by Tim Wilson
To increase productivity, enhanced visibility is a must
Today’s industrial landscape requires a lot from fabricators and job shops: they’re expected to deliver quality products to differing specifications, keeping their customers happy while ensuring margins.
Managing the floor well means putting more power into the hands of the operators, and to do that involves giving them advanced tools for design, workflow, and quality.
“Having visual cues is key,” says Graham Whitelaw, president, Rose Integration Ltd., Carleton Place, ON. “We do a lot of red, green, and yellow colour coding. That makes it easy to ID where a job is at, and what to do.”
Rose Integration, which has been in business for 33 years and employs 80 to 105 people depending on demand, has to be flexible to address varying volume requirements from industries that range from aerospace, to petroleum, to mining and rail.
“About two and a half years ago we looked at how to integrate the shop so that we are all on the same page,” says Ryan Bishop, operations manager, Rose Integration. “We introduced an ASUS tablet running Windows 7, which all the managers and supervisors use. Now, they have instant access to all our software, which includes Excel for tracking and our ERP program, Vista from Epicor.”
The result has been a shift from a manual to a live schedule, colour coded to ensure that everything is on track. Scheduling visibility extends out four to six weeks, with stock levels and order tracking at an employee’s fingertips.
On the move
Rose Integration has also embraced the MERLIN MES connectivity solution from Memex Automation. “We are becoming more familiar with its capabilities,” says Bishop. “It allows you to monitor real-time cycle and down times of our CNC machines (on and off site) and look at jobs to identify priorities so you know what to work on. It is also a great communication tool for operators to summon assistance from other team members and supervisors without leaving their work stations.”
Clearly, technology is bringing new capabilities to companies like Rose Integration. Historically, big plants could afford to invest large sums on tracking efficiency and quality, but mid-size and smaller companies were left out. The result was less efficient shop floors, and a lot of money left on the table. But that’s all changing now.
“At Memex we’ve put together a packaged solution that a customer can use to get a machine up and running in under four hours–sometimes even under an hour,” says John Rattray, VP sales & marketing at Memex Automation.
Memex’s software operates under the Theory of Constraints principle. The concept is simple enough: once a problem is found, analyzed, and solved, a constraint in a manufacturing process shifts to somewhere else. In effect, it is a model for continuous process improvement. “We really help manufacturers understand what they don’t know about the manufacturing process,” says Rattray. “We can ID every event that a machine is doing, and find out what’s going on.”
Designing for quality
The CAD/CAM revolution over the past twenty years has led many to assume “the features war is over – that, in effect, there isn’t much to improve upon on the design side. But that isn’t true insofar as advanced software has kept the design and production teams apart, with their interactions often laborious and slow. Part of the solution is direct modelling.
“Direct modelling is the next generation of CAD,” says Benoit Gervais, president of Ottawa-headquartered Futurescape, which sells modelling software from SpaceClaim. “We use SpaceClaim as a productivity tool; it is nimble and accurate, which allows you to get an edge on the competition.
A test drive of the SpaceClaim solution proved the power of conceptual modelling. The software works with a wide range of CAD/CAM solutions, allowing for a simple copy and paste of numerous features. It creates a bridge between teams, allowing for multiple stakeholders to contribute changes to a model. Though it is no replacement for core mechanical engineering software, modelling functions as a useful productivity tool.
“There are a lot of people outside of the design group who need to deal with a product,” says Shawn Woods, regional sales manager for Futurescape. “A person in analysis, a person in manufacturing – they need to work with CAD data. They need to bring in data cleanly, which is a challenge, because it can be hard to model parts from other sources.”
Having that kind of access can tie in with lean, Six Sigma and ISO 9001 processes, which often require reporting at the level of evidence-based data. With more and more responsibility now being handed over to lower line management, information support has to be improved so that more people can make the best decisions. Winnipeg-headquartered uniPoint Software, which makes quality management software, has a clear view to ensuring that quality ties in closely with shop floor efficiency.
“We cover the entire ISO 9001: 2008 spectrum,” says Dean Antonakes, uniPoint’s president. “Our Inspection Module provides all the controls to track defects per million, and SPC charting to prove the integrity of a six-sigma process.”
The tie-in is uniPoint’s executive dashboard, which allows line management to have their finger on the pulse of the company’s quality system. Past due activity is shown in red, and the audit readiness of the company’s quality system is visible to all.
“From the dashboard, you can drill back to the actual quality event, and send email reminders to responsible parties. This breeds an environment of collaboration and accountability that will fundamentally change how the company manages quality. Our software also has a built in workflow system called the To-Do List – ensuring that no quality tasks fall through the cracks.” SMT
Tim Wilson is a contributing editor. [email protected]