It’s hard to believe, but less than 20 years ago most manufacturers were solving bottlenecks with stopwatches and clipboards. Today, virtually all of this analysis is automated, but identifying bottlenecks is only a small part of factory data analysis. We’re working with a US automaker on one of its sports car lines, and its Manufacturing Execution System (MES) has helped it significantly drive up quality and efficiency.
A previous blog post talked about how MES error proofing, vision inspection, kitting, and sequencing have been implemented. This post could have been called “Quality with a Side of Efficiency,” and the work we’re doing for the automaker on its machines and processes could be called “Efficiency with a Side of Quality.”
The clipboards are long gone, and manufacturers can now anticipate and prevent bottlenecks, quickly identify the root source for downtime, and structure their maintenance schedules to prevent tool failure. Here’s how an MES is designed to solve problems before they happen.
Start with the machines and the tools. Plant floor PLC data blocks collect machine information from each production station and drive it to a host server database, typically SQL or Oracle. From there, it can be posted overhead on an Andon board, sent via pager to a specific maintenance person, included in a management report, or redirected in virtually any secure configuration.
Andon board communicates the station data.
The MES captures raw machine and tool data and converts it into valuable information:
- Machine states: Is the machine operating? Not operating? In need of repair or maintenance?
- Tool life: Based on historical data, is it time for that drill head to be replaced? Time for the torque guns on Line 17 to be lubed?
- Production quantities: How many cars are targeted for production during this shift? What’s actual production?
- Buffer count: How many vehicles are waiting for the paint booth? Too many (redirect to a different waiting area)? Too few (identify the reason for the gap)?
Most parts have unique identifiers so that their performance can be tracked over time. If bass speaker A outlasts bass speaker B, the automaker can know. On the component and vehicle level, the MES knows about:
- Part history: Parts carry information with them, usually on a bar code, used to identify the supplier, track when they arrived at the plant, and which car they ended up with. Using an MES, the automaker has door-to-door history on components.
- Vehicle production: Cars carry a lot more unique identifiers than your VIN. In addition to part identifiers, they carry data on when and where they were produced, and with which machines and tools. The MES captures it all and makes sure there’s no difference between cars built on Monday morning and cars built on Saturday night.
The bottom line of this MES is that quality and efficiency have gone through the roof over the past 10 years. We’ve built similar tools for other types of manufacturing, as well. Battery and pharmaceutical companies rely on MES data to capture exact time of day for each process, every machine, and every component that went into the product. They’re critical for high value and recall-sensitive products.
It’s been a long time since clipboards and stop watches, and for someone like me who loves seeing production run smoothly, it’s been great to be along for the ride.
Lisa Sobkow is a director of manufacturing execution systems for SuperiorControls. She received a BS degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan.