QMT Features: January 2011
Shopfloor visibility
Data collection is the basis for understanding the real causes of inefficiency, waste, lost capacity, and equipment condition at a Swedish furniture manufacturer.

For a Swedish furniture manufacturer, the use of data collection metrics software has delivered uniform results, better visibility and scope for productivity improvements. The company, a supplier to a leading Swedish furniture retailer, faced tough competition from other subcontractors. The smallest shortcoming in efficiency can mean that an order goes to someone else.

On the other hand, if machinery availability can be improved, stronger bids can be submitted with subsequent increases in orders. For furniture manufacturers this often means that they need to adopt more stringent machinery monitoring capabilities.

The technical manager at the manufacturer explains “We manufacture drawers in process moulds, delivering about 13 million drawers annually, and will soon be installing our fourth machinery line. Because our operations are entirely automated, we’re constantly striving for higher machinery utilisation, or in other words, improved productivity.

We needed an easier way of gathering information from the machinery and communicating the situation – in relation to our goals – to various functions within the company.” The technical manager explains. “We had started looking at a product, which would have connected to our maintenance system, but after an agreement with a local automation supplier that collaborates with Rockwell Automation, it seemed right to follow their advice.”

Due to the interoperability and communications capabilities that Rockwell Automation provides, integration of a new information gathering suite can be a lot simpler and quicker than might be expected. The use of open communication protocols, such as EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet, means that Rockwell Automation equipment can interface with existing factory and office-based networks. This allows shopfloor to top-floor data gathering and visibility of operations via a normal web interface.

“We invested in Rockwell Automation's FactoryTalk Metrics, which is a software platform that gathers data from the PLCs that control the machines, converts the data into an Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) figure and presents it to those that need to see it.” He continues. “It allows us to see quality figures, machine utilisation levels and efficiency rates for each production line. FactoryTalk Metrics is easy to use and has an easily understood interface, which makes it simpler to find the information you’re looking for.

Information (KPIs, OEE, downtime causes, etc) can be displayed on a screen in the staff room so that everyone can follow the process live and see how effective the machines are in comparison to established goals.” he elaborates. “In addition you can view the FactoryTalk Metrics system directly from a browser-equipped computer and search for data, open graphs or diagrams, depending on each user’s personal preferences.”

The system has provided tremendous advantages. He explains, “Prior to installation, all measurements were conducted manually, without any special guidelines – different people could submit different measurement results. Everything is now measured in a standardised manner, and all downtime is precisely monitored. Once we started measuring correctly, availability ‘dropped’, which gave all employees a focus: availability was not as good as we thought - we needed to improve in order to beat the competition.

There was an incredible upturn once personnel began to perceive what availability was all about. The rate of work has definitely increased, which is vital if we are to survive against the lower-priced competition.

When we started the measurements, we were at 60% machine utilisation. We’re now approaching 70% after just four months –our goal being 78%,” he claims. “FactoryTalk Metrics can be entirely adapted to customer's needs; we started at a low level, with few measurement points and not that many alarms. We haven’t divided the production line into fine cells as we could have done; we plan instead to increase the amount of detail in a later phase.”

The  technical manager would like to pass on a few words of advice to others in a similar decision-making situation: “When making an investment such as this, it’s very important that you’re clear about what you want to measure and which values your production manager, controller and others want from the system. It saves a lot of time if you form a workgroup that can summarise the expectations for desired output data and submit clear specifications.”

FactoryTalk Metrics is a part of Rockwell Automation’s FactoryTalk suite of software, services and integration tools. FactoryTalk Metrics, which is run from a web browser, monitors plant-floor equipment and provides accurate, timely, granular, and specific information on machine performance, while providing detailed machine event history to document performance. This data is the basis for understanding the real causes of inefficiency, waste, lost capacity, and equipment states. l

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