PLANT

Real-time productivity

MERLIN conjures up shop floor visibility.


When it comes to improving productivity and cutting unnecessary costs, the numbers tell the story.

Capturing shop floor data is becoming a strategy for manufacturers, and a big business for Burlington, Ont.-based Memex Automation. MERLIN, it’s latest offering, delivers overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) metrics in real time for dramatic improvements in productivity.

The product earned the 2013 North American Frost & Sullivan award for Technology Innovation Leadership, and since the company launched in 1992, it has partnered with 280 dealers and worked with more than 12,000 customers globally.

CEO Dave McPhail and a group of private investors acquired the company in 2008, which went public in October and will trade on the Toronto Stock Exchange’s Venture Exchange. Its customers are some of the largest manufacturers in the world including Boeing, Caterpillar, Ford and Magna.

It also has strategic partnerships with Microsoft and tool builder Mazak, which has installed Memex’s automation system at its Florence, Ky. plant.

So has a Pella, Iowa-based multinational manufacturer of agriculture equipment. Vermeer Corp., which manufactures equipment such as balers, cob harvesters and disc mowers, was lacking visibility on the shop floor. A kanban system provided the daily requirement of parts for machining and product to be assembled as a means of inventory management to meet customer orders, but the “pull” needed to drive manufacturing and meet demand in a timely fashion was lacking.

And there was no way to measure productivity, labour, utilization and throughput of machines, cells, assembly areas and facilities, no reporting metrics and no quantitative tracking of efficiency.

The company deployed a suite of Memex products, including MERLIN OEE software, an Ax9150 Universal Machine Interface, handheld HMI for downtime recording, an ERP interface, and reporting, charting, real-time KPI screens and dashboards.

Enhancing visibility
MERLIN delivers real-time visible dashboard metrics that are available for the entire shop floor to see. Memex says the tool typically increases a shop’s productivity by up to 50%.

This manufacturing execution system executes work orders generated by an ERP system that sends results back to a central ERP database.
It’s vertically (shop floor-to-top floor) and horizontally integrated to provide users with production and downtime data, reject cause analysis, labour productivity tracking, usage-based preventative maintenance, visual production scheduling and it assesses operator productivity.

Vermeer had adopted lean practices and continuous improvement initiatives as core disciplines to sharpen its global competitiveness.
Over time, its nine facilities had evolved into separate business units, and the company took a new approach to revitalize the enterprise by grouping operations into cells to reduce redundancy and improve workflow.

First, they had to measure actual events at the machine, estimating that there was a potential for improvement. But without the proof imperial data would provide, the company had difficulty convincing management to adopt the initiatives.

The equipment was installed on various machines, then the company benchmarked initial data and defined a next step process to assess the resulting data, which was achieved by observing downtime parameters (collected by MERLIN against actual proposed adjustments); analysis of downtime elements to identify improvement opportunities and time savings; and to implement a plan based on the resulting data.

A key requirement of the system was to validate utilization estimates and operator labour, so having an automated system that connected directly to the machine was critical.

Vermeer’s changes included: logistics recommendations to improve productivity and setup times; practices and recommendations that improve setup time without sacrificing productivity to increase capacity; visibility of production metrics across management and the shop floor; improvement of operator time through setup procedures and techniques at each of the machines; audible alerts to the operator at each machine to prompt for action; advanced reporting with text and e-mail alerts to key management; and a cultural change, where the process engineering and manufacturing departments were combined.

Operator acceptance was an issue initially, until workers realized the improvement to their own responsibilities and the way the OEE made it easier by collecting information automatically.

So far, the deployment of real-time OEE automated data collection at Vermeer has increased overall machine utilization from 35% to over 65% and has reduced set up times by 60 minutes per shift to improve capacity.

Vermeer is also using the data to avoid “shooting from the hip” and is making much better decisions around utilizations and capital expenditures.

The numbers don’t lie.

Comments? E-mail jterrett@plant.ca.

Find this article in the March 2014 issue of PLANT.

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