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Acquiring Production Data From Legacy Equipment

Rick Lees  Director of Technical Operations Excellerant
By Rick Lees Director of Technical Operations, Excellerant

Manufacturers make strategic and operational decisions with digital production data and analytics, including information ranging from part counts and output speeds to machine conditions and alarm status.

Connecting directly from the production floor to a facility’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system and management team boosts the value of the data. However, when a shop has a mix of new and legacy equipment, uniformly using that data can be difficult. Gathering data from new machines possessing built-in sensors and connectivity usually is a simple plug-and-play task, but older machines generally lack the technology to provide consistent and comparable data. As a result, shops often default to a disjointed approach, using timely digital information on one hand and manually recorded, delayed, and often inaccurate information on the other.

Exploiting Modern Analytics

It is essential for manufacturers to process data from as many machines as possible, including both old and new. Data from legacy machines can enable the creation of a complete picture of production.

A key step is defining what data a shop needs. Modern machine tools supply a vast variety of information; far less may be required from a legacy machine, where important data may consist of one or two elements. The ROI must pencil out when manufacturers gather information from legacy machines.
When a shop determines what data it needs, it then must examine a machine’s control and engineering documents to know how to place input and output devices that access signals representing the data.

Even then, data format and communication differences among a facility’s machines can impede the smooth acquisition of information. One solution is an application programming interface (API) that decodes various data formats to capture production data.

One example is the Excellerant API. The server-centralized communication platform recognizes MTConnect, FANUC Focas, OPC-UA, Haas MNET Q-Codes and other machine control connection protocols. It also communicates with legacy CNC machines. A device mounted on each machine accepts signals and feeds them to the server. A manufacturer can connect all of its CNC machine tools and controllers—regardless of brand or age—and monitor each machine’s data in real time while transmitting the data to its ERP system. Simplified machine performance and usage information is immediately accessible.

Typically, a graphic display tablet is located at each controller and the system counts parts as they are created. At the end of each shift, the operator qualifies the number of good parts produced. The total is automatically entered into the shop’s ERP system, eliminating any need to manually fill out forms. Operators have more time to prepare machines for the next shift, and having less paperwork to do aids in complying with regulations. Coordinated scheduling assures jobs will not be sent to unavailable machines.

Consolidating Production Data

Detailed data is important and an integrated system also facilitates two-way communication between the front office and shop floor.

Adopting a system that automates collecting data requires preparation. Naming a project leader to guide the effort is crucial. Prior to signing a data management contract, a shop should assemble a team that includes representatives from operations, IT, and the shop floor. Having a team work together before implementing the system maximizes familiarity with its functions and helps assure successful performance.

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