNC-Max 7 (distributed NC) software for communication of CNC programs, and a Product Data Management (PDM) package for managing, controlling and securely storing all production-related data.
Cimco’s database products come standard with MySQL, an open-source SQL database—unless users want to upgrade to the full SQL versions, which require a license. “MySQL is a free database,” said Jody Romanowski, Cimco CEO. “It’s part of our installation, or we can connect MS SQL, but then the system will be more costly because the customer will have to purchase and maintain a SQL server.” In many circumstances, Cimco's software actually performs better and has lower administrative requirements with MySQL, which is now owned by Oracle, Romanowski noted.
“To compete, machine shops have to find any way possible to make efficient use of personnel,” she said. “That means eliminating work that is redundant or that can be automated, and having the data you need exactly when you need it, so production is not slowed down. Our customers are looking for products that will help them do more with less people, and they’re using technology to help them.”
Along with the MDC-Max data collection package, Cimco offers a part program database, NC-Base, that Romanowski said is its most popular product. “Our DNC and the Edit software are very widely used, but for higher-end database type products, NC-Base is very popular. It’s an easy-to-manage database. It’s part-program centric, and it will track all the revisions for a customer that a part program goes through, while letting you associate other documentation with the part program. And of course, it has security so you can do read-only access on the shop floor.”
Having the right part program at the right time cuts down on errors and improves quality, she added. “What’s always been a big driving factor for us and those systems is to eliminate errors. When we go in, a lot of times the data isn’t organized very well. It’s fairly common for somebody to go grab a file and in it is an old print, or it’s an old NC program they find on some drive somewhere—they run that and it ends up not being the current version or the most accurate version. We’re trying to prevent that with our software for our customers, by reducing scrap and mistakes, and getting the data to the people who need it more quickly and efficiently.”
Sharing Data through Shop Kiosks
As access to shop-floor data proliferates through handheld devices, customers are also looking to push that data out onto the shop floor to reach a wider audience. After introducing its iVet app for iPhone and iPad at IMTS 2012, ERP software developer Henning Industrial Software (Hudson, OH) has added the Visual EstiTrack Shop Kiosk for displaying ERP information more freely on large LCD monitors on the shop floor, noted Rich Henning, president, Henning Industrial Software.
“We’re seeing more people who want to share key performance data with their staff to provide timely feedback on how well they’re doing,” Henning said. “Traditionally this type of information sharing has been through posting paper reports on a bulletin board in public areas. Our new electronic Shop Kiosk provides shops an alternative to posting paper reports. It provides an electronic and interactive dissemination method for content via a touchscreen LCD using a modern, tiled Windows 8 interface.”
Real-Time Analysis is Key
To be competitive, manufacturing operations must collect and analyze factory-floor data in real time in order to more effectively gage overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and other factors. Until fairly recently, however, the costs for machine tool data collection have been prohibitive, with only larger manufacturing operations able to easily afford them. “It’s critical that manufacturers focus on things in real time,” said Greg Mercurio, president, Shop Floor Automations Inc. (La Mesa, CA), a manufacturing integrator for collection and management solutions from Predator Software and Scytec Systems.
Since last year, shops looking to lower data collection and monitoring costs have been using the Scytec Consulting Inc. (Greenwood, CO) cloud-based data monitoring system that Shop Floor Automations distributes. “We’re the sales, service and support partner for them, which includes demonstrations and on-site visits,” Mercurio said. “The difference in this approach is it’s a ‘try before you buy.’”
Some years ago, it was commonplace to pay $2000–$3000 per machine for shop monitoring, Mercurio said, but with the Scytec cloud-based alternative, it costs shops a fraction of those prices. “For the medium-sized to smaller shops, typically 50–100 users or less, the reality is they don’t have that type of money,” Mercurio said. “With this system, the cost is much lower up-front.”
The Predator MDC (Manufacturing Data Collection) suite of machine data monitoring, collection and analysis software features real-time performance with reports, charts and dashboards. The software suite tracks key manufacturing metrics such as OEE, cycle time, idle time, setup time, and machine downtime. Available as Predator MDC, MDC Express or Enterprise editions, the package is based on open-architecture client-server database standards with users selecting from either Microsoft Access or Microsoft Server or Oracle. In August, Predator released an update of its PDM application, adding performance improvements for users viewing vault data and increasing the maximum number of vault items.
“Productivity, reliability and revision control have been and will continue to be the hallmarks of modern shop floor DNC networking and communication software,” said Jim Abbassian, president, Predator Software Inc. (Portland, OR). “MDC or Manufacturing Data Collection and machine monitoring provide actual shop-floor metrics that feed back into improved scheduling and improved ROI on shop floor utilization and management. PDM has traditionally been used on engineering drawings, but lately we have developed manufacturing-based document management that addresses the requirements of CNC program management and manufacturing shop-floor document management.” ME
This article was first published in the October 2013 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.